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To Those Born Later

In english, sometimes the poem is called “Posterity” and other times “To Those Who Follow in Our Wake.” But in my edition of Brecht’s poems, it’s called “To Those Born Later.” It was written in 1939 during his exile in Denmark.

The poem is easily found on the web. It’s nothing to copy and paste it into a blog post. These days the poems of Bertolt Brecht, especially those from the late 1930s and 1940s, have a resonance so strong you can feel the vibrations emanating from the bookcase.

Rather than copying and pasting the text, I wanted the feel of the poem as it appeared character by character as I typed it on my keyboard. In these dark times, it’s difficult to talk of trees. Words fall into a riptide that pulls them rapidly out to sea. I imagine even the trees have difficulty talking of trees.

 

To Those Born Later
By Bertolt Brecht
I
Truly, I live in dark times!
The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs
Has simply not yet had
The terrible news.

What kind of times are they, when
A talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
That man there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends
Who are in need?

It is true I still earn my keep
But, believe me, that is only an accident. Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I’ve been spared. (If my luck breaks, I am lost.)

They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat
From the starving, and
My glass of water belongs to one dying of thirst?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would also like to be wise.
In the old books it says what wisdom is:
To shun the strife of the world and to live out
Your brief time without fear
Also to get along without violence
To return good for evil
Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do:
Truly, I live in dark times.

II
I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned there.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

My food I ate between battles
To sleep I lay down among murderers
Love I practiced carelessly
And nature I looked at without patience.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do. But those in power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

Our forces were slight. Our goal
Lay far in the distance
It was clearly visible, though I myself
Was unlikely to reach it.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

III
You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
Remember.
When you speak of our failings
The dark time too
Which you have escaped.

For we went, change countries oftener than our shoes
Through the wars of the classes, despairing
When there was injustice only, and no rebellion

And yet we know:
Hatred, even of meanness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.

But you, when the time comes at last
And man is a helper to man
Think of us
With forbearance.

MOTTO
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

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