A Bad Time for Poetry

brechtbrechtA week ago I dreamt that a close friend and I were stalking Bertolt Brecht in Paris. Since I rarely have such intellectual dreams, I took it as a sign to read some of the German writer and thinker’s work.

Although Brecht is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to theater, he is also considered to be one of the greatest German poets that ever lived.

Brecht’s approach to poetry, as opposed to the way in which he took on subjects like theater, is eloquently described by UK magazine The Liberal:

POETRY was for Brecht something he did on the side, almost a vice, a peccadillo. He didn’t want it to be his living, but was helpless to prevent it from remaining his primary expression. It was his mode of thought, of scrutiny, of play. This, I think, is what he meant when he said that the best argument against his drama was his poetry: the one deliberate, stylized, engineered and engineering – Brecht endlessly revised his plays to bring them ideologically into conformity with what was expected of them – the other anarchic, intelligent and trustworthy. The mere range of subjects, of occasions, is reassuring. His poetry flourished like a weed, out of control.

And, here is a poem that brings the paragraph above to life:

A Bad Time for Poetry

Yes, I know: only the happy man
Is liked. His voice
Is good to hear. His face is handsome

The crippled tree in the yard
Shows that the soil is poor, yet
The passers-by abuse it for being crippled
And rightly so.

The green boats and the dancing sails on the Sound
Go unseen. Of it all
I see only the torn nets of the fishermen.
Why do I only record
That a village woman aged forty walks with a stoop?
The girls’ breasts
Are warm as ever.

In my poetry a rhyme
Would seem to me almost insolent.

Inside me contend
Delight at the apple tree in blossom
And horror at the house-painter’s speeches.
But only the second
Drives me to my desk.

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