1:19 I called for my lovers,116
but they had deceived me.
Dear Daughter. Weep most bitterly, as for an only child.
[ Mercy on Ephraim ] Thus says the LORD: “ A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.”
35 Jesus wept.
Thus says the LORD:
“ A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
MOTHER COURAGE: He must be a very bad commander.
THE COOK: Just a greedy one. Why bad?
MOTHER COURAGE: Because he needs brave soldiers, that’s why. If his plan of campaign was any good, why would he need brave soldiers, wouldn’t plain, ordinary soldiers do? Whenever there are great virtues, it’s a sure sign something’s wrong.
THE COOK: You mean it’s a sure sign something’s right.
MOTHER COURAGE: I mean what I say. Listen. When a general or a king is stupid and leads his soldiers into a trap, they need the virtue of courage. When he’s tight-fisted and hasn’t enough soldiers, the few he does have need the heroism of Hercules – another virtue. And if he’s a sloven and doesn’t five a damn about anything, they have to be as wise as serpents or they’re finished. Loyalty’s another virtue and you need plenty of it if the king’s always asking too much of you. All virtues which a well-regulated country with a good king or a good general wouldn’t need. In a good country virtues wouldn’t be necessary. Everybody could be quite ordinary, middling, and, for all I care, cowards.
— Bertolt Brecht, ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’
We all know that we are material creatures, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and not even the power of all our feelings combined can defeat those laws. All we can do is detest them. The age-old faith of lovers and poets in the power of love, stronger then death, that ‘finis vitae sed non amoris’, is a lie, useless and not even funny. So one must be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going? Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow cosmic with repetition? That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox…
That liquid giant had been the death of hundreds of men. The entire human race had tried in vain to establish even the most tenuous link with it, and it bore my weight without noticing me any more than I would notice a speck of dust. I did not believe that it could respond to the tragedy of two human beings. Yet its activities did have a purpose… True, I was not absolutely certain, but leaving would mean giving up a chance, perhaps an infinitesimal one, perhaps only imaginary… Must I go on living here then, among the objects we both had touched, in the air she had breathed? In the name of what? In the hope of her return? I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.
— Stanislaw Len, ‘Solaris’
The room is large with a high ceiling. Plastered and papered, it responds to sound with warm, dampened reverberation. All around there is a purposeful muttering, over which carry clear waves of airy, extemporised piano music, meditative with a hint of the ecstatic, played quietly in with pleasant major modal harmonies.
From ordinary faces, bowed, flow soft voices; whisper and murmur; saturated with emotion and meaning, but soft like the rustle of leaves in a slight breeze or the fluttering of tiny wings; sometimes rising in a gentle rumbling like the sound of many faraway hooves; sometimes falling almost silent to a dry whisper like winter wind. Now and again, someone there is a throaty sniff from a stifled sob.
In the sound: great silence; amongst the people: deep solitude. In the quietest of voices, spoken too softly to be understood, they admit their hopes, fears, joys and sorrows.
At other times I have heard soft singing and chanting blending with the soothing chords of the music, but today all prayers are spoken. On every occasion, the feeling is of the release something long held confined; not with an odour stale or stagnant, but with the scent of stillness.
The Fifth Wheel
We are with you in the hour when you realise
That you are the fifth wheel
And you hope goes from you.
Do not realise it yet.
You rise in mid-sentence
You say crossly that you want to go
We say: stay! and we realise
That you’re the fifth wheel.
But you sit down.
I know you no longer hear
Do not say loudly that the world is bad
Say it softly.
For the four wheels are not too many
But the fifth is
And the world is not bad
Bertolt Brecht – 1940
My young son asks me: Must I learn mathematics?
What is the use, I feel like saying. That two pieces
Of bread are more than one’s about all you’ll end up with.
My young son asks me: Must I learn French?
What is the use, I feel like saying. This State’s collapsing.
And if you just rub your belly with your hand and
Groan, you’ll be understood with little trouble.
My young son asks me: Must I learn history?
What is the use, I feel like saying. Learn to stick
Your head in the earth, and maybe you’ll still survive.
Yes, learn mathematics, I tell him.
Learn your French, learn your history!
Short poems by Bertolt Brecht
And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.
This, then, is all. It’s not enough, I know.
At least I’m still alive, as you may see.
I’m like the man who took a brick to show
How beautiful his house used once to be.
CHANGING THE WHEEL
I sit by the road side
The driver changes the wheel.
I do not like the place I have come from.
I do not like the place I am going to.
Why with impatience do I
Watch him changing the wheel?
In the shabby train no seat is vacant.
The child in the ripped mask
Sprawls undisturbed in the waste
Of the smashed compartment. Is their calm extravagant?
They had faces and lives like you. What was it they possessed
That they were willing to trade for this?
The dried blood sparkles along the mask
Of the child who yesterday possessed
A country welcomer than this.
Did he? All night into the waste
The train moves silently. The faces are vacant.
Have none of them found the cost extravagant?
How could they? They gave what they possessed.
Here all the purses are vacant.
And what else could satisfy the extravagant
Tears and wish of the child but this?
Impose its canceling terrible mask
On the days and faces and lives they waste?
What else are their lives but a journey to the vacant
Satisfaction of death? And the mask
They wear tonight through their waste
Is death’s rehearsal. Is it really extravagant
To read in their faces: What is there we possessed
That we were unwilling to trade for this?
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I’ve become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I’d wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I’m old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don’t know … Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work—I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: “You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old.
And yet I’m afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend’s cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
Eighth Air Force
If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!—shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?
The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers! … Still, this is how it’s done:
This is a war … But since these play, before they die,
Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man,
I did as these have done, but did not die—
I will content the people as I can
And give up these to them: Behold the man!
I have suffered, in a dream, because of him,
Many things; for this last saviour, man,
I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?
Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can:
I find no fault in this just man.