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Communism 2



In 1935, Brecht visited Moskow, where he had admirers and friends, especially among writers.  These relationships were not to survive the purges of several years later, when Tretyakov, his translator, was tried and killed, a fate shared by other Soviet writers of his acquaintance. 


The following poems reflect his dedication to the cause of communism, poems that were published.  Unpublished poems include those for his comrades who fell due to communist repression.



Metro, Moscow, interior.

Click on title for German original

ON APRIL 27TH 1935

We have heard that 80,000 workers
Built the Metro, many of them after their regular daily jobs
Often throughout many nights. Throughout this year
Young men and women were seen climbing out of the tunnels
Laughing, taking pride in their work clothes,
Soiled with dirt and drenched with sweat.
All difficulties -
Subterranean streams, the pressure of tall buildings,
Landslides - were overcome.  In the decoration
No effort was spared.  The best marble
Was brought in from afar, the most beautiful woods
Carefully crafted. The beautiful cars
Were finally running almost silent through the tunnels
Lit bright as day: for such demanding customers -
Only the very best.  
Now that the train line was built according to the most ideal models
And the owners came to view
And to ride on it, they were the very same
Ones who had built it.
There were thousands there, who walked about
Viewing the enormous halls, and in the trains
Great masses of people rode by, their faces -
Men, women and children, old people as well -
All turned towards the stations, for the stations
Were all built differently, from different stone
In different styles, and the lights, too
Came always from another source. Those who entered the cars
Were pushed back into the interior by the happy jostling crowd,
Since the front seats were the best
For viewing the stations.  At every station
The children were raised high. As often as possible
The passengers stormed outside and regarded
The workmanship with a joyous intensity.  They felt the columns
And examined their smoothness, with their shoes
They made their way over the stone floors,
To see if the stones had been set correctly.  Streaming back to the cars
They inspected the wall paneling and put their hands
On the window glass.  Continually
Women and men pointed  - uncertain if it was the right one -
To the places where they had worked: the stones
Bore the traces of their hands. Every face
Was truly visible, more than in any other train I have seen.
Even the tunnels were lighted, no meter of work
Went unlit. And all this
Had been built in a single year and by so many workers  
As no other train in the world. And no
Other train in the world had so many owners

For this wonderful project saw
What none of its predecessors in many cities over many ages
Had ever seen: that the owners of the project were its workers.
Where had this ever occurred before, that the fruit of their labor
Went to those, who had done the labor?  Where ever
Before had the people who erected it not been driven
Out of the finished structures?
When we watched them riding in their cars
The works of their own hands, we knew
That this was the great image that the classic authors -
Shaken to their core -  had foreseen.



Brecht’s paean to the Moscow Metro, the showpiece of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan.  The initial section of the Metro actually took three years to complete.  At the time, the Metro was considered a marvel of modernity; the lighting design especially was considered a technological breakthrough for its time. –  The classical authors of Communism are Marx, Engels and  Lenin.



Click on title for German original




Here lies
The ambassador from the abject slums
The describer of the tormentors of the people
As well as their opponents
Who was educated in the universities of the highways and byways
The low born one
Who helped abolish high and low
The teacher of the people
Who learned from the people


epitaph Gorki

Click on title for German original


Are the People Infallible?


My teacher
The great and friendly one,
Has been shot to death, condemned by a People’s Court.
As a spy.  His name is damned.
His books destroyed.  Discussions about him
Are suspicious and hushed.
Suppose he is innocent?


The Sons of the People found him guilty
The Collectives and Factories of Workers
The most heroic institutions of the world
Saw in him an enemy.
No voice was raised in his defense.
Suppose he is innocent?


The People have many enemies
In the highest places
There are enemies. In the most valuable laboratories
There are enemies.  They build
Canals and dams for the well being of whole continents and the canals
Fill with silt and the dams
Give way.  The director must be shot.
Suppose he is innocent?


The enemy is in disguise.
He pulls a worker’s cap down over his forehead.  His friends
Know him to be an avid worker.  His wife
Shows us the holes in his shoes
That he has worn out in the service of the People.
And yet he is an enemy.  Was my teacher one of these?
Suppose he is innocent?


Talking about the enemies that might be seated in the Courts of the People
Is dangerous, since the Courts need their respect.
Requesting papers on which the proofs of the guilt is clear
Is absurd, for there do not necessarily have to be such papers.
The criminals have the proof of the innocence in their hands
The innocent often do not have any proof.
Is silence the best policy?
Suppose he is innocent?


That which 5000 have built, one man can destroy.
Among 50, who have been condemned
One might be innocent.
Suppose he is innocent?


Suppose he is innocent.
How can he go to his death?


(second half of 1939)


This poem concerns the death of Sergey Tretyakov, a Soviet writer, who translated works by Brecht into Russian, and thus help spread Brecht’s name and fame into the Soviet Union. They met in 1930 when Tretyakov came to Berlin on a tour with a play of his own. Tretyakov, however, fell out of favor and was purged by Stalin, as were many artists and intellectuals. He was arrested and exectuted  in 1939.  Brecht was greatly upset. Tretyaov was rehabilitated posthumously (1974).


Needless to say, this poem was not published in Brecht's lifetime.


Click on title for German original

Ardens sed virens

Splendid what fire, hot and clear,
Turns not to ashes dull and chill.
Sister, it is you whom I hold dear,
Unconsumed, but burning still.  

Many I saw turn slyly cold
Hotheads plunge with blazing will.
Sister, know, it is you I hold,
Unconsumed, but burning still.

For you, there was no horse at ready,
Back of  killing field or hill.
You have skill, fight hard and steady
Unconsumed, but burning still.

(August 1939)


Brecht wrote this poem with a Latin title Ardens sen virens, meaning burning but still strong for Ruth Berlau, his companion and co-worker. Hanns Eisler set the poem to music in 1954.  It was sung for Berlau in 1954 by the actor, Ernst Busch.






Click on title for German original

Thought in the Works of the Classic Authors

Naked and without cover
It  appears before you, shamelessly,
Assured of its usefulness.
No matter that you already know it, sufficient
That you have forgotten it.
It speaks
With the harshness of greatness. Without deviating,
Without introduction
It appears, conditioned
To finding respect because of its usefulness.
Its listener is misery, that has no time.
Cold and hunger stand watch
Over the attention of the listeners. The slightest inattention
Condemns them to immediate ruination.

But no matter how masterfully it appears,
It still shows that without listeners, it is nothing,
Would neither have come,
Nor know where to go, nor where to stay
If they were not to take it in. Indeed,  if it were not taught
By those who were ignorant yesterday
It would quickly lose its strength, and soon perish.

(About 1936)


The classic authors referred to here are those associated with dialectical Materialismus, Marx, Engels und Lenin.

classic thinkers
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