Los Angeles

 

 

Brecht made much of not liking Los Angeles or the United States.  It was a rare occasion when he did not complain.  Mainly, he sees himself in hell.

 

Money was problematic but he received help from some of his exile friends and others, whom he met.  His efforts at writing scripts for Hollywood were not well received or rewarded.  Generally, he spent his time trying to gain traction in terms of the film industry or promote his dramas in English translation.

 

He was one intellectual pole of the German emigre community in Los Angles, the leftist and revolutionary one.  The other was Thomas Mann, the great representative of the middle and upper class.  Brecht considered Charles Laughton a friend, and the two seem to have gotten on well.

 

Poems of this era show Brecht's checkered experience in the L.A. area, negative in terms of his  experiences with Hollywood's business types (see next page, Hollywood Blues) and more positive as on this page, which reflects his  response to the landscape and climate.

Brecht's house at 1063 26th St, Santa Monica, CA 90403, currently valued at $1.5M.

Click on title for German original

 

On Watering the Garden

O sprinkling the lawn to encourage the greenery!
Watering the thirsty trees!  Give more than enough and
Don’t forget the shrubbery, also
The berry-less one, the droopy,
Stingy stuff. And don’t go overlooking
The weeds among the flowers that are
Thirsty, too. And don’t just water
The new lawn or the parched patches only,
You must refresh as well the bare earth.
 

 

Click on title for German original

THE TYPHOON

On our flight from the House Painter to the States
We suddenly noticed that our small ship lay still.
A whole night and a whole day
It lay even with Luzon in the South China Sea.

Some said, it was due to a typhoon raging in the north
Others were afraid of German pirate ships.
All
Preferred the typhoon to the Germans.

(1941) 'House Painter' is one of Brecht's terms for Hitler.

 
 

Click on title for German original

FRIENDS EVERYWHERE

The Finnish workers
Gave him featherbeds and a writing table
The writers of the Soviet Union brought him to his ship
And a Jewish laundryman in Los Angeles
Sent him a suit: the enemy of the slaughterers
Found friends.

Click on title for German original

The Landscape of Exile

Yes, I, too, on the very last boat
Still took delight in the rosy dawn in the rigging
And the sleek gray bodies of the dolphins leaping
Out of the Sea of Japan.
And the little pony carts with their gold trappings
And the pink arm sleeves of the matrons
In the alleys of ill fated Manila,
I, refugee that I was, saw these too with joy.
The oil derricks and the thirsty gardens of Los Angeles
And the canyons of California at sunset and the fruit markets,
These, too, did not leave this envoy of misfortune
Unmoved and cold.

 

(1941)
 

 
 

Click on title for German original

GARDEN IN PROGRESS

High over the Pacific Coast, with
The soft thunder of the waves and the rolling oil tank cars below
Lies the actor’s garden.

The white house is shaded by giant eucalyptus trees
Dusty remnants of the vanished Mission
Of which nothing remains, except perhaps for the granite
Indian snake head, that lies next to the fountain
As if patiently awaiting
The decay of several civilizations.

And there is a Mexican sculpture of porous tuff
On a block of wood that portrays a child with deceitful eyelids
Standing before the bricks of the garden shed
A lovely gray bench of a Chinese design, turned towards
The garden shed. Sitting there, chatting,
You can look over your shoulder at the lemon grove
Effortlessly.

The sections of the garden rest and pulse
In a secret equilibrium, though they nowhere
Block the delighted view, and then, too, the masterful hand
Of the omnipresent gardener does not assign complete unity
To any of the parts: amongst the fuchsias for instance
Grows a cactus. The seasons continually adjust the views
As well, now here, now there
Various groupings blossom or fade.  A lifetime
Would not suffice to consider all that is here. But
As the garden grows with the plan
The plan grows with the garden.

The powerful oak trees on the lordly lawns
Are clear creations of the imagination. With a sharp saw
The lord of the garden annually
Builds new branch work.

The grass on the other side of the hedge grows heedlessly
Around the enormous wild rose bush. Zinnias and colorful vines
Sway to-and-fro over the steep hillside.  Sweet peas, ferns
Sprout about the split, stacked firewood.    

In the corner beneath the spruce trees
You will find the fuchsia garden along the wall.  Like immigrants
The lovely shrubs stand there, unaware of their heritage
Astonishing even themselves with many a bold bright red
Heavy with blossoms around the small native
Tender vigorous bush of tiny bell flowers.
 
And there was a garden within the garden
Beneath a pine tree, and thus in shade
Ten feet wide and twelve feet long
That was as big as a park
With a bit of moss and cyclamens
And two camellia bushes.

And it was not only with plants and trees
That the lord of the garden did his work, but with
The plants and trees of his neighbors as well, pointing this
Out to him, he confessed with a smile: I steal right and left
(But he concealed the bad stuff
With his plants and trees.)

Small bushes stood
Strewn about everywhere, stray night time thoughts
Wherever one turned, if you looked
You found hidden but lively designs.

A cloistral path of hibiscus shrubs leads to the house
Planted so closely that the strolling passer-by
Must bend them back, making them discharge
The full scent of their blossoms.

Along the cloistral path near the house, next to the lamp post
You find the Arizona cactus standing tall as a man, that annually
Blossoms for one night only - this year
To the thunder of naval guns from ships on maneuver -
With blossoms the size of a fist, but refined
As a Chinese actor.  

Unfortunately the lovely garden, situated high over the coast
Is built on brittle stone; suddenly without warning, land slides
Take whole portions down into the deep. It seems
There is not much more time to complete it all.


(Summer 1944)


The title for this poem is in English.

 

Brecht truly liked and appreciated the English actor, Charles Laughton; he wrote his play,  Life of Galileo with Laughton in mind in the title role.  During his time in Los Angles, Brecht often visited Laughton and Elsa Lanchester’s home in Pacific Palisades at  14954 Corona del Mar, where the Laughtons had an extensive, interesting and well maintained garden. In 1944 a portion of the bluff crumbled and fell.  Laughton had bought the property unaware of this danger.  Brecht wished to console him.

 

Click on title for German original

 

Letters on Readings                                            

                              (Horace Epistles, Book 2, Epistle 1)

Beware, you
Who sing Hitler’s praises.
 I, who have seen the Marches of May and October
At Red Square and the inscriptions
On their banners and the thundering
Trains of tanker cars and the trucks loaded
With five cars stacked on top of each other
Thundering down the Roosevelt-Highway
Near the Pacific Ocean -- I know
That he will die soon and in dying
Will have out-lived his fame, and
Even if he has made the earth unlivable
Through his conquests, no
Song of praise for him can survive. Of course
The cry of pain even of whole continents
Will die down all too quickly to smother
The paeans of praise to the tormentor. And of course
these bards of atrocity have resonant voices.
But yet, the song of the dying swans
Are held to be loveliest: They
Sing without fear.  

In this small garden in Santa Monica
I read under the pepper tree
I read in my Horace of a certain Varius
Who praised Augustus, namely, what fortune and his generals
And the corruption of the Romans had done for him. Only little fragments
Copied in the work of another, attest
To great poetry.  They were not worth
The effort of longer copying.

II

It was with pleasure that I read
How Horace traces Saturnic verses
Back to peasant tales which did
Not spare the great families, to the point
Where the police forbad malicious songs,
Admonishing the scandalizing  poets
To develop more noble arts and
Scandalize with finer verse. At least
That is the way I read this passage.


(1944)

 

Brecht imitates an Epistle of the Roman poet, Horace.