Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This is not a post, this is a page from my notebook

Around thirty years ago, I read a snippet of information which pleases me to this day: Finland has (used to have?) the world's largest number of books per capita.

Thank god for the Finnish library system and the above bit of trivia. Together these two facts (factoids?) allow me access not only to the internet (alright, before 8 pm only, but I'm not complaining), of which I have been so cruelly deprived, but also access to books that still have stuff in them which is difficult to come by online.

For various reasons, I need access to this poem by Bertolt Brecht - twenty minutes of dicking about online came up with sites that had the last two verses only, and I want to have the lot. So - I shall post it here, on my bloggy, and hurrah, I shall have it at my fingertips for ever (if I can get online, yes yes).

To Those Born Later


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?

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 fulfil your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do:
Truly, I live in dark times.


I came to the cities in times 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 practised 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.


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

- Bertolt Brecht. Transl. John Willett, Ralph Manheim & Erich Fried.


Reading the Signs said...

Nice. I love his songs too - the ones I really know are from Threepenny Opera with the Kurt Weil music.

Anna MR said...

Yes, they are good, aren't they - I have a cd (in Hawai'i, so a mite unavailable) of Marianne Faithfull singing Kurt Weil songs - quite a combination.

Miranda said...

This is very good. It reminds me a bit of a TS Eliot's Journey of the Magi: "A cold coming we had of it", that mix of philosophy and practicalities, how the mud felt underfoot; and WH Auden's "Musee des Beaux Artes": "the torturer's horse scratches its behind on a tree".

Does Finland still hold this admirable statistical position?

the periodic englishman said...

Hello Miranda and hello RTS up at the top of the page, too.

Anna MR, hei. Aluksi - kyllä! Ei mitään muuta. Except to say that, like Miranda, I enjoyed this, too.

I can see why she was reminded of the two poems she mentions (although I had to look up the second one to have an earthly). Less clear, maybe, why I can't shift a Louis MacNeice poem (Prayer Before Birth) from my head as I read what you have posted.

You can see it if you click on my name (still not able to embed such a thing in an answer - sorry). I'm not sure that it is even a very good poem (slightly obvious and clunking, maybe) but it has always been there or thereabouts for me since being introduced to it at school - and came rushing at me again whilst visiting you here.

A nice idea to post something which then allows you immediate and permanent access to it, Anna MR - internet connection permitting, of course.

All hail the Finnish library system, indeed, and good luck in the dress rehearsal tonight, by the way.


Anna MR said...

Miranda - magic to find you here. Welcome.

TPE - I missed you by half an hour at this smokey internet cafe where I have come to kill time before the dress rehearsal (thank you for the breakalegs).

I have no time to say a great deal - will get back to you both. I thought I didn't know the Auden poem, Miranda, and when I read it, I thought I'd only just seen it somewhere. Your house?

TPE - I don't know whether my taste is impeccable, but I loved the MacNeice - hypnotic, compelling, wounding.

The poem I wanted to comment with - again, bloody hell! - didn't appear easily available. This one's kicking, too.

More soon - later.


The Periodic Englishman said...

Hyvää iltaa, Anna MR, hopefully your dress rehearsal went well.

The TS Eliot (meditation) you linked to is really quite something, isn't it? Phew. I'm going to need to look at that for a while longer, certainly. There is an awful lot to take in.

I'm glad you seemed to like the Louis MacNeice poem. I want to make clear that I like it as well, really rather a lot - I just don't happen to feel that it is a terribly good poem, for some reason. Good being a rather hopelessly inadequate (and entirely subjective) word in these circumstances, I'm afraid.

I've always felt that it is lacking something vital - I'm just not sure what, exactly. Still, whatever it may be lacking, there is more than enough within it already to be getting along with.

No poetic links hidden in my name this time, you may be relieved to hear, but I have my work cut out as it is going through your last offering (TS Eliot).

Back to the coalface.


The Ice Maiden said...

Hei TPE, the dress rehearsal wasn't brilliant but it wasn't terrible either. Don't know whether to worry or rejoice - usually terrible dress rehearsals lead to awful nerves but pretty good first nights - intend to be good on Saturday regardless. Pretty squeezed-dry, thinly-spread feeling now, afterwards, though.

The TS Eliot is good, no? I was going to do it in one of our Poetry & Jazz evenings, but the guy organising it made the sensible choice (way too long for being performed out loud by anyone anywhere, particularly me to a café audience). I did Hollow Men instead, and one about preferring masturbation to sexual intercourse, by Fleur Adcock (unfortunate name, real, to my understanding), and maybe a few others, can't quite remember.

The MacNeice I thought the best of his stuff I have read - I have a friend who is really keen on him, and I sort of like him but have the feeling you seem to express of it being "almost but not quite". This one, I thought, was a "quite" in its own department.


found the other poem said...

Miranda, hei and thank you again for visiting and for drawing the comparison between the Brecht and these poems - I wouldn't have found it myself but love it now it's been pointed out to me. I agree, bringing the mud-and-innocent-behinds-of-torturer's-horses everyday realism into the poems underlines the poignancy of the philosophical aspects. Makes it more real, if you like - miracles, heroic, tragic failures, in the world where dogs play and children skate - not one world at all, but as many as the people in it. Or something. For myself, of the TS Eliot, though, the line personally closest is "With the voices singing in our ears, saying/ That this was all folly" - not peasants humming away by the roadside as the magi rode on, I think, but more the internal monologue of self-doubt and self-laceration (thank you for the use of your terminology, TPE), so painfully f*cking familiar to some of us.

You know, I never went and checked this admirable statistic - I got it, as I recall, from my (American) geography book which gave a table of information about the European countries, including a little trivia of each. That means, of course, it could be an absolute load of old codswallop. Which is why I didn't want to ruin it by checking.

Do come back soon, Miranda. Fun having you here.

A x