TO THOSE WHO COME AFTER

"An die Nachgeborenen," Bertolt Brecht, Translation by Leonore Hildebrandt and Tony Brinkley

TO THOSE WHO COME AFTER

I.

Truly, I live in dark times!
The innocent word is for fools.
An untroubled forehead shelters
a callous mind. Those who laugh
have not heard the terrible news.


What times are these
when to talk about trees is almost a crime––
it contains, silently, so much atrocity!
Someone quietly crosses the street—
is he glad his friend’s anguish
can no longer reach him?


And yes, I am earning my living,
but believe me, only by chance.
Nothing gives me any right to a meal,
just my luck (when it fails, I am lost).


They say, Eat and drink! Be happy
That you can! But how can I eat, how
can I drink, when I snatch my food
from the starving, when their thirst
starves for water in my glass?
Of course I still eat and drink.


I have longed to be wise.
The old books say this is wisdom:
avoid the world’s quarrels, live
your short life
without fear, make your
way without violence––
repay evil with kindness
and forget—never satisfy—
desire. All this is wisdom!
All this I could never do!
It is true I live in dark ages!

 


II


In a time of disorder I came to the cities—
hunger ruled the people.
I came in a time of unrest—
outraged—I rebelled—outraged—
and my time passed on earth—
all the time that was given to me.


I ate between massacres,
I lay down to sleep with murderers,
I attended to love carelessly,
always impatient with Nature—
my time passed on earth—
my time—given to me.


In my time every road led to the swamp—
speaking betrayed me to butchers--
I could do so little, but masters
rule more quietly without me—or so much I hoped—
while I passed my time on the earth
my time—given to me.


So little strength—such
a great distance!
All clearly visibleall
out of reach
in my time given to me.

 


III


You who come after, who emerge
from the flood in which we were downed,
think when you speak of our weakness,
think how such weakness is.
You escaped our dark ages—
we walked across borders,
changing countries more often than shoes,
battling in class warfare, desperate
that there was injustice—and no outrage—


although we knew also
how hatred distorts
faces, how
the rage at injustice
hardens kind voices—we who
wished to be kind, who to ready the ground
for kindness could not be kind.


And you—when the time comes at last
when we at last can be human—
when you can be each other’s comrade—
in hindsight think of us
kindly.