I don’t know where I first discovered Bertolt Brecht. Wait, I do. It was at the Centres Pompidou at an exhibition of the life works of Nancy Spero a few years back. There on the wall was a printing of “The Ballad of Marie Sanders,” and that was it for me.
Serendipitously, I stumbled across a collection of his poems for three pounds at a charity shop in London shortly thereafter. I liken Brecht lyricism to W.H. Auden and of course, his Kipling inspiration in scale and scope. Many of his poems were designed for guitar, but they are really meant to be recited on stage. More on that later.
Here, a meditation on all the literary past holds. The answers to a lot of questions. And then many more questions after the answers.
Questions From A Worker Who Reads
Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
And Babylon, many times demolished
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Phillip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years’ War. Who else won it?
Every page a victor.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?
So many reports.
So many questions.