By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn
Norton & Company – £12.99
In the Forward of this altogether intensely colourful collection Bertolt Brecht – Love Poems, the poet’s last surviving child, Barbara Brecht-Schall coquettishly writes: ”Papa loved women, many women […], and he was faithful to each of them. I still do not understand the attraction […]. To be completely honest, Bidi – the nickname that I used for him, a name he acquired as a little boy in Augsburg – did not wash enough and wore long underwear, well after it was fashionable. But even as a young girl, I remember that women, like flies to honey, would always find him witty and charming. His passion, whether expressed to women, to his art, or to his children, seemed all-encompassing.”
Said exposition of deep passion and (self) belief, whether its manifestated through that of art, music or indeed politics, has always been something of an abreaction – the original word of which, oddly enough, stems from the German, Abreagierung – induced aphrodisiac between the sexes. Of particular bemusement, not to mention indelible proof, is the fact that women need not always be attracted by the tall, dark and exceedingly dull type of man such as Fitzwilliam Darcy – unless of course you happen to be Keira Knightley (in which case, all artistic merit counts for nada).
For confirmation, one need only think of the effect Adolf Hitler had on women. Likewise, Jean-Paul Sartre, Woody Allen or more recently, Peter Crouch – all three of whom wouldn’t be quite so alluring to women were they mere bus conductors or fruit wholesalers.
So in answer to Brecht’s daughter’s, aforementioned comments with regards the wearing of long underwear, her father’s attraction went f-a-r beyond such norm parameters as staid visibility and hygiene. The attraction lie surely in her father’s conviction to the everyday. Not to mention the commitment to his work – of which Hannah Arendt once wrote: ”Brecht staked his life and his art as few poets have ever done.” Like Goethe, write unquestionably talented translators David Constantine and Tom Kuhn: ”Brecht was always more or less in love.’ A place where we have all invariably found ourselves from time to time. Although amid these 107 pages, it’s a love that ”is expressed, discussed, enacted in an astonishing variety of modes, forms, tones, and circumstances.”
All of which need to be read and fully visualised, before even beginning to contemplate love and life’s next move – of which Brecht was clearly something of a potential master: ”In circumstances of great inhumanity, the poem may awaken a memory of circumstances more worthy of human beings.” This is clarified in last November’s edition of New Republic, where William Giraldi wrote: ”Brecht believed that art should function as the instigation for revolt. Art must be useful, must serve the gritty aims of practicality. No self-important prettiness, no ”willing suspension of disbelief,” no Aristotelian catharsis. Brecht would rather you not be so bourgeois as to feel anything; instead, think about what you’re seeing and then go depose your tranquillized leaders.”
The German playwright and poet, apparatchik of the polemic and devout communist, left a legacy of over 2,000 poems at the time of his death in 1956 – of which Love Poems is a tiny, tiny, tip of both the passionate and the profound.