Library:To posterity

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To Posterity is a poem by German anti-fascist Bertolt Brecht.


Indeed I live in the dark ages!

A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens

A hard heart. He who laughs

Has not yet heard

The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is

When to speak of trees is almost a crime

For it is a kind of silence about injustice!

And he who walks calmly across the street,

Is he not out of reach of his friends

In trouble?

It is true: I earn my living

But, believe me, it is only an accident.

Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.

By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me

I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!

But how can I eat and drink

When my food is snatched from the hungry

And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?

And yet I eat and drink.

I would gladly be wise.

The old books tell us what wisdom is:

Avoid the strife of the world

Live out your little time

Fearing no one

Using no violence

Returning good for evil —

Not fulfillment of desire but forgetfulness

Passes for wisdom.

I can do none of this:

Indeed I live in the dark ages!


I came to the cities in a time of disorder

When hunger ruled.

I came among men in a time of uprising

And I revolted with them.

So the time passed away

Which on earth was given me.

I ate my food between massacres.

The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep.

And when I loved, I loved with indifference.

I looked upon nature with impatience.

So the time passed away

Which on earth was given me.

In my time streets led to the quicksand.

Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.

There was little I could do. But without me

The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope.

So the time passed away

Which on earth was given me.


You, who shall emerge from the flood

In which we are sinking,

Think —

When you speak of our weaknesses,

Also of the dark time

That brought them forth.

For we went,changing our country more often than our shoes.

In the class war, despairing

When there was only injustice and no resistance.

For we knew only too well:

Even the hatred of squalor

Makes the brow grow stern.

Even anger against injustice

Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we

Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness

Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass

That man can help his fellow man,

Do no judge us

Too harshly.

translated by H. R. Hays