- People remain what they are even if their faces fall apart.
- Garga, in In the Jungle of Cities [Im Dickicht der Städte] (1923) , sc. 9; also translated as In the Swamp and Jungle of Cities.
- But something's missing (Aber etwas fehlt).
- Jim[my] Mahoney, in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930)
- A man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.
- "Emphasis on Sport" in the Berliner Börsen-Courier (6 February 1926), as quoted in Brecht on Theatre (1964) edited and translated by John Willett.
- The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: Yes, I've felt that way, too. That's the way I am. That's life. That's the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That's great art — Everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh. But the theater-goer in the epic theater says: I would never have thought that. You can't do that. That's very strange, practically unbelievable. That has to stop. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is an escape for him. That's great art — nothing is self-evident. I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh.
- "Entertainment or Education? (1936)
- Let nothing be called natural
In an age of bloody confusion,
Ordered disorder, planned caprice,
And dehumanized humanity, lest all things
Be held unalterable!
- The Exception and the Rule (1937), Prologue
- Literary works cannot be taken over like factories, or literary forms of expression like industrial methods. Realist writing, of which history offers many widely varying examples, is likewise conditioned by the question of how, when and for what class it is made use of.
- "The Popular and the Realistic" (written 1938, published 1958), as translated in Brecht on Theatre (1964) edited and translated by John Willett.
- Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.
- Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler), in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)
- Do not treat me in this fashion. Don't leave me out. Have I not
Always spoken the truth in my books? And now
You treat me like a liar! I order you:
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
- A response to the Nazi book burnings, in "To Posterity" (1939) as translated by H. R. Hays (1947)
- To live means to finesse the processes to which one is subjugated.
- "Notes on Philosophy" in On Politics and Society (1941).
- Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.
- The Singer, in The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944), Prologue
- I see with sympathy
The swollen veins on his brow, showing
How exhausting it is to be evil.
- "The Mask of Evil", as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 14
- It is not enough to demand insight and informative images of reality from the theater. Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him. Theater must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery, all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.
- Essays on the Art of Theater (1954).
- The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.
- On defendants in the Moscow Trials and on innocents betrayed by Communist Party members, as recounted by philosopher Sidney Hook, as quoted in Intellectuals (1990) by Paul Johnson, p. 190; though this might easily be interpreted as implying that anyone who had failed to conspire against Stalin deserved to be shot, Hook implies that he meant that the betrayal of innocents was justified. Henry Pachter is also quoted in Intellectuals as saying that Brecht had made similar remarks in his presence, and had added "Fifty years hence the communists will have forgotten Stalin, but I want to be sure that they will still read Brecht. Therefore I cannot separate myself from the Party."
- Some party hack decreed that the people
had lost the government's confidence
and could only regain it with redoubled effort.
If that is the case, would it not be be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?
- "The Solution" ["Die Lösung"] (c. 1953), as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 17
- Variant translation:
- The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had flyers distributed in Stalin Way that said
That the People had frivolously
Thrown away the Government's Confidence
And that they could only regain it
Through Redoubled Work. But wouldn't it be
Simpler if the Government
Simply dissolved the People
And elected another?
- Firebugs dragging their gasoline bottles
Are approaching the Academy of Arts, with a grin.
And so, instead of embracing them, Let us demand the freedom of the elbow
To knock the bottles out of their filthy hands.
Even the most blockheaded bureaucrat,
Provided he loves peace,
Is a greater lover of the arts
Than any so-called art-lover
Who loves the arts of war.
- "Freedom for Whom", as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 18
- Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.
- As quoted in Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1976) by John Gordon Burke and Ned Kehde, p. 224, also in The Book of Positive Quotations (2007) by John Cook, p. 390
The Threepenny Opera (1928) 
- Quotations from Die Dreigroschenoper using primarily the translation by Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley (1949; 1960) ISBN 0-8021-5039-X
- First comes a full stomach, then comes ethics.
- And the shark he has his teeth and
There they are for all to see
And Macheath he has his knife but
No one knows where it may be.
- "The Moritat of Mackie the Knife" in Prologue, p. 3
- Translation note: A "moritat" (a word meaning both "muderous deed" and "ballad") is a street song telling of murderous crimes.
- Lotte Lenya, "Foreword", p. xii
- Variant translation: Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.
- So it happens, for instance, that a man who sees another man on the street corner with only a stump for an arm will be so shocked the first time that he'll give him sixpence. But the second time it'll only be a threepenny bit. And if he sees him a third time, he'll hand him over cold-bloodedly to the police.
- Peachum in Act 1, scene 1, pp. 5-6
- Variant translation: A man who sees another man on the street corner with only a stump for an arm will be so shocked the first time he'll give him sixpence. But the second time it'll only be a threepenny bit. And if he sees him a third time, he'll have him cold-bloodedly handed over to the police.
- You may proclaim, good sirs, your fine philosophy
But till you feed us, right and wrong can wait!
- Macheath in "Second Threepenny-Finale"; Act 2, scene 3, p. 67
- Variant translations:
- However much you twist, whatever lies you tell
Food is the first thing, morals follow on.
- Used by the Pet Shop Boys, in "What Keeps Mankind Alive?", Can You Forgive Her (1993 EP)
- Food first, then morality.
- For once you must try not to shirk the facts:
Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.
- "What Keeps Mankind Alive?" Act 2, sc. 6
- The law is simply and solely made for the exploitation of those who do not understand it or of those who, for naked need, cannot obey it.
- Polly Peachum, in Act 3, scene 1, p. 74
- Variant translation: The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it.
- For the task assigned them
Men aren't smart enough or sly
Any rogue can blind them
With a clever lie.
- Polly Peachum, in "The Song of the Futility of All Human Endeavor"; Act 3, scene 1, p. 75
- What is the burgling of a bank to the founding of a bank?
- Macheath, in Act 3, scene 3, p. 92
Happy End (1929) 
- Mr. Wurlitzer, I am now in a position to receive your organ.
The Mother (1930) 
- Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.
- Pelagea Vlasova in Scene 10
- You don't need to pray to God any more when there are storms in the sky, but you do have to be insured.
- Pelagea Vlasova in Scene 10
- Those who are weak don't fight.
Those who are stronger might fight
for an hour.
Those who are stronger still might fight
for many years.
The strongest fight
their whole life.
They are the indispensable ones.
- "In Praise of the Fighters" (song)
- Variant translation: There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.
- As quoted in Democracy Unbound : Progressive Challenges to the Two Party System (1997) by David Reynolds; also quoted by Cuban musician and poet Silvio Rodríguez before his song "Sueño con serpientes".
Also quoted by Eduardo Galeano (Uruguayan writer) to describe Nestor Kirchner as he received the notice of his death.
Life of Galileo (1938) 
- Leben des Galilei (1938) using primarily the translation by Arvid Englind, in the version brought to stage by Charles Laughton, working in collaboration with Brecht; also translated as Galileo. ISBN 0-8021-3059-3
- The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn
When teachers themselves are taught to learn.
- Scene 6
- Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.
- Scene 12, p. 115
- Variant translations: Pity the country that needs heroes.
Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes
- Science has only one commandment: contribution.
- Andrea, in Scene 13, p. 122
- Variant: Science knows only one commandment — contribute to science.
- As translated by Howard Brenton (1980)
- The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set some limit on infinite error.
Mother Courage and Her Children (1939) 
- Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (1939); as translated by Eric Bentley (1955), ISBN 0-8021-3082-8
- What they could do with round here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.
- The Sergeant, in Scene 1
- War is like love, it always finds a way.
- The Chaplain, in Scene 6, p. 76
- Sometimes I have visions of myself driving through hell, selling sulphur and brimstone, or through heaven peddling refreshments to the roaming souls. If me and the children I've got left could find a place where there's no shooting, I wouldn't mind a few years of peace and quiet.
- Mother Courage
The Good Person of Sezuan (1943) 
- Der gute Mensch von Sezuan [The Good Person of Sezuan] using the translation The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943) by Eric Bentley ISBN 0-394-17108-8
- Show interest in her goodness — for no one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand.
- First God, in Scene 1a, p. 38
A Short Organum for the Theatre (1949) 
- Kleines Organon für das Theater, as translated in Brecht on Theatre (1964), translated and edited by John Willett
- We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself.
- ¶ 35
- Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring factions.
- ¶ 55
- For art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group.
- ¶ 55
- Art and science coincide insofar as both aim to improve the lives of men and women. The latter normally concerns itself with profit, the former with pleasure. In the coming age, art will fashion our entertainment out of new means of productivity in ways that will simultaneously enhance our profit and maximize our pleasure.
Poems, 1913-1956 (1976) 
- Brecht, Bertolt (1976). John Willett, Ralph Manheim, eds.. ed (in English). Poems, 1913-1956. Erich Fried (2nd edition ed.). New York: Methuen. pp. 627 pages. ISBN 0-416-00091-6.
- Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not.
- "Song about my mother" [Lied von meiner Mutter], from "Thirteen Psalms" (1920), trans. Christopher Middleton in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 40
- And when she was finished they laid her in earth
Flowers growing, butterflies juggling over her...
She, so light, barely pressed the earth down
How much pain it took to make her as light as that!
- "To my mother" [Meiner Mutter] (May 1920), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 49
- Worship with fulness of heart the weak memory of heaven!
It cannot trace
Either your name or your face
Nobody knows you're still living.
- "Great hymn of thanksgiving" [Grosser Dankchoral] (1920) from The Devotions (1922-1927); trans. Karl Neumann in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 74
- Oh the harsh snarl of guitar strings roaring!
Heavenly distensions of our throats!
Trousers stiff with dirt and love! Such whoring!
Long green slimy nights: we were like stoats.
- "Those days of my youth" [O, Ihr Zeiten meiner Jugend] (1921), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 76
- Marie Farrar: month of birth, April
Died in the Meissen penitentiary
An unwed mother, judged by the law, she will
Show you how all that lives, lives frailly.
You who bear your sons in laundered linen sheets
And call your pregnancies a "blessed" state
Should never damn the outcast and the weak:
Her sin was heavy, but her suffering great.
Therefore, I beg, make not your anger manifest
For all that lives needs help from all the rest.
- "Of the infanticide Marie Farrar" [Von der Kindesmörderin Marie Farrar] (1920) from Devotions (1922-1927); trans. Sidney H. Bremer in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 92
- Here today we huddle tight
As the darkest heathens might
The snow falls chilly on our skin
The snow is forcing its way in.
Hush, snow, come in with us to dwell:
We were thrown out by Heaven as well.
- "Christmas legend" [Weinachtslegende] (1923), Berliner Börsen-Courier (25 December 1924); trans. in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 99
- Come in, dear wind, and be our guest
You too have neither home nor rest.
- "Christmas legend" [Weinachtslegende] (1923) Berliner Börsen-Courier (25 December 1924); trans in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 100
- The rain
Never falls upwards.
When the wound
What hurts is
- "Poems Belonging to a Reader for Those who Live in Cities" [Zum Lesebuch für Städtebewohner gehörige Gedichte] (1926-1927), poem 10, trans. Frank Jones in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 148
- Spring is noticed, if at all
By people sitting in railway trains.
- "Concerning spring" [Über das Frühjahr] (1928), Uhu, Berlin, IV, 6 (March 1928); trans. Christopher Middleton in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 158
- On golden chairs
Sitting at ease, you paid for the songs which we chanted
To those less lucky. You paid us for drying their tears
And for comforting all those whom you had wounded.
- "Song of the cut-price poets" [Lied der preiswerten Lyriker] (1927/1933) from Songs Poems Choruses (1934); in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 161
- All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.
- "Solidarity song" [Solidaritätslied] (1931), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 186
- Of all the works of man I like best
Those which have been used.
The copper pots with their dents and flattened edges
The knives and forks whose wooden handles
Have been worn away by many hands: such forms
Seemed to me the noblest.
- "Of all the works of man" [Von allen Werken] (c. 1932) in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 192
- How long
Do works endure? As long
As they are not completed.
- "About the way to construct enduring works" [Über die Bauart langdauernder Werke] (1932), trans. Frank Jones in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 193
- With drooping shoulders
The majority sit hunched, their foreheads furrowed like
Stony ground that has been repeatedly ploughed-up to no purpose.
- "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung]] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 235
- People will observe you to see
How well you have observed.
The man who only observes himself however never gains
Knowledge of men. He is too anxious
To hide himself from himself. And nobody is
Cleverer than he himself is.
- "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, pp. 235-236
- Play your part creatively in all the struggles
Of men of your time, thereby
Helping, with the seriousness of study and the cheerfulness of knowledge
To turn the struggle into common experience and
Justice into a passion.
- "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 238
- Events cast long shadows before.
One such event would be a war.
But how are shadows to be seen
When total darkness fills the screen?
- "Alphabet" [Alfabet] from "Five Children's Songs" (1934), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 239
- The plum tree in the yard's so small
It's hardly like a tree at all.
Yet there it is, railed round
To keep it safe and sound.
The poor thing can't grow any more
Though if it could it would for sure.
There's nothing to be done
It gets too little sun.
- "The Plum Tree" [Der Pfaumenbaum] (1934) from The Svendborg Poems (1938); in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 243
- When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out "stop!"
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
- "When evil-doing comes like falling rain" [Wenn die Untat kommt, wie der Regen fällt] (1935), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 247
Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?
And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?
In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great 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 that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?
So many reports.
So many questions.
- "Questions from a worker who reads" [Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters] (1935) from The Svendborg Poems (1938); trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 252
- The headlong stream is termed violent
But the river bed hemming it in is
Termed violent by no one.
- "On Violence" [Über die Gewalt] (1930s), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 276
- Little changes are the enemies of great changes.
- "Quotation" [Zitat] (1930s), trans. Michael Morley in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 277
- Their peace and their war
Are like wind and storm.
War grows from their peace.
- "Those at the top say: peace and war" [Die Oberen sagen: Friede und Krieg] from "A German War Primer" [Deutsche Kriegsfibel] (1937), trans. Lee Baxendall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 288
- General, your tank
is a powerful vehicle
it smashes down forests
and crushes a hundred men.
but it has one defect:
it needs a driver.
- "General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle", in "From a German War Primer", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 289
- General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
- "General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle", in "From a German War Primer", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 289
- The man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news.
- "To Those Born Later", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938)
- quoted in Poems, 1913—1956, p. 318
- Variation: He who laughs last has not yet heard the bad news.
- German: Wer jetzt noch lacht, hat die neuesten Nachrichten noch nicht gehört.
- In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
- "Motto to the 'Svendborg Poems' " [Motto der 'Svendborger Gedichte'] (1938), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 320
- This is the year which people will talk about
This is the year which people will be silent about.
The old see the young die.
The foolish see the wise die.
The earth no longer produces, it devours.
The sky hurls down no rain, only iron.
- "Finland 1940" [Finnland 1940] (1940), trans. Sammy McLean in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 350
- Every day, to earn my daily bread
I go to the market where lies are bought
I take up my place among the sellers.
- "Hollywood" (1942)
- quoted in Poems, 1913—1956, p. 382
- High above the lake a bomber flies.
From the rowing boats
Children look up, women, an old man. From a distance
They appear like young starlings, their beaks
Wide open for food.
- "This Summer's Sky" [Der Himmel dieses Sommers], (1953), trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 444
- And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone's heart must be torn to shreds.
That you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.
- "And I always thought" [Und ich dachte immer] (c. 1956), trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 452
Quotes about Brecht 
- As a youth I enjoyed — indeed, like most of my contemporaries, revered — the agitprop plays of Brecht, and his indictments of Capitalism. It later occurred to me that his plays were copyrighted, and that he, like I, was living through the operations of that same free market. His protestations were not borne out by his actions, neither could they be. Why, then, did he profess Communism? Because it sold. The public’s endorsement of his plays kept him alive; as Marx was kept alive by the fortune Engels’s family had made selling furniture; as universities, established and funded by the Free Enterprise system — which is to say by the accrual of wealth — house, support, and coddle generations of the young in their dissertations on the evils of America.
- Playwright David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (2011). New York, Sentinel, p. 2