Bertolt Brecht

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Let nothing be called natural. In an age of bloody confusion, ordered disorder, planned caprice, and dehumanized humanity, lest all things be held unalterable!

Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (10 February 189814 August 1956), commonly known as Bertolt Brecht, was an influential German Marxist dramatist, stage director, and poet of the 20th century.

Quotes[edit]

Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.
Do not treat me in this fashion. Don't leave me out. Have I not
Always spoken the truth in my books?
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.
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.
Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.
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?
  • 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
  • The main objective is to learn to think crudely. Crude thinking is the great one’s thinking.
    • Dreigroschenroman (1934), reprinted in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967), 916.
  • 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:
    Burn me!
    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
  • Mitfühlend sehe ich
    Die geschwollenen Stirnadern, andeutend
    Wie anstrengend es ist, böse zu sein.
    • 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 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
  • Engel verführt man gar nicht oder schnell.
    Verzieh ihn einfach in den Hauseingang
    Steck ihm die Zunge in den Mund und lang
    Ihm untern Rock, bis er sich naß macht, stell
    Ihm das Gesicht zur Wand, heb ihm den Rock
    Und fick ihn. Stöhnt er irgendwie beklommen
    Dann halt ihn fest und laß ihn zweimal kommen
    Sonst hat er dir am Ende einen Schock.
    Ermahn ihn, dass er gut den Hintern schwenkt
    Heiß ihn dir ruhig an die Hoden fassen
    Sag ihm, er darf sich furchtlos fallen lassen
    Dieweil er zwischen Erd und Himmel hängt –
    Doch schau ihm nicht beim Ficken ins Gesicht
    Und seine Flügel, Mensch, zerdrück sie nicht.
[Angels can not be seduced at all or quickly.
Pull him into the entryway,
stick your tongue in his mouth and reach
under his robe, til he gets wet; put
his face to the wall, lift his robe
and fuck him. If he stares in anguish
then hold him tightly and let him come two times;
otherwise, by the end, he'll be in shock.
Admonish him so he sways his butt;
let him know he's free to grab your balls.
Tell him he can fall without fear
while he is hanging between earth and heaven –
but don't look him in the face while you are fuck him
and, for heaven's sake, don't crush his wings.]
    • "About the Seduction of an Angel" [Über die Verführung von Engeln]; the poem actually stems from Brecht's own pen, but Brecht signed it with the name of his contemporary, fellow German author (in exile) Thomas Mann
    • As cited in Gregory Alexander Knott, Arnold Stadler: Heimat and Metaphysics, Weidler Buchverlag, 2009, p. 30.

The Threepenny Opera (1928)[edit]

Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.
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.
    • 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)[edit]

  • Mr. Wurlitzer, I am now in a position to receive your organ.

The Mother (1930)[edit]

Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.
The strongest fight their whole life.They are the indispensable ones.
  • 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 (1939)[edit]

Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.
Leben des Galilei (1939) 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. [Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat.]
    • 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)[edit]

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
  • Komm, geh mit angeln, sagte der Fischer zum Wurm.
    • Come fishing with me, said the fisherman to the worm.
      • Mutter Courage to the army recruiter when he tries to recruit her son 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)[edit]

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)[edit]

For art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group.
Kleines Organon für das Theater (written 1948, published 1949), 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
  • Will der Schauspieler nicht Papagei oder Affe sein, muß er sich das Wissen der Zeit über das menschliche Zusammenleben aneignen, indem er die Kämpfe der Klassen mitkämpft. Dies mag manchem wie eine Erniedrigung vorkommen, da er die Kunst, ist die Bezahlung geregelt, in die höchsten Sphären versetzt; aber die höchsten Entscheidungen für das Menschengeschlecht werden auf der Erde ausgekämpft, nicht in den Lüften; im »Äußern«, nicht in den Köpfen. Über den kämpfenden Klassen kann niemand stehen, da niemand über den Menschen stehen kann. Die Gesellschaft hat kein gemeinsames Sprachrohr, solange sie in kämpfende Klassen gespalten ist. So heißt unparteiisch seinfür die Kunst nur: zur herrschenden Partei gehören.
    • Unless an actor is satisfied to be a parrot or a monkey he must master our period's knowledge of human social life by himself joining the war of the classes. Some people may feel this is degrading, because they rank art, once the money side has been settled, as one of the highest things; but mankind's highest decisions are in fact fought out on earth, not in the heavens; in the 'external world', not inside people's heads. Nobody can stand above the warring classes, for nobody can stand above the human race. Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring classes. Thus for art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group.
    • ¶ 55
  • If art reflects life, it does so with special mirrors.
    • ¶ 73
  • 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)[edit]

Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not.
Spring is noticed, if at all
By people sitting in railway trains.
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
    Stops hurting
    What hurts is
    The scar.
    • "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
  • Wie lange
    Dauern die Werke? So lange
    Als bis sie fertig sind.
    • 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...
  • 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 [Svendborger Gedichte] (1939); 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?

    Philip 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 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 (1939); 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 (1939); 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 (1939); 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 (1939)
    • 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 den finsteren Zeiten
    Wird da auch gesungen werden?
    Da wird auch gesungen werden.
    Von den finsteren Zeiten.
    • 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'] (1939), 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
    Hopefully
    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


Disputed[edit]

  • Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.
    • Mistakenly attributed to Vladimir Mayakovsky in The Political Psyche (1993) by Andrew Samuels, p. 9; misakenly attributed to Brecht in Paulo Freire : A Critical Encounter (1993) by Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard, p. 80; variant translation: "Art is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it."
    • First recorded in Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924; edited by William Keach (2005), Ch. 4: Futurism, p. 120): "Art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."
  • The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.


Misattributed[edit]

  • What if they gave a war and no one came? Then the war will come to you.
    • Amalgamation of Carl Sandburg's quote "Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come" with a sentence from Brecht's Koloman Wallisch Kantate: "When the people are disarmed / War will come" ("Wenn das Volk entwaffnet ist / Kommt der Krieg"). - Source

Quotes about Brecht[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]

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