Thursday, September 10, 2009

. . . large-heartedness - that concern and regard for the plight of others - is not a partisan feeling*

To Posterity
- by 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


President Barack Obama, from speech given to joint session of Congress, 09-09-09

photo: Croton-on-Hudson graveyard by Lydia



Phivos Nicolaides said...

Bertolt Brecht is a great author. His work was very influential!

secret, fragile skies said...

Bravo! Beautiful, chilling post. We are so lucky to finally have a brilliant, compassionate President. This country has a chance, at last!

Darlene said...

Barack Obama has done more to try and reach bipartisanship than any president in my memory and yet the Republicans accuse him of trying to cut them out. It is beyond ridiculous.

They will never cooperate and it's unfair to the people who are suffering. There is no thought for their plight when the object is to destroy the Obama presidency. They should feel great shame.

Nancy said...

Wow! Wow, that really hit home. We need to rally behind our president. We can't let him stand alone in this fight. It's for our very soul as a nation.

Great post.

Lydia said...

@Phivos- I agree with you, although I wish his work was taught more in high schools in the U.S.

@secret, fragile skies- Thanks much. I couldn't agree more with what you said about our president.

@Darlene- Your comment of such direct intensity and truth should be a letter to your editor!

@Nancy- Thank you. And thanks for the rallying cry to get behind this intelligent and decent man.

English Rider said...

Wonderful Poem. It is really up to all of us to be aware of the needs of those around us. Every generous gesture, no matter how small or how anonymous, enriches us and our world. I'm not talking about money. I mean things like picking up the newspaper of your old neighbor and placing it at the top of the driveway in easier reach. Speak kindly to a woman with screaming children so that she knows she is not isolated.
I often think it is evident in President Obama's words and deeds that he was raised and influenced by his strong Grandmother. He has both modern and old fashioned qualities. No complaints so far.

Buddha said...

I can sense between the lines the drama of his life.
Let's not forget that he lived through Germany's darkest hours.
America as a nation has never known the horrors of war, and the spectrum of famine and poverty of the great depression have been washed away by the post war boom.
We need to look at the world's history.
We need to learn from the mistakes of the past.
And most of all we need to avoid making the same mistakes again.
I hope Obama can turn this tide around because if he doesn't succeed we are heading for really troubled times.

Rhiannon said...

This post is very very true and very profound words Lydia. Thank you so much for posting it.

As for us not knowing the experience of war here in our own country. Partly true. But I have felt a "war of the haves and have not's" for many years now..and it's getting worse..not much in between...what has happened to us in the last 8 years? We are so filled with violence and anger..yelling and carrying guns around. We have become so one sided and so divided it makes me sad. Have some forgotten that "we the people are the government"?..think about's in the when others say they want government "out of their way" are they talking about themselves as "we" the people? Yet if there is something they strongly disagree with they want the government to intervene and make a "law" outlawing some others "rights"?? I'm getting so confused at this point!

When I see some people at these town hall meetings so mad and yelling and also parents not wanting their kids to watch Obama's speech to the kids in school..what I feel and see is such a lack of maturity and tact..and lack of respect and disregard. I see angry people and in their hearts and minds..I feel and see signs that scream "me me me me me, I don't care about anyone else, just me and my family, who cares of the suffering of others as long as I am happy with what I've got and I want everything to stay the "same".! ye gads! It scares me. Kids are witnessing their parents being this way and so the kids will learn by example from their parents..sigh..;o(

Obviously we have not evolved as much as I hoped we had. But you know that song "True Colors" by Cyndi lauper? Well I see some people's true colors and they are dark spirits that run through them. I am looking at some of this anger and resentment at Obama as continuous acts of "the people that cried wolf" over and too many they have any ideas or plans or real alternatives other than anger and the word "no"!..or "Liar"? let them keep doing it until their feet are so buried deep in their mouths that they can't pull them out!

Fear of change and wanting to stay and live in the "status quo" mentality is pretty scary for this country...we are so far behind than some other countries..we need to catch up to "growing up" and dealing with and making "Change"..

Okay thats all for now..thank you...he he..:o)



Lydia said...

@English Rider- Your comments are so eloquent at the end of this post. You are very special to consider the feelings of isolation felt by a woman with screaming children. That's a powerful reminder to hear the heartbeat through all the other noise. And you are so right about Obama having both modern and old fashioned qualities! I hadn't thought of his attributes in quite that way, so thank you.

@Buddha- I think that the Civil War was the country's darkest hour. Americans who study history, as you suggest, might get a feeling for the horror of that war - brother against brother - and better understand the atrocities occuring in other countries because of it.
We've given Obama a tall order...he needs our support.

@Rhi- Thank you for your passionate and fully rational comments. There was an editorial in our local paper today touting how 911 brought out the best in Americans and urging us to return to that kind of caring. But I honestly have a differing opinion, believing instead that 911 - and the time following under the direction of the Bush administration - brought out the worst in Americans. The division and anger that has so perplexed and vexed us during and since those years has changed the world's view of us, and for good reason. I've been ashamed to call these idiots fellow citizens. Most of them couldn't even pass the citizenship test....
I know, we could go on and on. Instead, sending an email to the White House expressing our appreciation and hope might feel good. :)

This Brazen Teacher said...

I liked reading this :-)

You know I think that the first moments after 9/11 were the most vulnerable for us as a country. I think in those moments the music, charity and compassion first seen indicated the true nature of human beings. In the weeks following the ugliness you write about did indeed came out full force.

In spite of it all, I cling to the memory of those first moments. When people weren't using their brains. When they forgot their brains even mattered, and they heard and spoke with the heart language instead.

Lydia said...

@This Brazen Teacher- Thank you for your comments.
Where we differ is that I don't cling to the memory of anything related to 9/11. I feel it was that clinging to it, urged on, encouraged, stretched to the max, and embellished, by the Bush administration that led us into the insanity of the Iraq War, which ultimately fueled the recession. Not to mention a divided nation.

You mentioned the music and it is one memory I hold. We had tickets to an outdoor concert by the Portland Symphony that night. It was canceled and changed to the following week. The director and orchestra held to a portion of the original program but altered the end. Just as the sun set over the coast range they played Dvorak's New World Symphony. The strains of Going Home mellowing out the rigid, frightened crowd sitting in the grassy bowl were beyond beautiful, beyond meaningful, beyond consoling. We were a crowd of strangers bonded together in that moment forevermore.



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