Is this a good poem (or portion thereof)?
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
--Bertolt Brecht, To Posterity
I do not know that Brecht wore silk underwear, though I have not spent much time trying to find out. The trouble is, as soon as I heard the remark, I knew that Brecht sounded like the kind of guy who would wear silk underwear. And ever since it has colored, or perhaps tainted, my appreciation of him.
Clearly, Brecht was an angry man. Anger alone doesn’t make a man an artist, but it doesn’t necessarily bar him either: Céline was a thoroughly nasty piece of business, but one of the great 20th Century French prose stylists. Hadrian VII is the work of a terminally unpleasant character, but that is part of the fascination.
In this wise, I think Brecht’s plays work pretty well: Good Woman of Szechuan, Caucasian Chalk Circle—the anger adds dynamism, and helps to make them great theatre. I thought last year’s NYC production off Threepenny Opera was a disappointment, but the fault wasn’t Brecht’s: I suspect that the 1950s’ Theater de Lys production (which I did not see) was probably one of the great cultural events of the Century.
But stuff like this poem: I can’t quite make up my mind. Apparently it still catches my attention. But I wonder if doesn’t fall in the same category as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khaayyam (which, I am happy to say, I gave up at about age 16) or Khalil Gibran (which, I am even happier to say, I never really took to at all).