on 5 March 2010
First printed many years ago, this selection of Brecht poems is still well worth having. A bilingual edition, it offers the reader the chance to savour a wide range of Brecht's work, from the early ballads and songs, through the highly politically engaged work to later more rueful pieces. Much reviled by those for whom communism is a discredited and mistaken social philosophy, Brecht has plenty to offer anyone with an ounce of interest in the question of how the world might be made a better place (among many other things). His fierce cunning intelligence and sheer poetic range make him one of the twentieth century's greatest writers.
Despite the efforts of John Fuegi in his biographical character-assassination attempts on the poet-playwright's reputation, Brecht deserves to be judged on his work and not on the highly controversial claims of a man who was once an ardent promoter of the Brecht cause and helped set up the Brecht Yearbook, but who has since turned against the man.
on 19 September 2011
I have recommended this anthology to a number of my friends. Hays' translations seem to my reading to be fresh and vital, maintaining a level of success throughout better than does the standard Methuen collected translations edited by Willett and Mannheim. Only Michael Hamburger there satisfies me to the same extent. Hays translations carry an innate sense of pulse and structure, and with apparent ease can hit when required on colloquial phrasing appropriate to the tone; this without one feeling any strain or lurch into gamey English. In other words, he can follow Brecht through variations in register.
Hayes was a poet himself, and sometimes it can be the lesser poet who can be the greater translator. It is important to know that Brecht's play Mother Courage and her Children first appeared in English in a translation by Hays in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1941, the same year as the play's first production (in its original German) in Zurich.
It's great to have this 1947 book in fresh new paperback. If you are interested in Brecht or twentieth century poetry, I very strongly recommend it.
on 14 March 2016
These 50 poems were published in 1947, almost a decade before Brecht's death. It is thus not quite the overview of the poet's work that we might want (hence the missing star). But Brecht was consulted, and the outcome is an extraordinarily poised selection that moves away from the lyrics and Kiplingesque ballads of the early work through the theatre song-texts to the poems of the 1930s, many written in exile, that cannot but look unflinchingly at the political situation (though Brecht never surrenders his laconic stance). It is certainly a poignant progression. The introduction by the translator, H. R. Hays, is an outstanding appraisal of Brecht's creative character and work - terse and to the point; and some of the translations, far from being turgid as some (below) maintain, fall over backwards to reproduce Brecht's intricate rhythms, syllable counts and alternations of strong and weak line-endings - something less valued by later translators. Just look at 'Nanna's Song'! There are 2500 poems or so in Jan Knopf's recent German collection (2007), and even when we have them complete in English, we shall still need orientating selections. I can think of not better one to start with than this.