Better known for his plays and proletarian haircut, Brecht was also a prodigious poet.
You don’t get any of the individualist sensitivity of the romantics and symbolists with a socialist activist like Bertolt, although you do get a range of style and content. War poems, revolutionary paeans, work shanties, songs of fate, music hall ballads, dedications, aphoristic snippets and verse to accompany the dramatic action of plays such as Mother Courage and The Threepenny Opera, and saving some of his most telling censure for the Californian society where he found refuge in exile.
His more than 2,000 poems tended towards the laconic, featuring plain, sinewy vocabulary cut from the rock of his own truth, eschewing the ornate and the complex, enjambement and ambiguity, and preferring unbookish speech and metaphors of clarity.
Out of solidarity and sympathy with the labouring, fighting poor, he wrote of the stuff of these men and women’s everyday lives. Hunger, tiredness, struggle and death. Blood and soup, bread and iron, winter cold, injustice, purpose and supposed progress.
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” he wrote.
In the context of his beliefs and place and time (20th century East Germany), you can understand his point of view even if you regret the narrowness of such a scope.
With art at the service of the collective and the revolutionary useful, there was precious little room in his output for his lover, Margarete Steffin, or any other non-didactic tenderness. Just once in a rare while an exception would slip out.
Das kleine Haus unter Bäumen am See.
Vom Dach steigt Rauch.
Wie trostlos dann wären
Haus, Bäume und See.
The little house among trees by the lake.
From the chimney rises smoke.
How sad would be
House, trees and lake.]