A Brecht Poem, On his Birthday

by Joseph Shieber

Bertolt Brecht, the German poet and playwright, was born on this day 122 years ago, February 10, 1898.

Fearing persecution by the Nazis for his writing and leftist political views, Brecht left Germany in February 1933, shortly after Hitler assumed the German Chancellorship.

At the time that he wrote the poem “Frühling 1938 / I”, Brecht was living in exile on the Danish island of Fyn.

Frühling 1938 / I (German)

Heute, Ostersonntag früh
Ging ein plötzlicher Schneesturm über die Insel.
Zwischen den grünenden Hecken lag Schnee. Mein junger Sohn
Holte mich zu einem Aprikosenbäumchen an der Hausmauer
Von einem Vers weg, in dem ich auf diejenigen mit dem Finger deutete
Die einen Krieg vorbereiteten, der
Den Kontinent, diese Insel, mein Volk, meine Familie und mich
Vertilgen mag. Schweigend
Legten wir einen Sack
Über den frierenden Baum.

Spring 1938 / I (English)

Today, early Easter Sunday
A sudden snowstorm came over the island.
Snow lay between the budding bushes. My young son
Brought me to an apricot sapling at the house wall,
Away from a verse in which I pointed with my finger at those
Who prepared a war that may well mean, for
The continent, the island, my people, my family and me,
Extermination. Silent
We placed a sack
Over the freezing tree.

Translation: Joseph Shieber