A Poem For Today: ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake by Bertolt Brecht

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it.”
― Bertolt Brecht

Sunset on the Caribbean, taken what feels like a long, long time ago

Let’s see… it started with me wanting to do some writing and not having any ideas… so I pulled a three card spread from my edition of Todd Alcott’s Pulp Tarot.

It came up King of Pentacles, The Hermit, and Justice.

Justice card from Todd Alcott’s Pulp Tarot.

Some research, some reading, and I ended up looking into Bertolt Brecht and, specifically, one poem.

I wish I spoke German – the various translations I looked at were very different – I think we are missing a lot in translation – but it is still something to read and think about.

Brecht ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake


Truly, I live in dark times! An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead Points to insensitivity. He who laughs Has not yet received The terrible news.

What times are these, in which A conversation about trees is almost a crime For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing! And he who walks quietly across the street, Passes out of the reach of his friends Who are in danger?

It is true: I work for a living But, believe me, that is a coincidence. Nothing That I do gives me the right to eat my fill. By chance I have been spared. (If my luck does not hold, I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad to be among the haves! But how can I eat and drink When I take what I eat from the starving And those who thirst do not have my glass of water? And yet I eat and drink.

I would happily be wise. The old books teach us what wisdom is: To retreat from the strife of the world To live out the brief time that is your lot Without fear To make your way without violence To repay evil with good – The wise do not seek to satisfy their desires, But to forget them. But I cannot heed this: Truly I live in dark times!


I came into the cities in a time of disorder As hunger reigned. I came among men in a time of turmoil And I rose up with them. And so passed The time given to me on earth.

I ate my food between slaughters. I laid down to sleep among murderers. I tended to love with abandon. I looked upon nature with impatience. And so passed The time given to me on earth.

In my time streets led into a swamp. My language betrayed me to the slaughterer. There was little I could do. But without me The rulers sat more securely, or so I hoped. And so passed The time given to me on earth.

The powers were so limited. The goal Lay far in the distance It could clearly be seen although even I Could hardly hope to reach it. And so passed The time given to me on earth.


You, who shall resurface following the flood In which we have perished, Contemplate – When you speak of our weaknesses, Also the dark time That you have escaped.

For we went forth, changing our country more frequently than our shoes Through the class warfare, despairing That there was only injustice and no outrage.

And yet we knew: Even the hatred of squalor Distorts one’s features. Even anger against injustice Makes the voice grow hoarse. We Who wished to lay the foundation for gentleness Could not ourselves be gentle.

But you, when at last the time comes That man can aid his fellow man, Should think upon us With leniency.

–Bertolt Brecht, An die Nachgeborenen first published in Svendborger Gedichte (1939) in: Gesammelte Werke, vol. 4, pp. 722-25 (1967)(S.H. transl.)

I Look Into My Glass – another poem

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”


“All like ours?”

“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”

“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”

“A blighted one.”

― Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The other day I wrote about a Yeats poem, Sailing to Byzantium. In doing some research about that poem – a reference to another poem with a similar theme kept coming up – I Look Into My Glass, by Thomas Hardy. I decided to share it here.

I Look Into My Glass

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!’

For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

I know how that feels. For decades I have learned to get ready in the morning without really even looking in the mirror. To do so would make the day too hopeless.

That Is No Country For Old Men

“You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else.”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Cadillac Ranch - Old Guys Rule
Old Guys Rule, Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

At lunch today (it’s amazing how not-enjoyable no-carbohydrate food gets after a few months) I took a break and hit the ‘web. I stumbled across a well-known Yeats poem – Sailing to Byzantium – which gave the title to a Cormac McCarthy novel and eponymous film. I read the poem a few times and copied key lines into my commonplace book – it spoke to me.

There is plenty of commentary on this famous poem… you can do a google search if you like. But it’s pretty simple and terribly easy to understand – especially for someone past a certain age.

So here it is, without any further ado from me.

Sailing to Byzantium



That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.