Friday, 9 August 2013

Serendipity at the Tip

 A doubly fruitful trip to the Launceston Amenity Tip yesterday. Firstly, I got rid of a load of stuff for recycling and, secondly, whilst waiting patiently in the queue for a slot at the right skip, I heard on the radio (was it R4?) someone read the following poem by Bertolt Brecht. Brecht wrote it in 1935 and it's entitled 'Questions from a Worker Who Reads'. I'm not that familiar with Brecht as a poet and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than I'd assumed I would.

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Year's War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man?
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions

There's lots to think about behind the words but I'm not in the mood for a Marxian analysis of their meaning right at this moment. You can do that for yourselves! I didn't catch who read the poem on the radio programme (but they were good) and have tried to find a decent recording on Youtube but to no avail. However, I did come across two audio-visual presentations of it. One good (the first one) and the other complete rubbish - a brutalist object lesson in how to mess up a good poem.


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