Excerpts from short stories by Bertolt Brecht

It’s funny how a book finds you rather than the other way around. I shall be expanding on this later, but for now some of the best excerpts I’ve found so far from this collection of Brecht’s short stories. You might recognise Brecht as a German poet and playwright; he wrote the plays Baal, Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Duchess of Malfi, (and Antigone which was showing in Manchester Library a while ago).

They got up and stood around in the yard, trembling with the cold for they were mostly wearing only their shifts, it all happened so damn quickly, with God turning his face away from them to have a look at the harvest in Brazil instead. (Bargan gives up)

This man had put all his money on one card and now he was defending it. But the card was a loser, and the more he put on, the more he lost; he knew all about it, but he probably just wanted to get rid of all his money, he couldn’t help it any more. That’s what happened to him, this great man, a special effort on God’s part, and it’s what could happen to any of us: you get assaulted in broad daylight, that’s how secure we all are on this planet. (Bargan gives up)

Then he got into bed. We’re not responsible, he thought. This planet is a temporary affair. It’s whizzing with all kinds of other ones, a whole range of planetary stuff, towards a star in the Milky Way. On that kind of planet we’re not responsible, he thought. But then it grew too dark in bed. (The revelation)

So the blind man walked in darkness and pondered how he could increase his sufferings in order to endure them better. For it seemed to him that a great torment was easier to bear than a small one. (The blind man)

When the captain arrived they were standing in an open space fifty metres apart, each with a carbine raised to his shoulder, and were sniping at each other in the half-light. Neither was in any danger, for they were dreadfully drunk. But everyone else was in mortal danger since the two of them, fervently and with trembling hands, were shooting holes into the morning.

If the captain had been incompetent he would have yelled and punished them but he only said: ‘You’re not hitting anything, why not beat each other up, that would make better sense.’ After which they had a drunken brawl which was a pleasure to watch. (The Lance-sergeant)

From: Collected short stories ed. Willett, J. & Manheim, R. Methuen London 1999.


Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one

And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and for ever far away
Dear heart and can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at ‘clink and bandy’ ‘chock’ and ‘taw’ and
ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone

When I used to lie and sing by old eastwells boiling spring
When I used to tie the willow boughs together for a ‘swing’
And fish with crooked pins and thread and never catch a
With heart just like a feather- now as heavy as a stone
When beneath old lea close oak I the bottom branches broke
To make our harvest cart like so many working folk
And then to cut a straw at the brook to have a soak
O I never dreamed of parting or that trouble had a sting
Or that pleasures like a flock of birds would ever take to
Leaving nothing but a little naked spring

When jumping time away on old cross berry way
And eating awes like sugar plumbs ere they had lost the may
And skipping like a leveret before the peep of day
On the rolly polly up and downs of pleasant swordy well
When in round oaks narrow lane as the south got black again
We sought the hollow ash that was shelter from the rai n
With our pockets full of peas we had stolen from the grain
How delicious was the dinner time on such a showry day
O words are poor receipts for what time hath stole away
The ancient pulpit trees and the play

When for school oer ‘little field’ with its brook and wooden
Where I swaggered like a man though I was not half so big
While I held my little plough though twas but a willow twig
And drove my team along made of nothing but a name
‘Gee hep’ and ‘hoit’ and ‘woi’- O I never call to mind
These pleasant names of places but I leave a sigh behind
While I see the little mouldywharps hang sweeing to the wind
On the only aged willow that in all the field remains
And nature hides her face where theyre sweeing in their
And in a silent murmuring complains

Here was commons for the hills where they seek for
freedom still
Though every commons gone and though traps are set to kill
The little homeless miners- O it turns my bosom chill
When I think of old ‘sneap green’ puddocks nook and hilly
Where bramble bushes grew and the daisy gemmed in dew
And the hills of silken grass like to cushions to the view
Whe n we threw the pissmire crumbs when we’s nothing
else to do
All leveled like a desert by the never weary plough
All vanished like the sun where that cloud is passing now
All settled here for ever on its brow

I never thought that joys would run away from boys
Or that boys would change their minds and forsake such
summer joys
But alack I never dreamed that the world had other toys
To petrify first feelings like the fable into stone
Till I found the pleasure past and a winter come at last
Then the fields were sudden bare and the sky got overcast
And boyhoods pleasing haunts like a blossom in the blast
Was shrivelled to a withered weed and trampled down and
Till vanished was the morning spring and set that summer
And winter fought her battle strife and won

By Langley bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill
On cowper green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And spreading lea close oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And cross berry way and old round oaks narrow lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again
Inclosure like a Buonapar te let not a thing remain
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is
running still
It runs a naked brook cold and chill

O had I known as then joy had left the paths of men
I had watched her night and day besure and never slept agen
And when she turned to go O I’d caught her mantle then
And wooed her like a lover by my lonely side to stay
Aye knelt and worshipped on as love in beautys bower
And clung upon her smiles as a bee upon her flower
And gave her heart my poesys all cropt in a sunny hour
As keepsakes and pledges to fade away
But love never heeded to treasure up the may
So it went the comon road with decay

– John Clare

Composed c. 1832    First published 1908