Johannes R. Becher (1891-1958) exemplifies many of the tragedies and ambiguities of twentieth century history. A revolutionary from his youth in both politics and art, he knew the Dadaists and was for a time an active Expressionist. Arrested for an anti-war novel under the Weimar government, he became ever more dependably an orthodox Communist, eventually fleeing the Third Reich in one city after another, but finally settling in Moscow. There he fell under suspicion of Trotskyite taints during the purges of the thirties and informed on others. During this era he several times attempted suicide (as he had in his youth) yet he survived the war and returned to East Germany where he served as Minister of Culture, oppressing the same sort of young radicals among whom he had counted himself many years before.
This poem was first published in Um Gott in 1921.
Goddamned century! Chaotic! Without song! And you’re hung
out there, man, poorest of baits, with pain foggy mirages
Blinded. A kid. Frenzied. Scabs and sourness.
With blazing eye. Mad fury in the incisors. Whistling
over the cross in the neck waves the mild and endless ether.
Out from the graves. The factories. The asylums. Sewers,
spelunkers from hell.
Sun choruses sing hymns over the caves of the blind.
over the bloody deeps of the waters of slaughter
scatter God’s eternally fixed and magical stars.
You hangmen and thieves! And, the worst of all, the scourges
When – finally –
I’m asking – torn and full of raging impatience –
when will you be my brother?
the murderous knife moves restless from you into you,
weaponless, you wheel to face graves and fiends.
A deserter! A hero! Thanked! Glorified!
In fury you break the criminal gun to a thousand bits.
Reckless, you drop your goddamned “guilt and duty,”
and that crummy doglike duty
refuses brazen, baring teeth to profiteers, tyrants, and to
each and every boss.
your destructive step no longer stamps pitiless over the
peacefully lit lands of an earth animated with living
and you yourself – raging – tear yourself in pieces in a
glorious offering on the cross,
then . . .then . . . you will be my brother.
You’ll be my brother:
if you kneel repentant before the last and worst of the
pirates who have been shot,
despairing and submissive
a spiked fist through your coat of mail,
bearing down on the innards of your heart
pinned and loud with oaths, you scream it out –
“Look at this man here – he was my brother.
What’s going on? O my god my guilt.”
Then then you’ll be my brother.
Then then the final blinding day of paradise will come our
all will reconcile with all
each will see itself in each
then the whipping commotion will melt away faint in the face
of our word of faith.
Your pride in headstrong Ararat will settle down free and
glad under gentle tides of selflessness.
The devil’s own attack, his burden, his noise dissipates
just as evil’s will to power’s overcome and helpless, most
limitless and boundless betrayal and triumph.
Tell me, my brother, who you are.
Rager. Raper. Villain and cop
Lying in wait, a glance on yellowed bones of your fellow man.
King Emperor General.
Gold gobble. Whore of Babylon and degeneration,
hate-bawling maw, fat purse, and diplomat
or . . . or . . .
a child of god!!??
Tell me, man, my brother, who you are. Lucky to be
throttled by the restless ghosts of slaughtered helpless innocents!?
The goddamned drained and blasted slaves and wage-slaves too!?
Hopeless pyramids round desert graves scalp and corpse
The dry tongues of the hungry and the thirsty are the
relish of your meal.
Death rattle lament, breath of death, the embittered
hurricane of rage a far-off lovely tune to you?
or . . . maybe . . .
the bellows of misery may not reach as far as you
you’re full as slow and tepid with your heartless prominence
is your hard severity thundered about by the cyclone of
these times truly unmoved?
Doesn’t your proud tower fall to pieces, stone by stone,
o let the pregnant donkey rest!
Your modern fruits: people grown soulless and brutal.
A ruler of the world – you are your own most heavy burden!!!
Tell me, man, my brother, who are you!?
. . . flawless star the cosmos above an answer to the
poorest’s prayer flagrant fiery wound a cool
and comforting balm –
magic sweet dew on the tiger’s wild thorn bushes –
fanatic terrorists in mildest Jerusalem –
never an end to hope –
no lying compass. Signs of god
juice of a bitter onion staring doubt
you fugitive from a tropical port, the lost boys --
none a stranger to you, a brother,
each close to you, a brother
Bee swarms stray and nest in you.
Your tub rests in a sleep of southerly breeze, snared in the
space of the labyrinthine wilderness
the beggar singing ecstatic, the poet without property
Ahasuerus, the unworldly melancholy pilgrim.
In the slumber leaves and oases your feet dive under
but in the temple of the Urals of your skin a bright
The sources of your purity
struggle on through curses and grasslands
in fortified citadels
you use the spice of lamb and the hillocks of spring.
An angel, you go down to where the poorest drag themselves
Even in hell you still can do some good.
Still the wicked clatter – a court your fledgling
from the street’s canyons of pestilential air
you ladle heavenly blood.
Grim Moloch of Heaven’s shore.
Spewer of poison gas or a harvest of healing.
Monstrous hyena or grove of palms
the wounds in Jesus’ side or a sponge of vinegar.
Tell me, man, o my brother, which of the two are you?!
the burning tide roars out the question.
Take a stand! Answer me!
I will have an accounting and
the torn earth from the powerful catapult of your brain:
desire and fullness and fate.
A blessed and fortunate future of kindly careless sleep
questions dawning already pulling you.
Pour yourself out! Confess and recognize yourself!
Hear me now! Make a change!
Be brave and think!
Man: you solitary stewer hardly human sinner tax collector
brother and betrayer: who are you?
Turn in your grave! Stretch yourself desire yourself!
Breathe! Make a choice at last! Evolve!
Lemon farm or exile’s thistle
chosen island or swamp of thieves
cellar of ruin illuminated prophet and Sinai of flames.
Locomotive’s rhythm brakes howling.
Man, man, my brother, who are you?
Sulfurous storm fill the evil azure space
the horizon of your desire pens you in.
( . . .down in the gore! Chest up! Head gone! Torn off!
Mashed! In the sewer’s snout . . .)
Still still it is time!
All out! For Revolution! Join the march!
Hit the street! Hurry! Leap from the Canaanite night!
There’s still time
man man man stand up stand up!!!