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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Brecht: The Stone Fisherman


File:Chef de baie.JPG

It's that big fisherman again.

Hunkered down in that sad little wormeaten dinghy of his, as per the usual.

Drops a net at first flaring of the morning lamp, still there tending it when the last lamp of the evening flickers and fades away.

The people, they think he's crazy, they sit on the beach pointing at him and cutting up like it was the circus.

He's a herring fisherman but all he ever hauls in, when he pulls up his frayed and tattered net, is stones.

To hear the people laugh when this happens, you'd think it was the greatest joke of all time, every time.

When the big fisherman triumphantly raises that shredded net of his high like a banner, and then sees that once again it contains nothing but yet another stone, he doesn't try to conceal this fact, but stretches out a great sun-browned arm, grasps the stone, and lifts it up as high as he is able, displaying his prize to the less fortunate.


Der Steinfischer
: Bertolt Brecht, from Visionen (Visions), 1938: translated by TC

Main beach, fishing port, Bay of La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime, France: photo by Regis Sierra, 2007
Glass ball used as float for fishing nets, 1950s, Baltic Sea, Heiligenhafen, Schleswig-Holstein, German: photo by Memecry 2, 2008


Curtis Roberts said...

I know nothing of Brecht’s German style (my own German reading knowledge was acquired a long time ago to satisfy graduate school “competency requirements” and is now mostly lost, although fondly remembered and occasionally summoned up in a pinch), but I love the way your translation feels German – delicate and muscular both – and tells the story it tells in active, vivid English. And for my newly acquired knowledge of fishing net floats, many thanks.

TC said...

Thanks very much, Curtis. The tension between elements of "delicate and muscular", in Brecht's sensibility, are what interest me -- that tension which I have tried to capture in the style.

A few risks with the tone, but I like the Kafkaesque surprise at the end of this one. The piece offers more than one reading, and the little "click" or double-take at the end, of course, affects which one you pick.

He's an odd bird stylistically, brash, tough, lyrical yet always in the vernacular. I have been fiddling with trying to find a suitable "Brecht in English" tone for c. thirty years now.

There's this one.

And your kind interest, Curtis, has now prompted me to put up another.

Curtis Faville said...

This "sea-ball" (or float) summons up my and my wife's trip to Scotland in 2005. We rented a car and drove all over the countryside. We picked up one of those floats somewhere along the Western shore, and kept it in the trunk, where it rolled around and bumped against the sides of the trunk.

In Castaway, the Tom Hanks character opens up one of the boxes salvaged from the plane crash that strands him on his deserted island. It contains a soccer ball. He paints a face on this soccer ball, and that becomes his sole "companion" through his years there. He names it "Wilson" after the company which manufactured it. Wilson is sort of like Crusoe's Friday.

Toward the end of the movie, Wilson is lost at sea, to the agonized cries of "Willllllllllll-sonn!...Willlllll-sonn" (tears...).

So, whenever the glass ball bumped against the trunk, we would say "that's Wilson". "Woops, there goes Wilson." (thump...)

TC said...


Sounds like an interesting trip. Plenty of bumping at any rate.

I remember that Hanks bit.

Puts me in mind of another finding-the-strange-thing-in-the-trunk plotting gimmick, the punks in Repo Man who find the irradiated extraterrestrial briefcase in the trunk.

There's a good line after they slam the trunk shut.

"Let's go eat sushi and not pay."

Those were the days. Sort of.

human being said...

people always laugh at the things they do not understand... to hide their humiliation...

an immature defense mechanism...

we never know for sure what we will have in our net...