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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Bertolt Brecht: Schwierige Zeiten / Difficult Times


File:Sambucus nigra2 beentree brok.jpg

Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), flowers and green fruit, Brok, Poland: photo by Beentree, 2004

Standing at my desk
I see through the window the elder tree in the garden
And make out something red and something black
And remember, suddenly, the elders
Of my childhood in Augsburg.
For some minutes later I give serious thought
To whether I should go to the table
To fetch my glasses, so as once again
To see the black berries on the delicate red stalks.

File:Sambucus nigra2.jpg

Fruit of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), Dresden: photo by Martin Röll, 28 August 2003

Stehend an meinen Schreibpult
Sehe ich durchs Fenster im Garten den Holunderstrauch
Und erkenne darin etwas Rotes und etwas Schwarzes
Und erinnere mich plötzlich des Holders
Meiner Kindheit in Augsburg.
Mehrere Minuten erwäge ich
Ganz ernsthaft, ob ich zum Tische gehn soll
Meine Brille holen, und wieder
Die schwarzen Beeren an den roten Zweiglein zu sehen.


Fruit of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), The Netherlands: photo by Rasbak, 5 October 2005

File:Sambucus nigra 004.jpg

Flowering Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), Burgwald Mountains near Wetter-Unterrosphe, Hesse, Germany: photo by Willow, 3 June 2007

File:Sambucus nigra wood kz2.JPG

Stump of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), Poland: photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, 24 October 2011

 Bertolt Brecht: Schwierige Zieren, 1955: English version by TC


Tom Raworth said...

Good to see you even without glasses, love, Tom

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Beautiful Brecht poem, Tom. We are all thinking of you.


tom said...

Tom, good to be able to read your words again - and, yes, a lovely poem on a snow covered Spring day here in the Northlands.

TC said...

Not only that but a shredded ear-horn, croaked the compromised Elder.

Good to squint in the general direction of these kind words, old sons.

aditya said...

Wonderful poem! so relieved and glad to see you.. (back)

The spring continues for all of us

Conrad DiDiodato said...


the translation is elegantly clear (like the original) but like the original also revelatory

TC said...

So glad to hear from you Aditya my friend, across the green oceans.

ACravan said...

This poem and translation are superb. They recall (funny to think about this) a conversation I had with a friend a long time ago about his vision returning when he was recovering from a diabetic coma when we were teenagers and the nurses took him to the hospital window to look outside. It was on a spring day like this one (it's extremely beautiful in Berwyn and, I assume, in New York also) and his hospital room looked out onto Gracie Mansion, the mayor's residence in Manhattan, an elegant, late eighteenth century house. My friend saw Mayor Lindsay playing football with his children under the flowering trees, and although it sounds cliched and corny, he said it really was a lovely sight, which made him happy to be alive, seeing and remembering again. Curtis

kent said...

You know your karma will never be undone here in so-called motortown (I think there are enough copies of NO BIG DEAL floating about to launch a library of flea market good wishes).
Heal thyself, Big Elder, we've plenty gained by the fruit o' thine labours.

TC said...


Yes. One gets the sense that if he had actually gone to fetch them, instead of standing there and considering, there would be no poem; that is, the poem is in the considering.

(The accident tore up one ear so badly that the tip had to be re-connected, so that I've been unable to wear my glasses -- or must wear them weirdly askew, in the curious method I have just now devised.)

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful photos and translation.
Such a relief to be able to stop by here again and count on a moment of reflection.

Thanks Tom!

TC said...

Sorry for the intermittences in comment timing, putatively product of a revolting lab pixie holed up somewhere in the Trojan Wall. Or was it Horse.

Kent, I'm feeling at least lively as that Black Elder stump.

Curtis, the "r" word is one I fear using, partly out of superstition, partly out of realism. Still, even the faint shadow of a recovery would be welcome. At this point one must be careful not to ask for too much. That ethereal Manhattan scene scene strangely reminds me of the opening of a film called (I believe) Birth. The opening sequence in Central Park, in snow, is a wonder. That is followed by two hours' enquiry into the tricks it takes Nicole Kidman to get a nine year old boy into the bathtub with her, on the fragile supposition the kid is the reincarnation of her dead fiancé.

TC said...


One of the things I like best about the poem is the way his fuzzy vision is hinted at in the fact he can't make out the berries, just their colors. (Which seem to work on him in a compressed version of that madeleine-in-a-teacup Proustian sort of way.)

tpw said...

Tom: Great to have you back.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Wonderful poem/translation; apropos the poem, a local guy makes an unguent whose ingredients are bark shavings from elder branches, olive oil and beeswax--he gets the shavings from an elder bush we have in our garden--excellent ointment against burns.

Good to have you back, Tom.

ACravan said...

Superstition and realism -- both of those make sense to me.
I vaguely remember Birth and would love to see its opening sequence. I'll try to hunt it down. I've now read about the remainder of the film, which sounds....I'm not sure. I'm sorry Lauren Bacall said those awful things about Nicole Kidman. Recently, on a very different enquiry level, Jane and I have gone to see the vulgar (and inappropriate for her, I guess, but really I'm the sensitive one in the family)and very funny 21 Jump Street twice. What can I say? The jokes are really good and they're all delivered well. Her friends are all envious that she's seen it and they haven't, so I've done something right.

Chris said...


As soon as I heard about the accident I thought with a lurch of your comments back in March about your decision to bid the automobile farewell, and the fact that there had been a couple of accidents since then. Very relieved to see "Beyond the Pale" up and running again. Like many others, I've come to count on it.


TC said...


And I will say the same to you.


I was interested to learn the many and various medicinal and supernatural properties attributed to elberberries, back in the days before machines took over the arts of healing and hurting -- also the toxic properties.

I would, were the decision up to me, give a try to that elderberry unguent and skip tomorrow morning's trek back to the imaging technology shrines at hospital.


About Birth, the set-up is pretty silly, but you've got to hand it to the inventive screnwriter who came up with the weird twist on soft pedophilia.


I thought of those comments too, and wondered if I have been under surveillance by the automotive fates, and decided... Yes.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Bears like those berries.

TC said...

Just one more proof bears are smarter than humans.

A bear would never be silly enough to think the threat of humans could be suspended by the mere epiphenomenal display of a green light.

Black and purple, elderberry colours, the colours of bruising, of Night and of the Underworld, yes, yes, yes.

(Bears, by the way, are reputed to like Teacher Detectives, another sign of ursine intelligence.)



With glasses or without, good to see that you still see "the black berries on the delicate red stalks."


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, curve of moon behind pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

“word,” that even then does
not break the silence

that describes it to itself,
place of events, part

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
line of pelicans flapping toward point

Hazen said...

Tom, so good to have you back, and to find that the oasis is open once again, and flowering.

TC said...

Many thanks Hazen and Steve,

Just back from long imaging session at the Vascular Labs to find this oasis,

light coming into sky above still black
ridge, curve of moon behind pine branch

Jonathan Chant said...

A fine, fine post. Beautiful poem and photos.

TC said...

Thank you very much Jonathan -- and welcome.