Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thursday Poem: Questions from A Worker Who Reads

This translation is a bit different from the one I originally read (in Raphael Samuel's "People's History"). If you want to do a little poetic/linguistic investigation, read other translations, too; they can't even agree on the breaks.

Questions from A Worker Who Reads
Bertolt Brecht
("Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters" - translated by M. Hamburger, from Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, Methuen, N.Y., London, 1976)

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name 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 Years' 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.

Update: Orac reminded me that it's the anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Now that's going to be going through my head all day.

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