Christmas Eve and we, the poor,
All night long will be sitting here
And the room is cold that we house in
And the wind that blows outside blows in.
Come, dear Lord Jesus, enter too
For truly we have need of you.
We sit around this holy night
Like heathen who never saw the light.
The snow falls cold on these bones of ours.
The snow cannot bear to be out of doors:
Snow, come indoors with us, for sure
They’ll not house you in heaven either.
We’ll brew up a toddy and then we’ll feel
Warmer and easy, body and soul.
We’ll brew a hot toddy. Round our thin walls
Blindly some brute beast fumbles.
Quick, beast, come in with us – your kind too
This night has nowhere warm to go.
We’ll feed our coats to the fire and so
We’ll all be warmer than we are now.
Oh the joists will glow and we shan’t freeze
Not till the hour before sunrise.
Come in, dear wind, dear guest, welcome:
Like us, you have no house and home.
Notes on this poem
Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), well known as a dramatist and a theorist on drama, is also one of Germany’s three or four greatest poets. He is abundant, various, and a complete master of poetic forms, many traditional, many of his own devising. He lived through the worst years of the twentieth century, and was always in revolt: first as an anarchist hedonist, then as poète engagé against Hitler’s fascism. And he was, besides, the author of some of the best love poems in the German language. After the war, choosing to sele in the East rather than the West, he continued to write for a humane socialism, though fully aware that the new GDR, within the Soviet bloc, was falling far short of it. Like many of his generation he defended the bad against what he perceived to be the worse.
Translating the more than 1200 poems that comprise the Complete Poems of Bertolt Brecht, to be published by Norton later this year, we knew him to be a poet for our times. He saw the markets treat the working poor as (his word) mince-meat. He was the citizen of a highly civilised country that voted in a champion of barbarism. With his Jewish wife and their children he went into exile, so as not to be murdered. After the war, among millions of displaced persons, he returned to a city in ruins.
The poems we present here are from two distinct periods in Brecht’s writing life. David translated the earlier, Tom the later ones.