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Monday, September 30, 2013

Bertolt Brecht

"We're spongers. Spongers. The last human beings not to be servants.  What's a poem worth?  Four shirts?  A loaf of bread?  Half a cow?  We don't make merchandise; we just make gifts."

— Bertolt Brecht
German Poet / Playwright / Theater Director
1898 - 1956

What is a poem worth?  How much are you willing to spend to read a poem?  Can you put a price on a poem?  Is it a commodity like milk or eggs or a new car?  I can buy a gallon of milk for $2.99.  Is that what a poem is worth?  This week on my trip to Baltimore I rented a car for $44 a day?  Is a poem less valuable then one day of transportation?  My hotel room cost me $109 a night excluding taxes?  Is a poem more valuable than a hotel room for a night?

The American society puts a dollar value on almost everything.  The price of weddings are going through the roof, but be careful, divorce costs even more.  What price is love?  How about sex?  Even dying costs thousands of dollars.  Should I have you bury me in a coffin made of poetry books?  It would be cheaper. 

We now can pay $.99 for a song?  How does that compare with a hair cut?  Or a pedicure? Or a day at the spa?  So what is a poem worth?  Or a short story?  I bought two hamburger patties to grill today for almost $6.00.  Are you willing to pay me $6.00 to nourish your soul instead of your body?  A Swedish massage will cost me $65 for one hour.  I could probably buy four books of poetry for that amount.  The poetry could nourish my soul for years.  The poetry can change my life and teach me to see the world differently.  So what is a poem worth?  

In the words of Bertolt Brecht, "We don't make merchandise; we just make gifts."  Whether you paint, draw, sing or write.  What we do is a gift.  What we create is a gift that we give to the world.  We can't measure our gifts with price tags.  Some things can not be sold; they must be given.  Not all success comes wrapped in dollar bills.  What gifts are you creating?  What gifts are you giving away?

Creative Practice
This week give away a poem, a painting, or a song to a stranger, a friend or even a family member.  Ask for nothing in return.  Share a small piece of yourself.  Give the gift that keeps on giving.

Brecht was born to a Protestant mother and a Catholic father in Augsburg, Bavaria.  His home was a comfortable middle class.  He studied drama at Munich University.  He wrote his first play, Baal,  in 1918 and his second, Drums in the Night, in 1919.  A collection of his poems, Devotions for the Home, was published in 1927.  Brecht went on to write over 50 plays in his lifetime.  He was one of the most influential and important playwrights of the 20th century.

Here is one of Brecht's poems.  Accept it as a gift.

On the Term of Exile
By Bertolt Brecht

No need to drive a nail into the wall
To hang your hat on; 
When you come in, just drop it on the chair
No guest has sat on.

Don’t worry about watering the flowers—
In fact, don’t plant them.
You will have gone back home before they bloom,
And who will want them?

If mastering the language is too hard,
Only be patient;
The telegram imploring your return
Won’t need translation.

Remember, when the ceiling sheds itself
In flakes of plaster,
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.

Translated from the German by Adam Kirsch