Image: Côr Cochion Caerdydd (Cardiff Reds Choir), have raised their voices in song, campaigning for peace, freedom and justice.
Dark Times Revisited
by Chris Norris
Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not. - Bertolt Brecht, ‘Song About My Mother’
Singers, d'you think Bert Brecht was left tongue-tied
When asked, 'In these dark times just what
Have we to sing about?', and he replied
'About the dark times, you sad lot!
Make that your theme and you’ll be bona fide,
Since then the coin will drop: you’ve got
To change your tune, come out on the right side,
And now get real, like it or not.
You poets too: take Heine as your guide,
Kick Rilke out, prepare to blot
Your lyric book, help turn the fascist tide
By giving truth your last, best shot.
That way, with luck, you'll jump the class-divide
Before the system goes to pot
And not have all the comrades asking why'd
That fellow-traveller lost the plot?
Old clever-clogs Adorno (can't abide
His kind of high-falutin' rot)
Says poetry post-Auschwitz ought to hide
Its face and now yield up the spot
Where poems once assumed generic pride
Of place. His point, in short: it’s not
Ethically thinkable for those clear-eyed
About the Holocaust to trot
Out yet more poems after genocide
On that scale. Yet there's still a slot,
A good-faith role, for poetry applied
To making plain what they forgot,
Those lofty lyricists, or simply shied
Away from since it seemed too hot
For them to handle. Such self-occupied,
Self-serving stuff's exactly what
Strikes ears more finely tuned as open wide
To Heimkehr tropes the Rilke-swot
Takes broodily to heart. It's that bromide
Turns poet-activist to poet-sot!’
Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.