By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Jack Mitchell
Who built seven-gated Thebes?
In the books you’ll find the names of kings.
Was it the kings that lugged those hunks of rock?
And what of Babylon, so often demolished?
Who rebuilt it time and again? In which
Of golden Lima’s houses lived its builders?
On the day the Chinese Wall was finished where
Did the masons go in the evening? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who raised them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium of the songs
Palaces only, for its inhabitants? Even in fabulous Atlantis,
The very night the sea swallowed it,
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Didn’t he have so much as a cook with him?
Phillip of Spain wept when his fleet
Sank. Did no others shed tears?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Year War.
A victory on every page.
Who cooked the victory feast?
A great man every ten years.
Who paid the bill?
So many accounts.
So many questions.
This translation first appeared in the Socialist Voice, January 2013
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was, of course, the famed German Communist playwright and poet.
The translator Jack Mitchell (1932-2017), Scottish-born, taught at Humboldt University in the GDR .
We thank Jenny Farrell for calling the translation to our attention.