Vol. 8 No. 2 1941 - page 114

Bertolt Brecht's Poetry
C lement G reenberg
T..ERE IS A KIND
of modem poet'Y that gets its chamcte' hom a
flavoring of folk or popular culture. You will find it in the work
of such poets as Apollinaire, Lorca, Mayakovsky and Cummings.
Rimbaud and Laforgue are its original ancestors, as of so much
else in modem poetry.
It
is anti-literary and anti-rhetorical. It
takes over the attitudes and manners of folk and popular poetry
for their tang, sincerity, irreverence and lack of pretention, as
against the formality and overstatement of "book" literature, as ,
against the endowed, the established, the respectable, in other
words, as against Literature itself. This modernist poetry is racy
and exuberant in backward countries like Spain and Russia, where
folk culture still survives side by side with the formal culture of
the city. In France, England and in this country it becomes wistful
and impudent, and keeps to a minor key. It always has humor and
sometimes, as in the case of Lorca, a justifiable quaintness, both of ,
which are created by the transposition of the naive and low-brow
into sophisticated and highly self-conscious modes. -
As much as Germany participated in "modem" movements, it
never produced a poetry of this sort. Whereas in this country,
France and England on the one hand, and in Spain and Russia on
the other, popular and folk culture are far enough away from
high-brow international culture to have spice and contrast, in Ger·
many folk poetry has so become part of the main literary stream
through the work of Herder and the Romantics that it cannot be
opposed to it. At the same time German popular literature, includ·
ing kitsch, is also intimately associated with folk culture. For this
reason until rather lately there was no sharp line to be drawn
between high brow and low brow in German poetry. Popular songs
in Germany .are not art, but neither are they half so shoddy as their
French and American equivalents. (Compare the verse of such
frankly popular German songs as
Zwei Herzen in Dreivierteltakt
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