Vol. 8 No. 2 1941 - page 116

customarily associate with the new in modern poetry, but consists
in the way in which Brecht exploits the past and popular accom·
plishments of German poetry for his own subversive and anti·
literary irony.
Parody ordinarily finds its end in what it parodies, but in
Brecht's hands it became the means to something beyond itself,
more profound and more important. The special quality of Brecht's
poetry-particularly until 1927 when his
was published, shortly after which he first became a Communist
sympathizer-arose from a disparity. He took a form like the
German ballad, which is inextricably associated with the country·
side and a semi-feudal way of life, and charged it with a new
content and feeling too powerful and morbid for the ballad con·
vention to bear. This incongruity is the strength of the poetry, is a
good part of it. Now, were one to do this in English the result
would be comic and very little else, for there would be too great a
disparity to produce anything but humor. The English ballad is
literary archaeology, and it is as archaeology that it appears in
Coleridge, Keats, Rossetti and Morris, who escape the ridiculous
only because-wisely and romantically-they fit it with an appro–
priate historical content. But the German ballad was in a sense
still alive as late as Heine and Morike; its originals had not yet
completely disappeared from the German countryside. And today
it is still almost a serious form, too recently dead to be _quaint, still
taken seriously by several contemporary German poets whose verse
is much less stale than John Masefield's. What is true of the ballad
is more or less true of most of the other forms parodied by Brecht
The popular and traditional modes which Brecht uses are still
strong enough to resist what Brecht wants to make them say in more
ways than by producing humor. They still live respectably outside
textbooks, and their associations are part of the life of almost every
German. Brecht acclimatizes them, and Goethe and Luther as well,
to shady neighborhoods. Thus the two poles of Brecht's early poetry
are not so much ·the naive or quaint as opposed to the sophisticated,
as the dangerous and irreverent as opposed to the safe and the
respectable, the slums and the gutter as opposed to the countryside
and suburbs. The incongruities must in some measure proclaim
themselves by humor, but it is not the humor of the ridiculous, hut
rather that of irony.
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