Traducendo Brecht

Franco Fortini

Un grande temporale

per tutto il pomeriggio si è attorcigliato

sui tetti prima di rompere in lampi, acqua.

Fissavo versi di cemento e di vetro

dov’erano grida e piaghe murate e membra

anche di me, cui sopravvivo. Con cautela, guardando

ora i tegoli battagliati ora la pagina secca,

ascoltavo morire

la parola d’un poeta o mutarsi

in altra, non per noi più, voce. Gli oppressi

sono oppressi e tranquilli, gli oppressori tranquilli

parlano nei telefoni, l’odio è cortese, io stesso

credo di non sapere più di chi è la colpa.


Scrivi mi dico, odia

chi con dolcezza guida al niente

gli uomini e le donne che con te si accompagnano

e credono di non sapere. Fra quelli dei nemici

scrivi anche il tuo nome. Il temporale

è sparito con enfasi. La natura

per imitare le battaglie è troppo debole. La poesia

non muta nulla. Nulla è sicuro, ma scrivi.

Translating Brecht

Franco Fortini

A tremendous storm

all through the afternoon twisted round

the rooftops before breaking out in lightning, water.

I stared at verses of cement and of glass

in which lay cries and wounds walled and appendages

mine too, which I’ve survived. Carefully, observing

now the pummelled shingles and then the dry page,

I listened to the dying

word of a poet or its transformation

into some other, for us no more, voice. The oppressed

are oppressed and serene, the serene oppressors

speak on phones, the hatred is courteous, I too

believe I no longer know who’s to blame.


Write, I say to myself, hate

those who gently to that oblivion lead

the men and women who go with you

and believe they also do not know. Among the names

of the enemies, write your name too. The storm

has gone out in a flash. Nature

is not strong enough to imitate the struggle. Poetry

changes nothing. Nothing is sure, but write.


Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2019

In the poem, “Traducendo Brecht” (1959), outside, the storm distracts the poet, who is translating Brecht. He looks at the rooftops and then the page where the “cries and wounds” of the oppressed lie trapped within the words, like his own pain, which he survives. As he looks from the storm to the “dry page”, Brecht’s words change, from cement and glass (strong and clear), and die. They are no longer contemporary; that time is distant; and today the oppressors and the oppressed live side by side, serenely. They are no longer at war. All that remains is a courteous hatred. And the author too has lost his sense of that struggle, and in doing so, he too has become an enemy of the oppressed (“write your name too). He was led, like those who accompany him, to oblivion, to the place where his perception of the facts is placated, but an inner voice awakes in him and drives him forward (Nothing is sure, but write)! There is also a hint of the eternal debate of the role of poetry: must literature, too, strive for a better world? In a concise language made of simple words and syntax, the rhythm is quick. The metaphors (storm/twisted, wounds/walled), the repetition (the oppressed/the oppressors) and the juxtaposition (oppressors/oppressed) reinforce the tension with hints of irony (hatred…courteous). The imperative form underlines the thoughts of the poet/translator.

An die Nachgeborenen“, 1939, was translated by Fortini and Leiser in 1959. The winds of war were strong, the battle raging. When Fortini translated the poem, however, Brecht’s hope for change was a thing of the past. The war had ravaged and passed. The present was a world of oppressed and oppressors who lived together serenely, led gently by others to forget.

Please find below three verses from the poem by Bertolt Brecht; the Italian translation by Fortini/Leiser; and the English, translation by John Willett, Ralph Manheim & Erich Fried:

Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!

Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn

Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende

Hat die furchtbare Nachricht

Nur noch nicht empfangen.

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo

Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist

Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!

Der dort ruhig über die Straße geht

Ist wohl nicht mehr erreichbar für seine Freunde

Die in Not sind?


Die Straßen führten in den Sumpf zu meiner Zeit.

Die Sprache verriet mich dem Schlächter.

Ich vermochte nur wenig. Aber die Herrschenden

Saßen ohne mich sicherer, das hoffte ich.

So verging meine Zeit

Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Davvero, vivo in tempi bui!

La parola innocente è stolta. Una fronte distesa

vuol dire insensibilità. Chi ride,

la notizia atroce

non l’ha saputa ancora.

Quali tempi sono questi, quando

discorrere d’alberi è quasi un delitto,

perchè su troppe stragi comporta silenzio!

E l’uomo che ora traversa tranquillo la via

mai più potranno raggiungerlo dunque gli amici

che sono nell’affanno?


Al mio tempo le strade si perdevano nella palude.

La parola mi tradiva al carnefice.

Poco era in mio potere. Ma i potenti

posavano più sicuri senza di me; o lo speravo.

Così il tempo passò

che sulla terra m’era stato dato.

Truly, I live in dark times!

The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead

Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs

Has simply not yet had

The terrible news.

What kind of times are they, when

A talk about trees is almost a crime

Because it implies silence about so many horrors?

That man there calmly crossing the street

Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends

Who are in need?


All roads led into the mire in my time.

My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.

There was little I could do. But those in power

Sat safer without me: that was my hope.

So passed my time

Which had been given to me on earth.

Links to the works:

Bertolt Brecht, A coloro che verranno in the collection Poesie e canzoni, R. Leiser and F. Fortini, Einaudi, Torino, 1959

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Franco Fortini: Translating Brecht, 1959

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.