18. Oktober

In America, Brecht grew to love the idioms and regionalisms of American English, and these were the source from which the country’s folk music sprang. Brecht’s enthusiasm for Burl Ives has already been discussed. He also translated the black American blues singer Leadbelly’s version of the traditional song ‘The Gray Goose’. A young American woman he had befriended told Brecht that the goose in the song was an emblem of protest, representing the dogged survival of black Americans. In the song a goose is shot by a pastor, but it is too tough to be eaten by any of the family, even after being boiled for six weeks. When they try to feed it to the pigs, it breaks the sow’s jawbone, and when they then try to cut it in the sawmill, it breaks the saw’s teeth. In Leadbelly’s final verse the goose flies off to freedom over the ocean, followed by six goslings. Brecht’s treatment of the song indicates that he also practised free translation rather than absolute fidelity to the original. In his ‘Die haltbare Graugans’, which was later set to music by both Paul Dessau and Hanns Eisler, Brecht changed the cooking time to six years (the length of the war), which suggests that in his poem the goose represents Europe. Brecht the atheist replaced Leadbelly’s chorus of ‘Lawd Lawd’ with the German affirmative response: ‘Ja, ja’.

(Esther Jane Quin Harcourt, BERTOLT BRECHT AND BOB DYLAN: INFLUENCE AND IDENTITY. A thesis submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington 2006)

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