Well, more like Brecht for North Korea. North Koreans may need Bibles, but no less, they need the acidic and informed spite, the angular mockery of state power which is offered by the German dramatist and writer Bertold Brecht and, to a lesser but perhaps more visceral degree, the poison-penned irony of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
So with ambitions to get this translated into Korean (if it isn’t already), I spent a few minutes last week translating some of Brecht’s verses from 1933 into English. Substitute “Dear Leader” (Kim Jong Il) for “Chancellor” (Hitler) and you may see the use. WordPress remains problematic in its poetry display (line breaks being overly large), so I’ve consolidated things down via the magic of the “poetic slash.” Open Radio North Korea, here we come…
The Sorrows of the Chancellor
When the Propaganda Minister speaks of the pain of the people /He shudders, holding back, and then comes a scream:/Our Leader / Is getting grey hair!
When the Chancellor bellows into the radio/The people say: See how hard he works, how he strains himself!/If they had strained so mightily for the whole day/ They could not themselves not bellow so.
Everybody knows: the Chancellor is so worried/About the coming war/That he cannot sleep./What would happen/If the Chancellor let himself fall asleep/And no war came?
Those in neighbouring lands/Speak only with caution about our country,/Loudly judging its war economy and forceful actions/Therefore, when the Chancellor reads foreign newspapers,/He often cries./Then the Propaganda Minister urges the people to dry his tears.
Also, when the Chancellor must slaughter his friends/At the urging of his financial backers,/He has to do it so earnestly./When the people have nothing to eat,/His stomach must growl.
Certainly, when he has destroyed our country through war/He will cry like a child./When your sons and husbands fall in the battlefield/He will groan. When you again have to feed upon grass/He will look on earnestly.
Then you will know/That you have a good Chancellor.
Bertold Brecht, 1933 // translation from the German by Adam Cathcart, 2011