1. Indeed I live in the dark ages! A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens A hard heart. He who laughs Has not yet heard The terrible tidings. Ah, what an age it is When to speak of trees is almost a crime For it is a kind of silence about injustice! And he who walks calmly across the street, Is he not out of reach of his friends In trouble? It is true: I earn my living But, believe me, it is only an accident. Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill. By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me I am lost.) They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it! But how can I eat and drink When my food is snatched from the hungry And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty? And yet I eat and drink. I would gladly be wise. The old books tell us what wisdom is: Avoid the strife of the world Live out your little time Fearing no one Using no violence Returning good for evil — Not fulfillment of desire but forgetfulness Passes for wisdom. I can do none of this: Indeed I live in the dark ages!
2. I came to the cities in a time of disorder When hunger ruled. I came among men in a time of uprising And I revolted with them. So the time passed away Which on earth was given me. I ate my food between massacres. The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep. And when I loved, I loved with indifference. I looked upon nature with impatience. So the time passed away Which on earth was given me. In my time streets led to the quicksand. Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer. There was little I could do. But without me The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope. So the time passed away Which on earth was given me.
3. You, who shall emerge from the flood In which we are sinking, Think — When you speak of our weaknesses, Also of the dark time That brought them forth. For we went,changing our country more often than our shoes. In the class war, despairing When there was only injustice and no resistance. For we knew only too well: Even the hatred of squalor Makes the brow grow stern. Even anger against injustice Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness Could not ourselves be kind. But you, when at last it comes to pass That man can help his fellow man, Do no judge us Too harshly. translated by H. R. Hays