by Bertolt Brecht
Tom Leonard

Mother Courage and her Children – Four Songs by Bertolt Brecht translated by Tom Leonard

March 2, 2012 | by Bertolt Brecht
Tom Leonard

Mother Courage is a character who has inspired several writers. She appears in The Runagate Courage, a novel published in 1670 by the German author Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. The novel, inspired by the events of the Thirty Years War, tells the tale of a woman torn between making money out of conflict and protecting her children. In 1939, Bertolt Brecht wrote Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, reviving the character as a response to the Third Reich and the oncoming Second World War. As recently as 2007, Irish novelist Darach Ó Scolaí reworked the story as An Cléireach, the story now set in Ó Scolaí’s homeland. The songs here are from a complete translation of the play by Tom Leonard that Smokestack Press hopes to publish in 2014.


hawd yer wheesht there stoap yer drum
it’s mother courage this way come
oh have yer squaddies halt and buy
new boots and claes an aw forbye!
flearidden sojers who love their loot
still want the guns they need tae shoot
but how does yer squaddie march tae fight
in scabby boots that’s faur too tight?

It’s springtime noo! move on your way
the snaw’s aw gone. the deid lie deid
but you that huvny died as yet
the powers that be, they still do need.

wi no one sausage for to eat
yer squaddie’ll fight till he faws deid
gie him some forage on his feet noo
a drap a beer, wi a hunk a breid!
despite clapped oot guns despite empty stomachs
yer top brass still say that aw is well
oh get your squaddies fit and well here!
march them fit tae the jaws o hell!

It’s springtime noo! move on your way
the snaw’s aw gone. the deid lie deid
but you that huvny died as yet
the powers that be, they still do need.

(Scene Eight, conclusion)

From here to there, from there tae aw place
Courage’s cart will aye be seen
The war needs guns tae fill its bawface
For guns an bullets always keen!
But guns an bullets willny fill it
Its regiments they still need you
so join the ranks, get to your billet
sign up yir name tae fight the noo!

(Final Scene Twelve, conclusion)

Wi aw its dangers an stray bullets
this war drags on from day to day
the war could last a hundred years yet
yer common squaddie willny win.
pure crap his food, his gear his rucksack
the regiment docks hauf his pay
an though it might strike you a wonder
this war will never go away!

It’s springtime noo! move on your way
the snaw’s aw gone. the deid lie deid
but you that huvny died as yet
the powers that be, they still do need.


It was in the first hour of the day
that Jesus Christ was led away
like common murderer, they say
to Pilate, the heathen judge.

Though he in Christ could find no fault
no sign of treason nor assault
proceedings yet he would not halt
and sent Jesus to Herod.

At three they took Our Lord, God’s son
scourged him with whips bare flesh upon
crowned him with painful benison
—a crown of thorns.

Clad in mock regal robes of state
smitten with clubs and words of hate
given the cross of mankind’s weight
to carry to his death.

At six they stripped our saviour bare
nailed to a cross they hung him there
bleeding from wounds in want of care
he prayed, and gave lamentation.

On his either side two felons hung
who joined in the sneers with mocking tongue
Our Lord hung lone midst jeers among
and the sun left the sky.

At nine in anguish Christ gave cry
my God thou hast forsaken me. Why?
But mocking that now his mouth was dry
they gave him a cup of vinegar.

When Jesus died, all spirit spent
great tremors shook earth’s fundament
the sacred temple curtain rent
and many a boulder shattered.

Those thieves at dusk who hung beside
they broke their legs that soon they died
then took a spear to Jesus’ side
and plunged it in.

Both blood and water poured from thence
scorned him they yet without penitence
this son of man, whose recompense
was to save humanity.


For all the talk of war and glory
great vict’ries won, don’t kid yoursel
war’s nothin but a bit of business
that deals in cheese and boots as well

Some folk’ll look for quiet quarters
a place tae settle doon they crave
they want tae dig their hoose foundations
instead they dig an early grave

Some rush aboot like bees oot jamjars
a peaceful spot they’re searchin oot
but wance they’re deid I aye jist wunnir
what aw their rush was aw aboot.


(Scene Eleven: Kattrin dead in Mother Courage’s arms)

hushaby ma dearie
nestlin’ in the hay
neighbours’ weans are girnin
oors jist run an play
neighbours weans are clatty
oors are clean an neat
lookin like an angel
sae sweet.

neighbours weans go starvin
oors have cake aw day
an if their cake’s too crumbly
aw they need is say
hushaby ma dearie
nestlin in the hay
I’ve wan lay doon in Poland
the other’s faur away.

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