'Hawd yer wheesht there stoap yer drum it's mother courage this way come...'
In this new translation by the distinguished Scottish poet Tom Leonard of Brecht's great 1939 anti-war play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, Mother Courage is a working-class woman from the West of Scotland speaking the racy working-class nonstandard language of Glasgow. The rest of the cast speak varieties of English language subtly shaded for irony, accent and all the social hierarchies carried by diction and regional language in a land where diction is an index of class.
Best known for his early poems in Glasgow dialect such as 'The Six o'clock News', Tom Leonard invests his translation with the arguments about language and politics that have run as a thread through all his work for almost fifty years. It is a play about the language of politics and the politics of language. As Leonard says, 'the hero of this Mother Courage is the language itself, and it is an anti-hero. Only Kattrin is allowed in her final action to be a proper hero - and she is dumb.'
Five songs from the play can be heard on Leonard's Selected Poems, a cd recorded live at the STUC in 2011, as part of Glasgow's May Day celebrations.
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 a drap a beer, wi a hunk a breid! 'spite clapped oot guns 'spite empty stomachs yer top brass still say 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.
'The guns they may roar and the bayonets may clash but that river will freeze you if in it you dash stay away from that ice, take heed my advice' said the wifie to the sojer. But the sojer just counted his bullets and laughed the wardrum was music, thoughts of death were just daft. 'I will march to the north and the south wi ma gun and ma bayonet in hand through the enemy run' said the sojer to the wifie. 'Ach, you'll regret you did not to yir elders give ear if you spurn the advice that I'm givin you here stay here on dry land, there's great danger at hand,' said the wifie to the sojer. But the sojer with bayonet and bullets on board threw her words in her face and stepped deep in that ford sayin water though cold is but harmless; 'When white the moon shines those tiled roofs over there I'll be back at your side, keep that thought in your prayer' said the sojer to the wifie. Disappeart in a puff! An gone cauld right enough! nay warmth tay be got frae such doin's! 'Disappeart like the breeze, God help us aw please…' said the wifie in mind a that sojer. An the sojer wi bayonet and bullets on board waded oot in such water as swallowed him up he sank doon, bayonet up, swept away in yon ford; and the moon on the tiled roofs it shone cawld an white but the sojer wi ice was whirled fawr oot a sight nay words noo frae yon sojer tae wifie... Disappeart in a puff! Gawn cauld right enough! An she'll never get warmth fray his doin's. 'Ach, you'll regret you did not to your elders give ear' Says the wifie in mind of the soldier.
When I was a lass aged seventeen an enemy soldier he seemed quite keen he down to the ground let his sabre land and with such loving looks did take my hand and after the mayday bright when there came the mayday night the regiment presented arms the drums banged out the old alarms that soldier took me behind a bush and we fraternised. an affair like this you think you'd puke that soldier mine, he was a cook I shunned the sight of him by day but then at night as one we had our way. For after the mayday bright there comes the mayday night the regiment presents its arms the drums bang out the old alarms that soldier he takes me behind a bush and we come to fraternise. Such love comes down from heaven above this ardent passion, this power of love my friends they can't believe their eyes how much I love him, him I don't despise but then came an awful morn bereft it left me, forlorn the regiment presented arms the drums banged out the old alarms that soldier who'd been my lover sweet he marched away to the drummers beat.
For all the talk of war and glory great vict'ries won, don't kid yoursells war's nothin but a bit of business though no in cheese it's guns an shells. Some folk'll look for quiet quarters a place tae settle doon they crave they want tae dig some 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.
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 sojer 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.
'Leonard's writing has been immensely influential as a harbinger of critical change in how we think about poetry and about how literature is taught and used in schools and universities throughout the country... his work speaks for human compassion and for the necessity "not to be complicit" in a world that is saturated with sound bites, social inequality and corporate flannel'.
'effectively re-conceives one of the landmarks of high European literary modernism by engaging with it on its own terms.'
Translation and Literature
'Leonard approaches Brecht as a radical poet approaches a political soulmate... This new version of Mother Courage will last for the same reasons as the original - it speaks to us, all of us, in the here and now.'
'a fine effort from Tom Leonard... a clever idea and Leonard carries it off with the aplomb you would expect.'
Mistress Quicklyâ€™s Bed