The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Difficult Times” is a short (nine lines), unrhymed poem, written in free verse with an irregular rhythmic pattern. Using the first person, Brecht makes it clear that it is he who is speaking directly to the reader.

The first image is of the speaker standing at his desk and looking out the window, presumably ruminating during a lull in his work. There is a hint of restlessness implied in this action. As he looks into the garden, he vaguely discerns an elderberry bush (“elder tree”). He sees red and black shapes that remind him of such a bush that existed in his childhood home in Augsburg. The poem’s last four lines concern indecision and the fact that he would need to put on his glasses in order to see the tree clearly. He “quite seriously” debates with himself whether to go from the desk to the table to get his spectacles, thus enabling him to see “Those black berries again.” The poem ends without stating whether he decides to get his glasses, but the fact that it does not say that he does implies inaction.

The reason or reasons why the speaker is living in “Difficult Times” are not explicitly stated in the poem. However, the poem was written very late in Brecht’s life, and the indecision, inability to see well, and perhaps even the physical difficulty of going from one part of the room to another obviously reflect the difficulties of advancing age. (In another late poem, “Things Change,” Brecht refers to himself as both a young man and “an old man forgetting his name.”) In addition, Brecht may be implying that both personal regrets and the political situation in Europe have made the times difficult. As an exile from his native land, Brecht had moved from place to place, changing countries of residence, as he once put it, “more often than I changed shirts.” He had had several wives and numerous mistresses (sometimes simultaneously), so that difficult memories and personal regrets would seem inevitable.