By: Eric Stroud, dramaturg
(NOTE: Mother Courage and Her Children opened on Friday to a major success. Tickets are still available for other showings, but they are going fast. You can buy them online by visiting this link.)
THE SONG OF SHELTER
IN MARCH A TREE WE PLANTED
TO MAKE THE GARDEN GAY.
IN JUNE WE WERE ENCHANTED:
A LOVELY ROSE WAS BLOOMING
THE BALMY AIR PERFUMING!
BLEST OF THE GODS ARE THEY
WHO HAVE A GARDEN GAY!
IN JUNE WE WERE ENCHANTED.
WHEN SNOW FALLS HELTER-SKELTER
AND LOUDLY BLOWS THE STORM
OUR FARMHOUSE GIVES US SHELTER.
THE WINTER’S IN A HURRY
BUT WE’VE NO CAUSE TO WORRY.
COSY ARE WE AND WARM
THOUGH LOUDLY BLOWS THE STORM:
OUR FARMHOUSE GIVES US SHELTER.
This lovely song comes in scene ten of Mother Courage and Her Children. Sung by a farmer and his family, it seems to be a simple ballad of gratitude for a garden in the spring and a house that keeps their family warm in the winter. It is a pretty song, but to be frank, random. When I first heard it, I wondered why would Brecht include it in his play. However, after some research I was surprised by what I found. Lets focus on the planting of the tree for a moment.
A large part of director David Morgan’s concept for this show revolves around a tree that sits center stage.
When I first spoke to David about his concept for the show, he spoke of how he wanted to emphasize that any war we have today, is simply evidence that human kind has not learned from its mistakes. He wanted his audience to stop and think for a moment about what war has ever actually solved, and whether or not it is ever the answer. When he told me about the tree, I asked him what he wanted it to mean. He sat for a moment and pondered. “It’s human kind,” he finally answered. He went on to tell me that the tree would be a dead one, just as war mongering is the death of the human race.
When are meeting was over, I immediately started doing research. Now that I understood my director’s usage of a tree in the play, I wanted to know what Brecht meant by mentioning it in this song. In most translations of Mother Courage the word ‘tree’ or ‘trees’ is mentioned at least ten times. Now for a noun in a play, just over 100 pages, this is a fair amount of usage.
Well, after doing some digging I came across some very interesting information. Adolf Hitler loved oak trees. In fact, there were over 130 oak tree saplings presented by Hitler to gold medalists during the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. I know, what the heck?
“The oak tree was considered the sacred tree of Germany. Hitler loved oak trees and had them planted all over the Reich as “concordant with the spirit of the Führer.” Oak leaves and acorns were even the symbols of the SS, Hitler’s green Praetorian Guard.”
Read more: http://bit.ly/1MfvYUb
So what does this have to do with Brecht’s mention of trees so many times in Mother Courage? Well, as I have mentioned before, this play was written by Brecht as an anti-war, direct response to the Nazi Regime of World War II. Although the play did not go on stage until prior to Hitler’s regime (due to Brecht having to hide from them in Poland), we know that Brecht outwardly condemned the Nazi regime, which was his reason for hiding in the first place.
With this knowledge in mind, the planting of the tree by the farmer takes on knew meaning. While we do not know for sure, perhaps inclusion of the song in the play is a commentary on Hitler’s attempt to use oaks as a means of manipulation. Just as Hitler seemed to have used the oaks as a mask for the sinister, the farmer uses the trees as a means of willful ignorance to the war going on outside his home. Brecht certainly despised those Germans who would simply submit to the extermination of Jews and an oppressive dictatorship if it meant a joyful Spring. However, if you come and see the play, you can see what happens to this farmer and his family.
David Morgan’s concept also took on new meaning for me as well. Though he did not necessarily mean it to, the tree became an omen for future generations. It stood as a warning to those of our generation who ignore our views on war, with a willful ignorance. However, Dave’s concept delves deeper. Tune in to the next post to learn what other elements of the show apply to Dave’s concept; “any war we have today, is simply evidence that human kind has not learned from its mistakes.”