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Caucasian Chalk Circle

“He who hears not a cry …”

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“… he who hears not a cry for help,

but passes by with troubled ears,

Will never hear

The gentle call of a lover

Nor the blackbird at dawn

Nor the happy sigh of the tired grape-picker

As the Angelus rings…”

These verses from the “Caucasian Chalk Circle” by Bertolt Brecht contain the main reason why I chose this play for my second class 8, just 20 years ago.

It is the dramatic story of a peasant girl, Grusha, who finds an abandoned baby and decide to take care of him despite all the troubles she will have to face.

During her vibrant journey to save “her child” Grusha’s character grows in determination and self-confidence while an intense plot of themes crosses the main thread exploring motherhood and leadership, loyalty and true love, corruption and power, responsibility and vanity in a frame of social inequalities and tragic political events.

My intention however is to focus here only on the scene where those initial words are “spoken” in a special language…

Georgia, 13th century

There are riots in the city. Rioters are attacking the palace.

The Governor and his wife Natella are ready to flee with their most precious belongings under the protection of their guards.

Only one ‘thing’ they forget behind: their noble baby…

The servants are in panic, soldiers are sweeping into the palace, the city is on fire… Nobody wants to care for the baby, they are too scared of having anything to do with him…

Grusha sees him and can’t run away…

“As she stood there between the door and the archway, she heard or thought she heard a faint cry: the child called out to her, he didn’t whimper, but said quite reasonably or so at least it seemed to her.

‘Woman, help me’ 

Grusha is fully immerse in her connection with the child. She can’t block her ears… she actually believes to understand his language … Grusha stands and listens to him as he “speaks” to her.

“‘Know, woman, he who hears not a cry for help, 

but passes by with troubled ears,

Will never hear

The gentle call of a lover

Nor the blackbird at dawn

Nor the happy sigh of the tired grape-picker

As the Angelus rings…”

Grusha’s heart is torn apart: taking the baby is a risk, caring for him is a burden, her future might be disrupted, her life might be in peril… still, she can’t go...

Why can’t Grusha leave that child to his fate?

“And she sat with the child a long time,

Till evening came, till night came, till dawn came.

She sat too long, too long she saw

The soft breathing, the small clinched fists….”

Grusha is fascinated by the baby and her nature doesn’t allow her to abandon him!

Her inner conflict can’t be resolved with rational thinking by weighing pros and cons…. It requires a deeper inspiration…

In the morning she is completely caught by the baby: an intimate determination now leads her actions and she is ready to commit her life to him!

“… she bent down and sighing took the child and carried it away” 

That night Grusha was at the crossroad of her life as she had to take a “yes-or-no” decision: ignore the baby and save her life or take the responsibility of  him and face the unknown together.

Grusha makes her choice and begins her hard journey that will culminate with the final trial of the “chalk circle” when Natella -the biological mother and powerful person- comes back and claims her son as she targets his inheritance after the Governor’s death.

The pathos rises high during the final stage, although the trial is a consequence of the critical decision taken that night, when everyone else was panicking for their own safety and Grusha couldn’t ignore the cry of the baby.

That night with her decision Grusha lifted her status from a peasant girl up to a noble mother!

It seems that this story belongs to a feudal, archaic time having nothing to do with our super-advanced 6G level of civilisation… maybe, but we should think about before passing by a call for help without interest, with blocked ears and blind eyes. We are free to decide while passing by: we may listen, we may not: we may watch, we may turn our eyes… the future trial will be consequent to our present choice.

While approaching Christmas time and the turn of the new year, we may try our good will to open our senses to the call of those in need…

In a Christmas corner the peasant Grusha -responsible mother, loyal lover, fully dedicated to her mission- may deserve a place in the flocks of Shepard going to revere the divine Baby: her human, ethical dimension could stand among those other characters and perhaps even in the royal procession behind the Kings.

A merry Christmas to everyone!