Why I believe ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is actually a song

Friday September 8 2017

The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Bretch

The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Bretch spreads over five scenes. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 


Lucy Kamau’s article, ‘Songs, irony and other styles used in The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and Victor Ochieng’s article ‘Special songs that help liven up Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ appeared under the ‘Understanding Set Books’ column (Saturday Nation, August 12, 2017 and August 26, 2017 respectively).

It was very insightful of Victor Ochieng to explain why playwrights employ songs, giving out six reasons in total. He listed four songs employed in the play annexed a song found on page 13 of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Approved school edition, published by Spotlight Publishers).

However, and I am not sure whether I to blame this on the editor or the writer; in his second-last paragraph, Victor misleads by claiming that The Noble Child is in Scene One. Perhaps he must have mistaken the prologue for Scene One.

It is prudent to include here that students use the Approved School Edition, and it is a version that some editing has gone into, not the one derived from the four-play volume text of Bertolt Brecht or the Old Edition.

Now unto my main point. I felt dejected that Lucy Kamau did not mention that The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in its entirety, is a song. I choose not to include Victor here for what he did was explain the significance of song as a style.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a song sang by a renowned singer, Arkadi Tscheidse, in celebration of the peaceful resolution of the land dispute — the giving of the land to those who would make the best use of it, the fruit farmers. The two stories — Grusha’s and Azdak’s — are narrated in the changed version of the song The Chalk Circle that comes from the Chinese.

Peasant Woman, right: Your entertainment had better be good. It’s costing us a valley.

Peasant Woman, left: Arkadi has promised to sing something that has a bearing on our problem. He knows twenty-one thousand lines of verse by heart. (Page 11)

Delegate: It is an honour to meet you. I heard about your songs when I was still at school. Will it be one of the old legends?

The Singer: A very old one. It is called The Chalk Circle and comes from the Chinese. But we’ll do it, of course, in a changed version. Comrades, we hope you’ll find that old poetry can sound well in the shadow of new tractors… (page 12).

This is most important before one begins to flesh out the specific songs that are found within the story, told in a song by Arkadi.

Indeed, someone who has read this story carefully enough cannot miss to find out that Brecht gives the moral of the play, right in the prologue. The last part of Arkadi’s song goes: “…Take note of what men of old concluded/That what there is shall go to those who are good of it/Children to the motherly, that they prosper/Cars to good drivers, that they be driven well/The valley to the waterers, that it yield fruit (Page 99).

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is undoubtedly a song.


The writer, a literature student at Moi University, is a literary and arts critic and a cultural commentator.