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Authors: Samuel Beckett

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Le sot qui a un moment d'esprit étonne et scandalise comme des chevaux de fiacre qui galopent.

Wit in fools has something shocking

Like cabhorses galloping.


Le théâtre tragique a le grand inconvénient moral de mettre trop d'importance à la vie et à la mort.


The trouble with tragedy is the fuss it makes

About life and death and other tuppenny aches.


Quand on soutient que les gens les moins sensibles sont, à tout prendre, les plus heureux, je me rappelle le proverbe indien: ‘Il vaut mieux être assis que debout, couché qu'assis, mort que tout cela.'


Better on your arse than on your feet,

Flat on your back than either, dead than the lot.


Quand on a été bien tourmenté, bien fatigué par sa propre sensibilité, on s'aperçoit qu'il faut vivre au jour le jour, oublier beaucoup, enfin éponger la vie à mesure qu'elle s'écoule.


Live and clean forget from day to day,

Mop life up as fast as it dribbles away.


La pensée console de tout et remédie à tout. Si quelquefois elle vous fait du mal, demandez-lui le remède du mal qu'elle vous a fait, elle vous le donnera.


Ask of all-healing, all-consoling thought

Salve and solace for the woe it wrought.


L'espérance n'est qu'un charlatan qui nous trompe sans cesse; et, pour moi, le bonheur n'a commencé que lorsque je l'ai eu perdu. Je mettrais volontiers sur la porte du paradis le vers que le Dante a mis sur celle de l'enfer:
Lasciate ogni speranza etc


Hope is a knave befools us evermore,

Which till I lost no happiness was mine.

I strike from hell's to grave on heaven's door:

All hope abandon ye who enter in.


Vivre est une maladie dont le sommeil nous soulage toutes les seize heures. C'est un palliatif; la mort est le remède.


sleep till death


come ease

this life disease


Que le cœur de l'homme est creux et plein d'ordure.


how hollow heart and full

of filth thou art

who may tell the tale

of the old man?

weigh absence in a scale?

mete want with a span?

the sum assess

of the world's woes?


in words enclose?

to be there without jaws without teeth

to be there without jaws without teeth / where the pleasure of losing flees / along with that scarcely inferior / of winning / and Roscelin and waiting / adverb oh little gift / void void if not for tatters of songs /
mon père m'a donné un mari
/ or bunching your fingers / waiting for her to moisten / so much that she'll crave until the elegiac / hobnailed clogs still far from Les Halles / or the rabble's water groaning in the pipes / or no more sound / waiting for her to moisten since that's how it is / get the rest over with / and come / to the idiot mouth to the creeping hand / to the basement door to the eye that listens / for the far-off motion of silver scissors


through the thin partition / this day when a child / prodigal in its own way / returned to its family / I hear the voice / it is excited it is commenting / on the football world cup // always too young // at the same time through the open window / in brief through the air / mutely / the swell of the faithful // her blood spurted in abundance / on the sheets on the sweetpea on her bloke / with his revolting fingers he closed the lids / on her large green astonished eyes // she wanders nimble / on my tomb of air

The Fly

between the scene and me / the window / empty besides // belly to the ground / girthed in its black guts / panicked antennae joined wings / hooked legs mouth sucking the void / slicing the azure crashing against the invisible / under my impotent thumb it makes / the sea and the peaceful sky capsize

so it's no use

so it's no use / through good times and bad / imprisoned at home imprisoned abroad / as if it were yesterday remember the mammoth / the dinothere the first kisses / the glacial periods bringing nothing new / the great heat of the thirteenth of their era / Kant hunched coldly over smoking Lisbon / to dream in generations of oak and forget one's father / his eyes whether he wore a moustache / if he was kind what he died of / it won't stop eating you for want of appetite / through bad times and worse / imprisoned at home imprisoned abroad

Rue de Vaugirard

halfway along / I release the button and beaming with candour / expose the plate to the light and shadow / then set off again fortified / by an unimpeachable negative

Lutetian Amphitheatre

From where we are sitting above the tiers / I see us enter from the rue des Arènes side, / hesitate, look up in the air, then heavily / come towards us across the dark sand, / uglier and uglier, as ugly as the others, / but mute. A little green dog / enters running from the rue Monge side, / she stops, she follows him with her eyes, / he crosses the arena, he disappears / behind the pedestal of the savant Gabriel de Mortillet. / She turns back, I have left, I climb the rustic steps / alone, I touch with my left hand / the rustic ramp, it's made of concrete. She hesitates, / takes a step towards the rue Monge exit, then follows me. / I shiver, it is myself I rejoin, / it is with other eyes that I now look / at the sand, the puddles under the drizzle, / a little girl trailing a hoop behind her, / a couple, lovers perhaps, hand in hand, / the empty tiers, the tall houses, the sky / that shines on us too late. / I turn around, amazed / to find his sad face there.

So what if there is a land

So what if there is a land / where forgetfulness where forgetfulness
weighs / sweetly on the unnamed worlds / there the head is silenced the head is mute / and you know no you know nothing / the song of dead mouths dies / on the shore it ends its journey / there is no cause to mourn // my solitude I know it ok I know it badly / I've got time I tell myself I've got time / but what weather famished bone filthy weather / a sky forever growing paler my grain of sky / the ray that climbs ocellate trembling / the microns of dark years // you want me to go from A to B I cannot / I cannot come out I am in a trackless land / yes yes it's a fine thing you have there a very fine thing / what is that ask me no more questions / spiral dust of instants what is this the same / calm love hate calm calm

Death of A.D.

and there to be there still there / pressed against my old poxed plank of dark / days and nights blindly crushed / to be there and not fleeing fleeing and being there / bent towards the confession of time dying / of having been what it was done what it did / to me to my friend dead yesterday gleaming eye / long teeth panting in his beard
/ the lives of the saints a life per day of life / reliving its black sins at night / dead yesterday while I lived / and to be there drinking above the storm / the burden of irremissible time / clutching the old wood witness to departures / witness to returns

long live dead my only season

long live dead my only season / white lilies chrysanthemums / lively nests abandoned / mud of April leaves / fine grey days of frost


facing / the worst / laugh / till you burst


back home / at night / on with the light // extinguish see / the night see / pressed to the window / the face


all said and done / game over amounts / to a quarter billion / quarter hours gone / not including / extra time


far end of void / after what watch / eye thought it saw / the head feebly stir / calmed him saying / all in the head


silence such that what / once was will never again / be torn by the murmur / of a word with no past / helpless not to say too much / just saying I'll go on


listen to them / add up / words / upon words / without a word / step / upon step / one by / one


flashes edgings / of the shuttle / take more than a step fade /
shine like new // halt rather / far from each / by your self selfless / out of their reach


surmise if this / should one day this / one fine day / surmise / if one day / one fine day this / should cease / surmise


first off / flat on the rough / right / or left / no matter // then / flat on the right / or the left / the left / or the right // at last / flat on the left / or the right / no matter / on the lot / the head


flux the cause / that each thing / busy being / each thing / say this here / this here even / busy being / is busy not / talk about it


saturday respite / no more laughter / from midnight / to midnight / and no tears after


each day the desire / one day to be alive / not of course without scorn / for one day having been born


night which makes / us pray for dawn / night of grace / come down


nothing no one / will have been / in vain / so long as / nothing no one / been


best foot no sooner forward / for the last step / than rests waiting / as custom dictates / for the other do likewise / as custom dictates / and so bears the burden / further on / as custom dictates / thus far at least


whatever good / ill seen by the eyes / the thread tired / hands have dropped / hold on tight / fingers and eyes / the good comes back / as better


whatever ill / the heart has known / whatever curses / the head rained down / on itself / recall / the worst comes back / as worse


don't miss when in Tangier / the Saint-André graveyard where / under stone the dead are laid / itself by flowers buried / a seat to honour / Arthur Keyser / with him in spirit who / sits a while up here below


further on one marks where / Caroline Hay Taylor lies / to her belief stayed true / that hope must spring from life / departed Ireland for paradise / in August nineteen thirty-two


don't miss when in Stuttgart / the long rue Neckar / the call of the void / not itself any more / so strong is the feeling / you've been here before


old going / old halts // going / absent / absent / halt


fools who said / never again / quick / say it again


step by step / nowhere / none alone / knows how / little steps / nowhere / stubbornly


dream / without cease / nor ever / peace


dead among / her dead flies / the spider rocked / by a gentle breeze


whence / the voice that says / live // another life


words that survive / life / keep him company / still a while


rivers and oceans / left him for living / at the Courtablon burn / near the Mare-Chaudron


resolutely / past all care / passes himself out / going nowhere


venturing from his hermit's refuge / it was the calm after the deluge


no sooner heard himself unleash / the words all over than / his life at last began to flash / its toothy grin at him


the night come when at last / his soul was to be repossessed / incontinent buffoon / he let it go an hour too soon


no more / memories all told than aged / one day in April / one day old


his shadow one night / came in from the cold / lengthened turned white / dissolved


dark sister / who art in hell / laying about you / everywhere / what are you waiting for


the final murmur / of a dwarf in his ninetieth year / grant me for pity / a full-sized bier


all out of dreams a buckhare / tired of the hunt constrained / to quit its den made sure to leave / the candlestick behind

‘Whoroscope'. First published by Nancy Cunard's Hours Press in Paris, 1930. Beckett's notes, like Eliot's to
The Waste Land,
were added at his publisher's request, and draw on his reading of Baillet's
La vie de Monsieur Descartes
and John Pentland Mahaffy's

‘Gnome'. Written after Beckett's resignation and flight from Trinity College, Dublin in January 1932; first published
Dublin Magazine
July–September 1934. The title connects the Greek ‘gnosis' (knowledge) with the idea of a diminished being. According to Beckett, the poem was inspired by Goethe's ‘Xenien' (Xenia: gifts to the departing). Originally, and until 1977, ‘a' in l. 3 read ‘the'.

‘The Vulture'. First published in
Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates
(1935). Beckett acknowledged a debt to Goethe's ‘Harzreise im Winter'.

‘Enueg I'.
Echo's Bones
. The ‘enueg' (=
) is a Provençal genre of stylised complaint. The Dublin suburb Chapelizod is the setting for Joyce's
Finnegans Wake
and is celebrated in myth as the burial place of Iseult of Ireland. Nepenthe is a drug of forgetfulness, and moly a herb used by Odysseus as a charm against Circe's enchantments. The concluding four lines derive from Rimbaud's ‘Barbare'.

‘Enueg II'.
Echo's Bones.
Veronica mopped Christ's brow with a sudarium: ‘veronica mundi' is a Veronica ‘of the world', and ‘veronica munda' a ‘pure' Veronica. Deirdre Bair describes Beckett storming out of painter Sean O'Sullivan's studio, decrying another artist as ‘a Veronicist who would wipe the face of Christ with a sanitary towel'. The German ‘doch' is used to contradict a negative statement; in Beckett's notebooks for the abandoned play
Human Wishes,
the phrase ‘Dr J in love' is annotated ‘Doch' in the margin, while elsewhere Beckett notes Johnson's habit of saying ‘No, sir' when he wished to express agreement. ‘Feet in marmalade' derives from an expression of Beckett's friend Georges Pelorson's grandmother.

Dublin Magazine
VI October–December 1931, then
Echo's Bones.
A Provençal song of the dawn, lamenting the separation of the poet from the beloved. The areca is an Asian palm tree.

Echo's Bones.
The title refers to a German beer. A plagal, unlike a perfect cadence, offers no resolution from leading note to tonic. The k'în is a 
Chinese lute. Habakkuk (
) is unique among biblical prophets for openly questioning the ways of God.

‘Sanies I'.
Echo's Bones.
A sanies is a seropurulent discharge from an infection. Portrane, in north Co. Dublin, features in the short story ‘Fingal', where Jonathan Swift is described as having imprisoned his ‘motte' (girlfriend) there. A potwalloper is one who claimed a vote on the basis on having boiled (walloped) a kettle in the parish for six consecutive months; with its franchise vested in ‘potwallopers', Swords was historically one of the few free (though notoriously corrupt) boroughs in Ireland, its name recalling another Latin word for filth,
. Holles Street: site of a Dublin maternity hospital.

‘Sanies II'.
Echo's Bones
. Gracieuse, Percinet and Belle-Belle are characters from the Comtesse d'Aulnoy's fairy tales. The Latin line (from Plautus) means ‘dead bullocks strike against living women'. The closing fantasy of flagellation prompts thoughts of the Dublin madam Becky Cooper, whose establishment featured a reproduction of Henry Holiday's ‘Dante and Beatrice'.

‘Serena I.'
Echo's Bones.
A Provençal song of evening, longing for night, and for the beloved. A version of the poem sent to Thomas MacGreevy with a letter of 8 October 1932 features an additional opening stanza. Pietro Aretino and Daniel Defoe both castigated urban decadence. Wren's ‘giant bully' is Sir Christopher Wren's memorial to the victims of the great fire of 1666.

‘Serena II'.
Echo's Bones.
The poet's Kerry Blue bitch revisits the Irish west coast in a dream before whelping in a bog. Croagh Patrick is a site of pilgrimage in Co. Mayo.

‘Serena III'.
Echo's Bones.
‘Pothook of beauty': William Hogarth espoused the sigmoid line, as encountered by the poet in the decorations of the Merrion Flats. Misery Hill was once a leper colony and site of public executions.

Echo's Bones.
Malacoda is among the devils in
XX who threaten Dante and Virgil, and breaks wind at them. His latter-day incarnation, an undertaker kneeling by the coffin of the poet's father, is similarly flatulent. A Jan van Huysum painting in the National Gallery, London, features a butterfly (the ‘imago' ‘on the box').

‘Da Tagte Es'.
Echo's Bones.
The title may derive from the
Walther von der Vogelweide's ‘dô taget ez und muos ich waken' (‘it dawns and I must waken'), though Beckett's notes suggest Heinrich von Morungen as another possible source.

‘Echo's Bones'.
Echo's Bones.
In Ovid's
, Echo mourns for the dead Narcissus and wastes away to stone. ‘Gantelope' is an archaic form of ‘gauntlet' (running the gauntlet), which contains the after-image of an antelope.
‘Yoke of Liberty'.
European Caravan
, part 1 (New York, 1931). Originally ‘Moly'.

3 Autumn 1997. Possibly written in response to the banning of
More Pricks Than Kicks
in Ireland (1934), despite the handwritten addition ‘After Saint Lô 1946' (Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading [UoR] typescript). ‘Ochone' is a Gaelic term of lament. L.8
‘The ass was the more intelligent', ‘ass' crossed out and amended to ‘cart'.

‘Cascando'. Composed 1936; first published
Dublin Magazine
XI October–December 1936. A musical term denoting decreased volume and a slower tempo.

‘Ooftish'. Composed 1937; first published
27 (April–May 1938). Originally titled ‘Whiting'. ‘Ooftish' derives from a Yiddish expression, meaning to lay one's cash on the table.

elles viennent
'/‘they come'. Composed 25 January 1938; first published (French text only)
Temps modernes
14 November 1946, one of twelve poems published there. The English text first appeared in Peggy Guggenheim's
Out of This Century

être là sans mâchoires sans dents
'. Composed 1937–9; first published
Temps modernes
1946. The medieval thinker Roscellinus Compendiensis denied the existence of universals. The image of the Fates cutting the thread of life recurs at the end of the

‘Ascension'. Composed 1938; first published
Temps modernes
1946. The football world cup took place in Paris in 1938. An alternative final couplet occurs in the version Beckett sent MacGreevy on 15 June 1938: ‘
en reçoit-il une colombe /aussi souvent que moi

La Mouche
'. Composed 1938; first published
Temps modernes

ainsi a-t-on beau
'. Composed 1937–9; first published
Temps modernes
1946. Immanuel Kant wrote prolifically on the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

‘Dieppe'. Composed in French in 1937 and published in
Temps modernes
(French text only). English text first published in the
Irish Times
9 June 1945, where ‘lights of old' read ‘lighted town'. Originates in Hölderlin's ‘Der Spaziergang'.

‘Rue de Vaugirard'. Composed 1937–9.
Temps modernes
1946. A thoroughfare near Beckett's apartment on the rue des Favorites.

‘Arènes de Lutèce'.
Temps modernes.
Lutetia was the Roman name for Paris. The Roman amphitheatre is in the fifth arrondissement. Gabriel de Mortillet
(1821–1898) was a French palaeontologist; evidence of Beckett's interest in palaeontology at this time can be found in the
notebook (University of Reading [UoR]).

‘Saint-Lô'. First published in the
Irish Times
24 June 1946, where l.3 was originally two lines: ‘and the old mind / ghost-abandoned'; revised for
Poems in English
(1961). The River Vire flows through Saint-Lô, a town in Lower Normandy where Beckett worked for the Red Cross after the war, as described in his radio talk ‘The Capital of the Ruins'.

bon bon il est un pays
'. Composed February 1947; first published
Cahiers des saisons
2 October 1955, one of a group of three poems, where it is titled ‘
'. A rare example in the Beckett canon of a commissioned text, written at the request of Geer van Velde.

Mort de A.D
'. Composed after the death of Arthur Darley (‘A.D.'), 30 December 1948; first published
Cahiers des saisons
1955. Darley, a colleague of Beckett's at Saint-Lô in Normandy, also features in his final prose work,
Stirrings Still

vive morte ma seule saison
'. Composed 1947–9; first published
Cahiers des saisons

je suis ce cours de sable qui glisse
'/‘my way is in the sand flowing'. Reportedly written by Beckett on Killiney Strand, Co. Dublin, during a summer visit to his mother in 1948; French and English versions first published
Transition Forty-Eight
2 (June 1948).

que ferais-je sans ce monde sans visage sans questions
'/‘what would I do without this world'. Composed 1948; first published
Transition Forty-Eight
2 (June 1948). Line 10 originally ‘
comme hier comme

je voudrais que mon amour meure
'/‘I would like my love to die'. Composed 1948; first published
Transition Forty-Eight
2 (June 1948). French text originally
et dans les rues
(l. 3) and
pleurant la seule qui m'ait aimé
(l. 4), and English text (l. 4) originally ‘mourning the first and last to love me'.

‘Song'. From the play
Words and Music
, first published in
Evergreen Review

hors crâne seul dedans
'. Composed 1–4 January 1974; first published
21 (November 1976). Bocca degli Alberti was a traitor, encased in ice in the ninth circle of hell (
XXXII). ‘Something there' freely translates this French poem.

‘Something there'. Composed 1–4 January 1974; first published
New Departures
7 ⁄8 and 9⁄10 (August 1975).

‘dread nay'. Composed 1974; first published
Collected Poems
(1977). The chattering sound made by the stork can also be found in

‘Roundelay'. Composed July 1976; first published
Modern Drama
19 (September 1976).

‘mirlitonnades'. Poèmes, suivi de mirlitonnades
(Minuit, 1978). The make-up of the sequence varies from edition to edition of Beckett's poetry; this printing follows the original text. After this publication Beckett continued to write new poems in French and English in the
notebook. Manuscripts in Trinity College, Dublin describe poems written in the late 1980s as ‘
', making a case for all his short late poems to be seen as implicit additions to the sequence. A
is a kazoo, and
doggerel verse in which to wrap the instrument. The Mare-Chaudron and rue de Courtablon are places in Ussy, whither Beckett retreated from Paris and did much of his writing in later life. The dark sister of ‘
noire sœur
' is Atropos (cf. note to ‘
être là sans mâchoires sans dents
'). The hare of ‘
à bout de songes un bouquin
' derives from La Fontaine's ‘
Le Lièvre et les grenouilles

‘one dead of night'. Composed June 1977; first published
Poetry Review
86:3 1996.

‘there', ‘again gone'. Composed 1981; first published (together with a third, ‘head on hands') under the single title ‘pss' in
New Departures
14 (1982), but recourse to the
notebook clarifies that they are separate poems. ‘there' answers Petruchio's question in
The Taming of the Shrew
: ‘Where is the life that late I led?'

‘bail bail till better/founder'. Composed 11 April 1981 (UoR

‘Là'. Composed 19 January 1987; first published
Journal of Beckett Studies
] 1.1 and 2 1992, where it carried a dedication ‘For Jim' (James Knowlson).

‘Go where never before'. Composed 24 January 1987; English version of ‘Là', first published together in
1.1 and 2 1992.

‘Brief Dream'. Composed November 1987; first published
1.1 and 2 1992.

Comment dire
/what is the word. French text dated 29 October 1988, English text 23 April 1989. Composed 1988; first published
1 June 1989 (‘
Comment dire
') and
Sunday Correspondent
31 December 1989 (‘what is the word'). ‘what is the word' was Beckett's last piece of writing.


This Quarter
2.4 April–May–June 1930. Eugenio Montale (1896–1981), Italian poet, Nobel Prize for Literature 1975.

‘Louis Armstrong'. From Nancy Cunard's
Negro, An Anthology
(1934). Ernst Moerman (1897–1944), Belgian author and film director.

‘Drunken Boat'. Whiteknights Press (Reading, 1976). Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891), French poet. Beckett offered the translation to
This Quarter
in 1932, but the journal ceased publication shortly afterwards. The text was believed lost for decades before resurfacing in 1975; it was first published in a limited edition the following year.

BOOK: Selected Poems 1930-1988
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