Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Late Flowering of Samuel Beckett's True Talent for Poetry

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Late Flowering of Samuel Beckett's True Talent for Poetry

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SEXTON

THE COLLECTED POEMS OF SAMUEL BECKETT edited by Sean Lawlor and John Pilling (Faber, [pounds sterling]30) SAMUEL Beckett's poetry is the least rewarding part of his work. Peggy Guggenheim, remembering her brief affair with Beckett in the Thirties in her autobiography, says flatly: "I thought his poems were bad."

John Pilling, one of the editors of this new, and admirable, annotated scholarly edition, said on a previous occasion that there is no point in pretending Beckett is a great poet. The poetry is mainly useful as "a potential clarifier of his more serious work in other genres", he suggested.

Even in their introduction now, the editors are forced to admit that Beckett may have overvalued his poems. The truth is that the arcane and overworked poems Beckett wrote and published before the war would have no life now were it not for his later writing. Nor are his poetry translations independently vital.

Yet the mostly tiny, simple, inward verses he wrote later in life, which he called "mirlitonnades", French for a child's trumpet, are treasurable. In just a few plain, unpunctuated words, they capture movements of the spirit.

In a way, the first of these dates all the way back to his affair with Peggy Guggenheim in 1938: "They come/ different and the same/ with each it is different and the same/ with each the absence of love is different/ with each the absence of love is the same." That's a particular truth perceived and abstracted unforgettably.

A lovely one of these late micropoems is an epitaph that answers the line from Petruchio's song in The Taming of the Shrew (seized upon by Cole Porter), "Where is the life that late I led? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.