Such, too, is our fate: as we read in Malone Dies, existence is the "crumbling away of two little heaps of finest sand, or dust, or ashes" (48), with no hope of reconstitution. Although we may linger on, we will never arise, Phoenix-like, from our ashes or our dust; we are not like that thief Vanni Fucci in Canto XXIV of the Inferno, endlessly reformed after having been turned to dust and ashes by a serpent's bite. But our immolation is our purification, our expiation of the sin of having been born; for as the Unnamable declares, it is "pity's fires" that will "promote us to ashes" (25).
Gradually time will pass. The poussière d'instants in the poem "bon bon il est un pays" 25 will accumulate, and one day our earth will expire. The dust will conquer all, as Voice C in That Time cries out: "suddenly this dust whole place full of dust . . . from floor to ceiling nothing only dust and not a sound." 26 The sky will go out and the ashes darken, to paraphrase the narrator of Part I of How It Is. Then, as the Unnamable predicted, "silence will fall again and settle, like dust of sand, on the arena, after the massacres" (26). Clov's dream will be the only reality: the planet will be "silent and still, and each thing in its last place under the last dust." 27 As we read in "Text 13" of Stories and Texts for Nothing, "there won't be any life, there won't have been any life, there will be silence, the air quite still that trembled once an instant, the tiny flurry of dust quite settled." 28
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Dante, Shakespeare and Baudelaire have also used these archetypal images for doleful effect, but none has used them as pervasively as Beckett. Ashes and dust recur throughout his prose, drama, poetry and radio plays. The television short "Ghost Trio" and the performance text "A Piece of Monologue" also contain references to dust, while the minimalist "Imagination Dead Imagine" describes bodies changing from leaden to an ashen hue. Beckett's deliberate repetition of ashes and dust creates a mood, a prophecy and a lament; for humanity, civilization and the world itself will eventually return to these elements. Yet Beckett's view does provide a certain consolation, because ultimately the dust and ashes will dissolve into the chaos from which they arose. Then, the last traces of that futile agony which is existence will be effaced, and the "blessedness of absence" 29 will reign eternally.
From The Journal of Beckett Studies 1, nos. 1-2 (Spring 1992): 55-65.