Monday 13 April 2009

Beckett: A Birthday Thought

Well, today is Samuel Beckett's birthday - he liked to claim that it was Good Friday the 13th, but that happy coincidence didn't occur in 1906, his natal year. It is also - despite all evidence to the contrary here in grey cold drizzly London - Spring, a season which always brings to mind the 'brief statement' (26 unparagraphed pages) made by the gentleman in the green baize apron in Watt, before he leaves Mr Knott's house, the gentleman who of course regrets 'everything' and who takes a dim view of the natural world and the turning seasons -
"The crocuses and the larch turning green every year a week before the others and the pastures red with uneaten sheep's placentas and the long summer days and the new-mown hay and the wood-pigeon in the morning and the cuckoo in the afternoon and the corncrake in the evening and the wasps in the jam and the smell of the gorse and the look of the gorse and the apples falling and the children walking in the dead leaves and the larch turning brown a week before the others and the chestnuts falling and the howling winds and the sea breaking over the pier and the first fires and the hooves on the road and the consumptive postman whistling The Roses Are Blooming in Picardy and the standard oil-lamp and of course the snow and to be sure the sleet and bless your heart the slush and every fourth year the February debacle and the endless April showers and the crocuses and then the whole bloody business starting over again."
The gentleman may regard the whole business as 'an excrement', 'a turd' - but isn't this an extraordinarily vivid and evocative piece of nature writing? In fact, Beckett often demonstrates a remarkably sharp eye (and ear) for landscape and close-up detail, for the sights and sounds of nature - the bleak landscapes of Molloy, for example (clearly rooted, as is the passage above, in the author's memories of Ireland), are brilliantly realised and linger long in the mind. Perhaps Beckett's attention to nature is all the sharper for his sense of man's inescapable alienation from it - it is a scene across which a man passes but of which he can never fully be (or feel himself) a part. There's another lovely passage earlier in the gentleman's monologue -
"The long blue days for his head, for his side, and the little paths for his feet, and all the brightness to touch and gather. Through the grass the little mosspaths, bony with old roots, and the trees sticking up, and the flowers sticking up, and the fruit hanging down, and the white exahusted butterflies, and the birds never the same darting all day into hiding..."
It seems to me that among Beckett's less celebrated talents is that of a brilliant, if eccentric, reluctant and against-the-grain, nature writer.


  1. Thanks for that Nige, hadn't realised that today would have been his birthday, my daughter is hauling me off tonight to see Gandalf and Jean Luc do Godot, makes the evening rather poignant.

    Will raise a glass to him after the show, in the boozer.

  2. I wanted to see Gandalf and Jean Luc doing Godot when they were in Bath, Malty, but tickets didn't make themselves sufficiently easily available to me. I wonder if perhaps they might act a bit too much though. Let us know, anyway.

  3. Wow -- that is a great piece of writing. Dovetails with Eliot's riff on the cruelties of April, the spring rain stirring the dull roots....

  4. About Gandalf and Jean Luc doing Godot, see Henry Gee's Come In Godot, Your Time Is Up

  5. Thanks Dave - I wonder if Norfolk's other distinguished resident, B. Appleyard, knows him...
    I've never enjoyed Godot as much as I (feel I) should - but that's probably mostly down to my violent aversion to actors and all thing theatrical.

  6. What did you make of Gandalf and Jean Luc, Malty?

  7. Nige, it being Godot, summing up will come first.
    Both cast and packed audience (at Edinburgh's Kings, a fine old theatre) had a rollicking good night, Sam would have been proud of us all.
    The actors were thoroughly enjoying themselves and the atmosphere was quickly taken up by the audience.
    Stewart and Mckellen made a splendid Vaudeville pair ably abeted by Callow's Pozzo, whom the director had obviously managed to restrain from his more usual thespish excesses, Ronald Pickups Lucky was a joy, the crazed monologue was riveting.
    Parick Stewart, whom I have never seen live before was a hilarious Vladimir and Ian McKellen's Estragon was the ideal miserable barefoot old git.

    All in all, well worth the money.
    Who's Godot ?, ain't got a clue.
    On the journey home my daughter who, on these occasions, being in the trade, is normally hyper critical, was in raptures, treating me to a second reading of lucky's speech.

  8. THanks Malty - here's hoping it turns up on TV or film, or anything that means I don't have to haul myself to a theatre...

  9. Great blog Nige,but,I can't wish for a TV or movie version of Godot.
    Even with the current classic cast
    the play would lose it's innate intimacy,not too mention,which I'm about to,it's theatricality.Not a word Sam would have gone for.