Saturday 13 April 2024


 It's Samuel Beckett's birthday today (born 1906). I would have thought I'd have marked the date quite often on the blog, but it seems I've only done so once. Since that was in 2009 – fifteen years ago, long enough for everyone (myself included) to have forgotten – I take the liberty of reprinting that piece. It has some choice quotations in it –

'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.'