New Faber edition of Beckett's Poetry

Includes some material published in translation for the first time
Samuel Beckett in Paris, 1984. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Gerald Dawe reviews the new Faber edition of Samuel Beckett's Selected Poems 1930-1989, edited by David Wheatley:
Before he was anything else Samuel Beckett was a poet. He wrote poetry as a young man, living a somewhat bilocated life, first in Dublin in the 1920s and early 1930s, between home life and college life – at Trinity College, where he had rooms – and between Dublin, London and Paris, where he eventually settled and remained, from his return there after the liberation to his death, 20 years ago, in his early eighties.

The poems Beckett wrote in the 1930s were published in “little magazines” in all three cities, and he made a name for himself as a poet in the small avant-garde groups that clustered around publications such as Dublin Magazine , transition and TS Eliot’s the Criterion , before George Reavey, the northern Irish poet, translator and editor, published Echo’s Bones and other Precipitates in 1935, through his Europa Press, based at 13 Rue Bonaparte in Paris.

In the preceding five years Beckett had published with the Hours Press the provocatively obfuscating Whoroscope (1930), the succinct and stimulating essay Proust (Chatto Windus, London, 1932) and, with the same publishing house, More Pricks than Kicks (1934), a collection of interconnected stories that, with his novel Murphy (1938), included some seriously mocking gibes at the expense of the Dublin literary scene from which Beckett was slowly but ineluctably withdrawing. Beckett was also translating poetry from French into English and beginning to write poetry in French, the language in which he would later write all his major fiction and drama.

In the years leading up to the publication of Echo’s Bones Beckett had resigned from his lectureship at Trinity, experienced the loss from tuberculosis of his cousin Peggy Sinclair, to whom he was much attached, and also lost his beloved father to a fatal heart attack (in 1933). “He was in his sixty first year,” writes Beckett in a most poignant letter to Thomas MacGreevy, his fellow Trinity graduate and Paris-based poet, “but how much younger he seemed and was . . . He lay in bed with sweet pea all over his face, making great oaths that when he got better he would never do a stroke of work . . . All the little things come back . . . I can’t write about him, I can only walk the fields and climb the ditches after him.” [Read the article]

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