20 January 2013

Love Love Love Thud of the Old Plunger

Heaviness of mind and heart pushing through these battering winter winds. Sometimes feeling thick and syrupy, like the solid swirls in a block of marble, cold and inert, only the illusion of forward movement. Yet still ... the sun is out!

Today I'm glad I remembered this old poem, tracked it down, and devoured it...


By Samuel Beckett

why not merely the despaired of
occasion of
is it not better abort than be barren
the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love
the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words
terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

unless they love you


Best known for his plays, then his novels, Beckett was also a life-long if infrequent scribbler of verse. His earliest poems were baroque pieces of jaunty wordplay and opaque symbolism, thinly veiled attempts to tear Joyce's crowd from his head. But he never quite managed this, being always too clever by half, and never empathetic.

But as Beckett aged, his poems grew as spare and trim as the rest of his writing. The above poem comes from a period just before his most fruitful. He is learning to dispense with extraneous details and useless allusions, and cut straight to the bleeding heart of the matter.

It's a great little piece of writing. The sound of an exhausted chest heaving, of a man tired of pretending his unrequited love isn't poisoning him, one breath at a time.

"The grapples clawing blindly the bed of want..."

"The churn of stale words in the heart again..."

"If you do not teach me I shall not learn..."

I like to think it was this poem that made things like Waiting for Godot, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Happy Days and Company possible. The shape of his sentiment is here, almost fully formed.

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