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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Teary Old Greek, Hoarse Old Florentine

from y to z
to the dearest decimal dead

That’s a ‘Poetic Miscalculation’ written by Beckett in a group of ‘Worstward Poems’ at the back of the first manuscript of Worstward Ho. I keep harping on about Beckett’s dodgy arithmetic, and if that percentage is meant to indicate one twenty-sixth of the alphabet the figure should be 3.8, not 4.9%. Tsk! ‘Incalescent’ means warming up, and for anyone else on the trail of the ideal shelf-ful of corrected Beckett texts, Dirk van Hulle’s new edition of Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho, Stirrings Still, from which I take the above, would suggest we’re getting warmer.

Reading ‘The Way’, with its figure of eight and infinity sign, our editor reminds us of the ‘drink graph’ in Dream of Fair to Middling Women (an infinity sign is perhaps a figure of eight on its ear): ‘if you had got what you were looking for on the way up you got it again on the way down. The bumless eight of the drink figure. You did not end up where you started, but coming down you met yourself going up.’ A Heraclitean maxim if ever there was one (‘The way up and the way down [are] one and the same (...) And these two ways are forever being traversed in opposite directions at once’, as that teary old Greek put it.)

Also in attendance here is ‘Ceiling’, last seen in Fulcrum 6, and introduced there by Christopher Ricks. Van Hulle reminds us of its genesis in a wispy 1981 poem of the same name:

lid eye bid

And here’s a pleasing factoid to have on the record. The last of the three sections of Stirrings Still invokes a word the narrator cannot distinguish: ‘on how and here a word he could not catch it were to end where never till then’. The word was ‘faint’, originally, in the right-hand margin. This reminded Beckett of the Italian phrase ‘per lungo silenzio fioco’, his translation of which could not bring itself to choose between ‘faint’ and ‘hoarse’ for fioco, though in the end he used neither. The line originates in Virgil’s first appearance to Dante in Inferno I.

The edition also features ‘what is the word’, a text which will also be featuring in the edition of his poems due later this year. ‘Keep ! for end’, as Beckett wrote on the top of that poem in manuscript.

An exemplary ‘addition to company’ and a steal at a tenner.

(Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho, Stirrings Still, ed. Dirk van Hulle, Faber and Faber, £9.99)

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