The Ophthalmologist's Wife
He married a blind girl
I remember –
a quiet thing with
she longed for the night,
and the marriage bed's
gift of homogeneousness,
but he couldn't see
and she often slept alone
as he burned the midnight oil.
20 August 1983
In Samuel Beckett’s play That Time he talks about a place called Foley’s Folly. Although not the most autobiographical of writers Beckett did regularly incorporate the names of familiar places in his works, e.g. in Waiting for Godot Vladimir recalls a visit to the Eiffel Tower and picking grapes in the Macon Country. When the writer Eoin O'Brien, who had set himself the task of tracking down and photographing every geographical location ever mentioned by Beckett for his marvellous book The Beckett Country, looked for Foley’s Folly he encountered a problem: there was no such place. O'Brien thought it might be Taylor’s Tower but that was not it. So he had no choice but to approach the author who, at least on this occasion (he wasn’t always as helpful), pointed him in the right direction:
Sam pored over the photographs, fascinated by the beauty of the place, but then, to my disappointment, informed me that he had never been there. Instead he directed me to Barrington's Tower, which, of course made much more sense in that it was close to Cooldrinagh, where he had been sent "supperless to bed" in punishment for his childhood peregrinations. When I asked him why he had changed the name, he said: "Eoin, there's no music in Barrington's Tower."
I’m sure Beckett would’ve been more than familiar with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge had had to say about poetry:
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in their best order.
Which brings me to my poem. Homogeneousness (or, alternatively, homogeneity) means “composition from like parts, elements, or characteristics”. It’s the right word—and the better of the two—but a five syllable word is a bit of a mouthful and neither is especially musical. Homogeneousness is the softer, which is why I chose it, but I would’ve preferred something else, a three syllable word ideally.
The English lexicographer Henry Fowler wrote: “Those who run to long words are mainly the unskillful and tasteless; they confuse pomposity with dignity, flaccidity with ease, and bulk with force.”
I doubt Beckett would’ve agreed with either Coleridge or Fowler and I’m happy to stand on his shoulders. He was every bit as careful with the words he chose in his prose as he was in his poetry. Why have two standards? That said, frequently the English language is just plain unhelpful when it comes to available synonyms. I’m not sure what I would do today with this poem. It’s fixed in my head now and I wouldn’t change it but I still struggle with that eighth line. Any suggestions?