Accidents Can Happen
he fell into a speech
and we stood helpless
and watched till he
dragged himself dripping
from his final phrase.
He looked ill –
he'd swallowed some of the words
before they were ready for use.
30 September 1989
There was in Beckett’s very appearance something like an undefined mute exclamation. Always verticality, the cliff face, the bird. Immersion in silence could become so deep that when one of us reverted to words he would take care to articulate them slowly, as if the other had become deaf.
Their friendship seems at first an odd and unlikely one; Bernold was 42 years his junior for starters. In fact during their first meeting the two sat in near total silence. “I don’t remember a single word,” writes Bernold. “We sat opposite each other, royally mute.” And yet something clicked. People talk about love at first sight although I’ve never experienced it but I have known friendship at first sight and more than once.
Yesterday, exhausted after my trip and in no mood to work, I watched a programme I’d taped, Waiting for André, about another André with whom Beckett formed a friendship, André René Roussimoff, better known in later life as the wrestler André the Giant. Beckett met him in 1953 when André was 12 making the difference in their ages a mere 35 years. At the time Beckett was building a hideaway in Ussy-sur-Marne with the aid of André’s father. When he learned that Rousimoff was having trouble getting his son to school, Beckett offered to drive the boy in his truck, as he did not fit on the bus.
Typically Beckett never said anything himself about their conversations and, years later, when André was asked he said they talked about little other than cricket which would not make for a very interesting drama and so Neil Forsyth stretched the truth and, in my humble opinion, did a fine job. One line did jump out at me. In the final of three phone conversations with his agent who is pressing him for more work following the success of Godot Beckett states simply and eloquently, “The words are formed but choosing one to use first feels such a betrayal of the others.”
What has all this to do with a poem I wrote 28 years ago? Not a lot really. I’ve merely been reminded about how little needs to be said and most of what we do end up saying has not been properly thought through. Bernold wrote to Beckett before they ever met in person. Here is Beckett’s response to that initial piece of correspondence: “Yes.”
Beckett could, of course, be loquacious, downright logorrhoeal in fact but he grew tired of his own voice. I so get that. Which is probably why I’ve not written a poem in such a long time. I’ve started more than a few but after three or four lines I can see it’s just more of the same ol’ same ol’. A wise man once said there is nothing new under the sun and he was right. The trick is to look at things in a new light and that’s what I’m finding hard at the moment.