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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Samuel Beckett: One evening


Unidentified Asteraceae, Death Valley National Park: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2005

He was found lying on the ground. No one had missed him. No one was looking for him. An old woman found him. To put it vaguely. It happened so long ago. She was straying in search of wild flowers. Yellow only. With no eyes but for these she stumbled on him lying there. He lay face downward and arms outspread. He wore a greatcoat in spite of the time of year. Hidden by the body a long row of buttons fastened it all the way down. Buttons of all shapes and sizes. Worn upright the skirts swept the ground. That seems to hang together. Near the head a hat lay askew on the ground. At once on its brim and crown. He lay inconspicuous in the greenish coat. To catch an eye searching from afar there was only the white head. May she have seen him somewhere before? Somewhere on his feet before? Not too fast. She was all in black. The hem of her long black skirt trailed in the grass. It was close of day. Should she now move away into the east her shadow would go before. A long black shadow. It was lambing time. But there were no lambs. She could see none. Were a third party to chance that way theirs were the only bodies he would see. First that of the old woman standing. Then on drawing near it lying on the ground. That seems to hang together. The deserted fields. The old woman all in black stockstill. The body stockstill on the ground. Yellow at the end of the black arm. The white hair in the grass. The east foundering in night. Not too fast. The weather. Sky overcast all day till evening. In the west-north-west near the verge already the sun came out at last. Rain? A few drops if you will. A few drops in the morning if you will. In the present to conclude. It happened so long ago. Cooped indoors all day she comes out with the sun. She makes haste to gain the fields. Surprised to have seen no one on the way she strays feverishly in search of the wild flowers. Feverishly seeing the imminence of night. She remarks with surprise the absence of lambs in great numbers here at this time of year. She is wearing the black she took on when widowed young. It is to reflower the grave she strays in search of the flowers he had loved. But for the need of yellow at the end of the black arm there would be none. There are therefore only as few as possible. This is for her the third surprise since she came out. For they grow in plenty here at this time of year. Her old friend her shadow irks her. So much so that she turns to face the sun. Any flower wide of her course she reaches sidelong. She craves for sundown to end and to stray freely again in the long afterglow. Further to her distress the familiar rustle of her long black skirt in the grass. She moves with half-closed eyes as if drawn on into the glare. She may say to herself it is too much strangeness for a single March or April evening. No one abroad. Not a single lamb. Scarcely a flower. Shadow and rustle irksome. And to crown all the shock of her foot against a body. Chance. No one had missed him. No one was looking for him. Black and green of the garments touching now. Near the white head the yellow of the few plucked flowers. The old sunlit face. Tableau vivant if you will. In its way. All is silent from now on. For as long as she cannot move. The sun disappears at last and with it all shadow. All shadow here. Slow fade of afterglow. Night without moon or stars. All that seems to hang together. But no more about it.

Samuel Beckett: One evening, from The Complete Short Prose 1929-1979 (1985)

File:Samuel Beckett by Reginald Gray.jpg

Samuel Beckett: Reginald Gray, egg tempera on wood, 1961

File:XN Centaurea cyanus 01.jpg

Centaurea cyanus and chamomile in a field of barleycorn, Munster, NRW, Germany: photo by Guido Gerding, 2006

File:Vessertal trollblumen.jpg

Trollus europaeus in the Vesser valley, Thuringia, Germany
: photo by SehLax, 1 June 2005

File:Tagetes tenuifolia g122.JPG

Tagetes tenuifolia
: photo by Goku122, 18 August 2006

File:Rapeseed field (Brassica napus) in Germany.JPG

Rapeseed field, Germany
: photo by Vincent van Zeijst, May 2010


Meadow with dandelions: photo by Mdgrafrath, 27 April 2008

Buttercup field, Dedham, Essex: photo by Keven Law, 11 May 2008

Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus), Newport Wilderness State Park, Door County, Wisconsin: photo by J M, 22 May 2010


Conrad DiDiodato said...

The buttercup and dandelion go well with the dear dear heart of Samuel Beckett

Who better to write the epitaph for a dying culture...

TC said...

By the same horticultural observer:

Samuel Beckett: A Jar of One's Own

Samuel Beckett: A Love Story

Samuel Beckett: An Odd Bird ("What ruined me at bottom was the athletics")

Samuel Beckett: Apodosis

Samuel Beckett: Aporia

Samuel Beckett: Nothing

Samuel Beckett: Watt / Andreas Gursky (Tiny Details of the Big Picture)

Samuel Beckett: Worstward Ho

TC said...


Yes, yes. And I could imagine him lying there unnoticed and free of all portent, there in the fields, beneath the common flowers.

Brad said...

When I first read this story I recall thinking, "How tragic." But as I reflected on it, I imagined that maybe tragedy is best reserved for knowledge, a kind of knowledge anyway, and predicated on a search -- in this case of the dead body, a knowledge of who and a pursuit of why.

TC said...


I almost hate to say this, but the general tenor and specific themes illustrating what I suppose might be called the "tragic sense of life", in Beckett's writings, invariably strike me as comic. Sad, true, credible, bleak -- and, in a quiet, oblique way, hilarious. In fact I think he's about the funniest writer in English. Not of course that human existence is naturally funny (absurd yes, funny no). It's his art makes it so. And thank gods for that -- somebody had to do it.

There's a film came out five or six years back and quickly disappeared unnoticed, which has an opening scene that's startlingly reminiscent of this story. The Dead Girl. The victim of a serial killer is found in a field. The scene is compressed into three shots at 0:10 to 0: 20 of the trailer. Toni Collette does the discovery with appropriate mute starkness.. The victim (obviously) is not Samuel Beckett. But still... the tone.The rest of the film is an eerie, unsettling whodunit. I think I like it better in Castilian.

Jonathan Chant said...

Love the sense of perspective here, those flowers look huge...

Brad said...

Yes, I agree wholly re: Beckett as comedic genius. He of English; Kafka of modern German; Calvino of Italian, I suppose; of French, I'm less sure.

The important distinction, in my eye, is that the tragedy attends the search for something in life beyond life itself -- & not strictly life itself, if we can think of such a thing. Indeed, perhaps we cannot, and thus the tragic inevitability of it all.

ACravan said...

This is so remarkable, sentence after perfect sentence. I'm reading and viewing it here in a quiet house, which I think will remain quiet long enough to read it again. Hope you have a good Memorial Day. Curtis

TC said...

Jonathan, Brad, Curtis,

Many thanks for being here, and...

This one's for you.

Nin Andrews said...

Wow, amazing.
Thanks for this!



Such an assemblage of yellow flowers w/ the Beckett here, beginning with Mila Zinkova's "Unidentified Asteraceae, Death Valley" -- what a preface to "He was found lying on the ground. . . ." -- clear through to the end. All that color surrounding all those short flat sentences.


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, crows calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

which, in experience is not
a system of positions

no less than other, that is,
but remains unchanged

first light coming into sky above ridge,
still blackness of trees across from it

TC said...

Yes to colour, short flat sentences, wildflowers and Wow.

gamefaced said...

this makes me want to apply the breaks. i dunno why that is my response to certain sorts of writing.