Stories and Texts for Nothingby Samuel Beckett
“This volume of Beckett miniatures–three longish stories and thirteen vignettes, [comprises] fragments from the finest body of work produced by any [contemporary] writer.” –Newsweek
This volume brings together three of Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett’s major short stories and thirteen shorter pieces of fiction that he calls “texts for nothing.” Here, as in all his work, Beckett relentlessly strips away all but the essential to arrive at a core of truth. His prose reveals the same mastery that marks his work from Waiting for Godot and Endgame to Molloy and Malone Dies. In each of the three stories, old men displaced or expelled from the modest corners where they have been living bestir themselves in search of new corners. Told, “You can’t stay here,” they somehow, doggedly, inevitably, go on.
• “The Expelled”
• “The Calmative”
• “The End”
• Texts for Nothing
“These stories and texts . . . represent vintage Beckett, falling within the five years (1945-1950) in which he produced the works that critics . . . value most. . . . The narrator’s desperation is extraordinary. So is his speech.” –The New York Times Book Review
“This volume of Beckett miniatures’three longish stories and thirteen vignettes, [comprises] fragments from the finest body of work produced by any [contemporary] writer.” –Newsweek
Suddenly, no, at last, long last, I couldn’t any more, I couldn’t go on. Someone said, You can’t stay here. I couldn’t stay there and I couldn’t go on. I’ll describe the place, that’s unimportant. The top, very flat, of a mountain, no, a hill, but so wild, so wild, enough. Quag, heath up to the knees, faint sheep-tracks, troughs scooped deep by the rains. It was far down in one of these I was lying, out of the wind. Glorious prospect, but for the mist that blotted out everything, valleys, loughs, plain and sea. How can I go on, I shouldn’t have begun, no, I had to begin. Someone said, perhaps the same, What possessed you to come? I could have stayed in my den, snug and dry, I couldn’t. My den, I’ll describe it, no, I can’t. It’s simple, I can do nothing any more, that’s what you think. I say to the body, Up with you now, and I can feel it struggling, like an old hack foundered in the street, struggling no more, struggling again, till it gives up.
I say to the head, Leave it alone, stay quiet, it stops breathing, then pants on worse than ever. I am far from all that wrangle, I shouldn’t bother with it, I need nothing, neither to go on nor to stay where I am, it’s truly all one to me, I should turn away from it all, away from the body, away from the head, let them work it out between them, let them cease, I can’t, it’s I would have to cease. Ah yes, we seem to be more than one, all deaf, not even, gathered together for life. Another said, or the same, or the first, they all have the same voice, the same ideas, All you had to do was stay at home. Home. They wanted me to go home. My dwelling-place. But for the mist, with good eyes, with a telescope, I could see it from here. It’s not just tiredness, I’m not just tired, in spite of the climb. It’s not that I want to stay here either. I had heard tell, I must have heard tell of the view, the distant sea in hammered lead, the so-called golden vale so often sung, the double valleys, the glacial loughs, the city in its haze, it was all on every tongue. Who are these people anyway? Did they follow me up here, go before me, come with me? I am down in the hole the centuries have dug, centuries of filthy weather, flat on my face on the dark earth sodden with the creeping saffron waters it slowly drinks. They are up above, all round me, as in a graveyard. I can’t raise my eyes to them, what a pity, I wouldn’t see their faces, their legs perhaps, plunged in the heath. Do they see me, what can they see of me? Perhaps there is no one left, perhaps they are all gone, sickened. I listen and it’s the same thoughts I hear, I mean the same as ever, strange. To think in the valley the sun is blazing all down the ravelled sky. How long have I been here, what a question, I’ve often wondered. And often I could answer, An hour, a month, a year, a century, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and there I never went looking for extravagant meanings, there I never much varied, only the here would sometimes seem to vary. Or I said, I can’t have been here long, I wouldn’t have held out. I hear the curlews, that means close of day, fall of night, for that’s the way with curlews, silent all day, then crying when the darkness gathers, that’s the way with those wild creatures and so short-lived, compared with me. And that other question I know so well too, What possessed you to come?, unanswerable, so that I answered, To change, or, It’s not me, or, Chance, or again, To see, or again, years of great sun, Fate, I feel that other coming, let it come, it won’t catch me napping. All is noise, unending suck of black sopping peat, surge of giant ferns, heathery gulfs of quiet where the wind drowns, my life and its old jingles. To change, to see, no, there’s no more to see, I’ve seen it all, till my eyes are blear, nor to get away from harm, the harm is done, one day the harm was done, the day my feet dragged me out that must go their ways, that I let go their ways and drag me here, that’s what possessed me to come. And what I’m doing, all-important, breathing in and out and saying, with words like smoke, I can’t go, I can’t stay, let’s see what happens next. And in the way of sensation? My God I can’t complain, it’s himself all right, only muffled, like buried in snow, less the warmth, less the drowse, I can follow them well, all the voices, all the parts, fairly well, the cold is eating me, the wet too, at least I presume so, I’m far. My rheumatism in any case is no more than a memory, it hurts me no more than my mother’s did, when it hurt her. Eye ravening patient in the haggard vulture face, perhaps it’s carrion time. I’m up there and I’m down here, under my gaze, foundered, eyes closed, ear cupped against the sucking peat, we’re of one mind, all of one mind, always were, deep down, we’re fond of one another, we’re sorry for one another, but there it is, there’s nothing we can do for one another. One thing at least is certain, in an hour it will be too late, in half-an-hour it will be night, and yet it’s not, not certain, what is not certain, absolutely certain, that night prevents what day permits, for those who know how to go about it, who have the will to go about it, and the strength, the strength to try again. Yes, it will be night, the mist will clear, I know my mist, for all my distraction, the wind freshen and the whole night sky open over the mountain, with its lights, including the Bears, to guide me once again on my way, let’s wait for night. All mingles, times and tenses, at first I only had been here, now I’m here still, soon I won’t be here yet, toiling up the slope, or in the bracken by the wood, it’s larch, I don’t try to understand, I’ll never try to understand any more, that’s what you think, for the moment I’m here, always have been, always shall be, I won’t be afraid of the big words any more, they are not big. I don’t remember coming, I can’t go, all my little company, my eyes are closed and I feel the wet humus harsh against my cheek, my hat is gone, it can’t be gone far, or the wind has swept it away, I was attached to it. Sometimes it’s the sea, other times the mountains, often it was the forest, the city, the plain too, I’ve flirted with the plain too, I’ve given myself up for dead all over the place, of hunger, of old age, murdered, drowned, and then for no reason, of tedium, nothing like breathing your last to put new life in you, and then the rooms, natural death, tucked up in bed, smothered in household gods, and always muttering, the same old mutterings, the same old stories, the same old questions and answers, no malice in me, hardly any, stultior stultissimo, never an imprecation, not such a fool, or else it’s gone from mind. Yes, to the end, always muttering, to lull me and keep me company, and all ears always, all ears for the old stories, as when my father took me on his knee and read me the one about Joe Breem, or Breen, the son of a lighthouse keeper, evening after evening, all the long winter through. A tale, it was a tale for children, it all happened on a rock, in the storm, the mother was dead and the gulls came beating against the light, Joe jumped into the sea, that’s all I remember, a knife between his teeth, did what was to be done and came back, that’s all I remember this evening, it ended happily, it began unhappily and it ended happily, every evening, a comedy, for children. Yes, I was my father and I was my son, I asked myself questions and answered as best I could, I had it told to me evening after evening, the same old story I knew by heart and couldn’t believe, or we walked together, hand in hand, silent, sunk in our worlds, each in his worlds, the hands forgotten in each other. That’s how I’ve held out till now. And this evening again it seems to be working, I’m in my arms, I’m holding myself in my arms, without much tenderness, but faithfully, faithfully. Sleep now, as under that ancient lamp, all twined together, tired out with so much talking, so much listening, so much toil and play.
Above is the light, the elements, a kind of light, sufficient to see by, the living find their ways, without too much trouble, avoid one another, unite, avoid the obstacles, without too much trouble, seek with their eyes, close their eyes, halting, without halting, among the elements, the living. Unless it has changed, unless it has ceased. The things too must still be there, a little more worn, a little even less, many still standing where they stood in the days of their indifference. Here you are under a different glass, not long habitable either, it’s time to leave it. You are there, there it is, where you are will never long be habitable. Go then, no, better stay, for where would you go, now that you know? Back above? There are limits. Back in that kind of light. See the cliffs again, be again between the cliffs and the sea, reeling shrinking with your hands over your ears, headlong, innocent, suspect, noxious. Seek, by the excessive light of night, a demand commensurate with the offer, and go to ground empty-handed at the old crack of day. See Mother Calvet again, creaming off the garbage before the nightmen come. She must still be there. With her dog and her skeletal baby buggy. What could be more endurable? She wavered through the night, a kind of trident in her hand, muttering and ejaculating, Your highness! Your honour! The dog tottered on its hind-legs begging, hooked its paws over the rim of the can and snouted round with her in the muck. It got in her way, she cursed it for a lousy cur and let it have its way. There’s a good memory. Mother Calvet. She knew what she liked, perhaps even what she would have liked. And beauty, strength, intelligence, the latest, daily, action, poetry, all one price for one and all. If only it could be wiped from knowledge. To have suffered under that miserable light, what a blunder. It let nothing show, it would have gone out, nothing terrible, nothing showed, of the true affair, it would have snuffed out. And now here, what now here, one enormous second, as in Paradise, and the mind slow, slow, nearly stopped. And yet it’s changing, something is changing, it must be in the head, slowly in the head the ragdoll rotting, perhaps we’re in a head, it’s as dark as in a head before the worms get at it, ivory dungeon. The words too, slow, slow, the subject dies before it comes to the verb, words are stopping too. Better off then than when life was babble? That’s it, that’s it, the bright side. And the absence of others, does that count for so little? Pah others, that’s nothing, others never inconvenienced anyone, and there must be a few here too, other others, invisible, mute, what does it matter. It’s true you hid from them, hugged their walls, true, you miss that here, you miss the derivatives, here it’s pure ache, pah you were saying that above and you a living mustard-plaster. So long as the words keep coming nothing will have changed, there are the old words out again. Utter, there’s nothing else, utter, void yourself of them, here as always, nothing else. But they are failing, true, that’s the change, they are failing, that’s bad, bad. Or it’s the dread of coming to the last, of having said all, your all, before the end, no, for that will be the end, the end of all, not certain. To need to groan and not be able, Jesus, better ration yourself, watch out for the genuine deathpangs, some are deceptive, you think you’re home, start howling and revive, health-giving howls, better be silent, it’s the only method, if you want to end, not a word but smiles, end rent with stifled imprecations, burst with speechlessness, all is possible, what now. Perhaps above it’s summer, a summer Sunday, Mr Joly is in the belfry, he has wound up the clock, now he’s ringing the bells. Mr Joly. He had only one leg and a half. Sunday. It was folly to be abroad. The roads were crawling with them, the same roads so often kind. Here at least none of that, no talk of a creator and nothing very definite in the way of a creation. Dry, it’s possible, or wet, or slime, as before matter took ill. Is this stuff air that permits you to suffocate still, almost audibly at times, it’s possible, a kind of air. What exactly is going on, exactly, ah old xanthic laugh, no, farewell mirth, good riddance, it was never droll. No, but one more memory, one last memory, it may help, to abort again. Piers pricking his oxen o’er the plain, no, for at the end of the furrow, before turning to the next, he raised his eyes to the sky and said, Bright again too early. And sure enough, soon after, the snow. In other words the night was black, when it fell at last, but no, strange, it wasn’t, in spite of the buried sky. The way was long that led back to the den, over the fields, a winding way, it must still be there. When it comes to the top of the cliff it springs, some might think blindly, but no, wilily, like a goat, in hairpin zigzags towards the shore. Never had the sea so thundered from afar, the sea beneath the snow, though superlatives have lost most of their charm. The day had not been fruitful, as was only natural, considering the season, that of the very last leeks. It was none the less the return, to what no matter, the return, unscathed, always a matter for wonder. What happened? Is that the question? An encounter? Bang! No. Level with the farm of the Graves brothers a brief halt, opposite the lamplit window. A glow, red, afar, at night, in winter, that’s worth having, that must have been worth having. There, it’s done, it ends there, I end there. A far memory, far from the last, it’s possible, the legs seem to be still working. A pity hope is dead. No. How one hoped above, on and off. With what diversity.
Leave, I was going to say leave all that. What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking. There’s going to be a departure, I’ll be there, I won’t miss it, it won’t be me, I’ll be here, I’ll say I’m far from here, it won’t be me, I won’t say anything, there’s going to be a story, someone’s going to try and tell a story. Yes, no more denials, all is false, there is no one, it’s understood, there is nothing, no more phrases, let us be dupes, dupes of every time and tense, until it’s done, all past and done, and the voices cease, it’s only voices, only lies. Here, depart from here and go elsewhere, or stay here, but coming and going. Start by stirring, there must be a body, as of old, I don’t deny it, no more denials, I’ll say I’m a body, stirring back and forth, up and down, as required. With a cluther of limbs and organs, all that is needed to live again, to hold out a little time, I’ll call that living, I’ll say it’s me, I’ll get standing, I’ll stop thinking, I’ll be too busy, getting standing, staying standing, stirring about, holding out, getting to tomorrow, tomorrow week, that will be ample, a week will be ample, a week in spring, that puts the jizz in you. It’s enough to will it, I’ll will it, will me a body, will me a head, a little strength, a little courage, I’m starting now, a week is soon served, then back here, this inextricable place, far from the days, the far days, it’s not going to be easy. And why, come to think, no no, leave it, no more of that, don’t listen to it all, don’t say it all, it’s all old, all one, once and for all. There you are now on your feet, I give you my word, I swear they’re yours, I swear it’s mine, get to work with your hands, palp your skull, seat of the understanding, without which nix, then the rest, the lower regions, you’ll be needing them, and say what you’re like, have a guess, what kind of man, there has to be a man, or a woman, feel between your legs, no need of beauty, nor of vigour, a week’s a short stretch, no one’s going to love you, don’t be alarmed. No, not like that, too sudden, I gave myself a start. And to start with stop palpitating, no one’s going to kill you, no one’s going to love you and no one’s going to kill you, perhaps you’ll emerge in the high depression of Gobi, you’ll feel at home there. I’ll wait for you here, no, I am alone, I alone am, this time it’s I must go. I know how I’ll do it, I’ll be a man, there’s nothing else for it, a kind of man, a kind of old tot, I’ll have a nanny, I’ll be her sweet pet, she’ll give me her hand, to cross over, she’ll let me loose in the Green, I’ll be good, I’ll sit quiet as a mouse in a corner and comb my beard, I’ll tease it out, to look more bonny, a little more bonny, if only it could be like that. She’ll say to me, Come, doty, it’s time for bye-bye. I’ll have no responsibility, she’ll have all the responsibility, her name will be Bibby, I’ll call her Bibby, if only it could be like that. Come, ducky, it’s time for yum-yum. Who taught me all I know, I alone, in the old wanderyears, I deduced it all from nature, with the help of an all-in-one, I know it’s not me, but it’s too late now, too late to deny it, the knowledge is there, the bits and scraps, flickering on and off, turn about, winking on the storm, in league to fool me. Leave it and go, it’s time to go, to say so anyway, the moment has come, it’s not known why. What matter how you describe yourself, here or elsewhere, fixed or mobile, without form or oblong like man, in the dark or the light of the heavens, I don’t know, it seems to matter, it’s not going to be easy. And if I went back to where all went out and on from there, no, that would lead nowhere, never led anywhere, the memory of it has gone out too, a great flame and then blackness, a great spasm and then no more weight or traversable space. I tried throwing me off a cliff, collapsing in the street in the midst of mortals, that led nowhere, I gave up. Take the road again that cast me up here, then retrace it, or follow it on, wise advice. That’s so that I’ll never stir again, dribble on here till time is done, murmuring every ten centuries, It’s not me, it’s not true, it’s not me, I’m far. No no, I’ll speak now of the future, I’ll speak in the future, as when I used to say, in the night, to myself, Tomorrow I’ll put on my dark blue tie, with the yellow stars, and put it on, when night was past. Quick quick before I weep. I’ll have a crony, my own vintage, my own bog, a fellow warrior, we’ll relive our campaigns and compare our scratches. Quick quick. He’ll have served in the navy, perhaps under Jellicoe, while I was potting at the invader from behind a barrel of Guinness, with my arquebuse. We have not long, that’s the spirit, in the present, not long to live, it’s our positively last winter, halleluiah. We wonder what will carry us off in the end. He’s gone in the wind, I in the prostate rather. We envy each other, I envy him, he envies me, occasionally. I catheterize myself, unaided, with trembling hand, bent double in the public pisshouse, under cover of my cloak, people take me for a dirty old man. He waits for me to finish, sitting on a bench, coughing up his guts, spitting into a snuffbox which no sooner overflows than he empties it in the canal, out of civic-mindedness. We have well deserved of our motherland, shell get us into the Incurables before we die. We spend our life, it’s ours, trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench, in some oasis of public verdure, we’ve been seized by a love of nature, in our sere and yellow, it belongs to one and all, in places. In a choking murmur he reads out to me from the paper of the day before, he had far far better been the blind one. The sport of kings is our passion, the dogs too, we have no political opinions, simply limply republican. But we also have a soft spot for the Windsors, the Hanoverians, I forget, the Hohen-zollerns is it. Nothing human is foreign to us, once we have digested the racing news. No, alone, I’d be better off alone, it would be quicker. He’d nourish me, he had a friend a pork-butcher, he’d ram the ghost back down my gullet with black pudding. With his consolations, allusions to cancer, recollections of imperishable raptures, he’d prevent discouragement from sapping my foundations. And I, instead of concentrating on my own horizons, which might have enabled me to throw them under a lorry, would let my mind be taken off them by his. I’d say to him, Come on, gunner, leave all that, think no more about it, and it’s I would think no more about it, besotted with brotherliness. And the obligations! I have in mind particularly the appointments at ten in the morning, hail rain or shine, in front of Duggan’s, thronged already with sporting men fevering to get their bets out of harm’s way before the bars open. We were, there we are past and gone again, so much the better, so much the better, most punctual I must say. To see the remains of Vincent arriving in sheets of rain, with the brave involuntary swagger of the old tar, his head swathed in a bloody clout and a glitter in his eye, was for the acute observer an example of what man is capable of, in his pursuit of pleasure. With one hand he sustained his sternum, with the heel of the other his spinal column, as if tempted to break into a hornpipe, no, that’s all memories, last shifts older than the flood. See what’s happening here, where there’s no one, where nothing happens, get something to happen here, someone to be here, then put an end to it, have silence, get into silence, or another sound, a sound of other voices than those of life and death, of lives and deaths everyone’s but mine, get into my story in order to get out of it, no, that’s all meaningless. Is it possible I’ll sprout a head at last, all my very own, in which to brew poisons worthy of me, and legs to kick my heels with, I’d be there at last, I could go at last, it’s all I ask, no, I can’t ask anything. Just the head and the two legs, or one, in the middle, I’d go hopping. Or just the head, nice and round, nice and smooth, no need of lineaments, I’d go rolling, downhill, almost a pure spirit, no, that wouldn’t work, all is uphill from here, the leg is unavoidable, or the equivalent, perhaps a few annular joints, contractile, great ground to be covered with them. To set out from Duggan’s door, on a spring morning of rain and shine, not knowing if you’ll ever get to evening, what’s wrong with that? It would be so easy. To be bedded in that flesh or in another, in that arm held by a friendly hand, and in that hand, without arms, without hands, and without soul in those trembling souls, through the crowd, the hoops, the toy balloons, what’s wrong with that? I don’t know, I’m here, that’s all I know, and that it’s still not me, it’s of that the best has to be made. There is no flesh anywhere, nor any way to die. Leave all that, to want to leave all that, not knowing what that means, all that, it’s soon said, soon done, in vain, nothing has stirred, no one has spoken. Here, nothing will happen here, no one will be here, for many a long day. Departures, stories, they are not for tomorrow. And the voices, wherever they come from, have no life in them.