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This article is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.

The Poetry of Samuel Beckett Michael Hamburger

BECKETT'S WORK-other than his poems-has elicited an enormous, and still growing, body of exegesis. Yet to me he is an author who makes most critical comment look rather silly. Like Joyce before him he has chosen silence and exile, if not cunning. To speculate and elaborate on his vanishing act is a bit like gossiping about a man who, with great dignity, has just left the room.

Many of Beckett's poems have been in print for decades, but here his privacy has been respected. His poetry is not represented in any of the most officially 'representative' anthologies, from Yeats's to Larkin's Oxford Book of Modern Verse. One obvious reason is that so much of Beckett's poetry has gone into his prose. Most of his critics agree in regarding him as a poet, and he would be so regarded if he had never written or published lyrical verse. Besides, Beckett's poems have no place in what is still taken to be the English tradition. Neither, of course, has his other work, but it is in poetry that the purity of this tradition is most zealously guarded by spokesmen for the Club. Many of its members would have blackballed Beckett's entire work but for the success of Waiting for Godot and the Nobel Prize; some of them manage to do so still. As far as the poems are concerned, they can always claim that it is a minor, if not negligible, adjunct to Beckett's prose fiction and plays.

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