Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Beginnings and Early Writings

Manuscripts | Publications

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Four years after the “Special Hors-Commerce Edition” of More Pricks Than Kicks, Calder & Boyars brought out this edition in their usual manner—one issue at a nominal price and one limited and signed.

 

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Untitled review by Beckett of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poems in The Criterion: A Quarterly Review edited by T. S. Eliot, Vol. XIII, No. 53, July 1934.

This was the only article Beckett published in Eliot’s magazine. Their mutual friend Thomas MacGreevy, who had published a book on Eliot in 1931, may have been responsible for the assignment. If so, his influence did not endure.

Beckett characterizes Rilke’s verse as “breathless petulance,” an “overstatement of the solitude which [Rilke] cannot make his element.” In his view, Rilke sees himself as interchangeable with God, a stance Beckett terms a “turmoil of self-deception . . . a childishness to which German writers seem specially prone”: sentiments and phrasing hardly designed to endear him to Eliot.

 

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“Gnome,” a poem of four lines signed “Sam Beckett,” in The Dublin Magazine, Vol IX, No. 3, New Series, July-September 1934.

This issue of The Dublin Magazine also contains Beckett’s review of Thomas MacGreevy’s Poems, under the title “Humanistic Quietism.” For Beckett, MacGreevy’s work evolves from a “nucleus of endopsychic clarity, uttering itself in the prayer that is a spasm of awareness . . . .”

“To the mind that has raised itself to the grace of humility,” Beckett writes, “prayer is no more (no less) than an act of recognition. A nod, even a wink. The flag dipped in Ave, not hauled down in Miserere. This is the adult mode of prayer syntonic to Mr. MacGreevy, the unfailing salute to his significant from which the fire is struck and the poem kindled, and kindled to a radiance without counterpart in the work of contemporary poets writing in English, who tend to eschew as understatement anything and everything between brilliance and murk.”

When Beckett reached the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928 on the exchange fellowship that had been awarded him, he found MacGreevy—the previous recipient—still there. They became close friends and the letters Beckett addressed to MacGreevy for the rest of his life (MacGreevy died in 1967) are one of the richest sources available for information about Beckett’s activities, his aspirations and disappointments, during those four decades.

Beckett’s review also appeared as the Foreword in an edition of MacGreevey’s Collected Poems edited by Thomas Dillon Redshaw published in Dublin by New Writers’ Press in 1971.

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