Most of the short pieces Beckett wrote in later years are a condensation and a refinement of themes he had explored earlier at greater length. The stripping away of inherited “Anglo-Irish exuberance and automatisms” which marked his official passage from English to French never ceased.
The same process continued in his theater—the “theatrical chamber music” in which everything counts: every syllable, every sign, every pause.
“I don’t expect I’ll have any more big ones,” Beckett told a friend in the summer of 1981. And the works did continue to grow shorter. But not necessarily slighter. Like Rembrandt’s smaller drawings, they are monumental miniatures.
Through successive rereading of such works at “Ceiling” and “The Way,” one comes to appreciate the matchless precision of Beckett’s method of composition. He was one of the most skilled practitioners of the craft who ever wrote. His wholly original style, unerringly true, is of the kind that “can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.” Which, freely translated, means by rewriting. There have been other great writers—Marcel Proust, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline—who were obsessive rewriters. But Beckett, a greater craftsman than either, goes a step beyond. His work is fired and purified like molten gold in the crucible. It is not surprising that all of his writing shows a precision, a concentration, and, in the broadest sense of the word, a purity which set him apart from his peers.