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Poems in English

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The publication of Beckett’s poems was a complex and intricately international affair. The first attempt at a collected edition was made in Wiesbaden, Germany, by Limes Verlag, in 1959, under the title Gedichte. That edition included poems in French and in English, with German translations.

When the news about Gedichte reached John Calder, Beckett’s English publisher, he wrote to Limes Verlag on 29 April 1960, “We have decided to publish an English edition of the collected poems of Samuel Beckett.

“I understand that you have the world rights to many of the poems and that your edition has many of them in three languages. I wonder if you could send us a copy of your edition and at the same time let us know the position regarding rights, and a list of the poems where you control English rights.”

Limes forwarded Calder’s inquiry to Beckett, asking him to handle the matter directly. Beckett promptly wrote to Calder on May 7 agreeing to the edition, saying that Barney Rosset, Beckett’s American publisher, fully approved. Later, on July 24, Beckett wrote to Calder suggesting that he limit the edition to just the poems written in English and those translated from the French. Beckett’s reason for this preference was that he had to date refused to let his French publisher, Jérôme Lindon at Minuit, publish an edition of his French poems. When Calder pushed to be able to include the French poems, Beckett resisted, explaining that if he allowed Calder to publish them, he would have to allow Lindon to publish them, which he did not want to do at that point.

Calder relented and the book came out on 10 December 1961. Beckett did not allow a French edition of his poems until 1968.