A letter from Samuel Beckett to Cissie Sinclair, his aunt, dated August 14, 1937. At the time, Beckett was trying, fitfully and without much success, to become an art dealer; he’d gone so far as to travel through Germany for six months for the express purpose of seeing as much art as he could. Though his efforts as a dealer foundered, he emerged with an affinity for Cézanne, Watteau, and especially Jack B. Yeats, whose painting “Morning” he bought when he could scarcely afford it. The poem he includes here, “Whiting,” was published soon afterward.
Southampton, En route to South Africa
14th [August 1937]
Gresham Hotel, Dublin
I was glad to get your letter this morning. I wanted you to think of me sometimes when you had a drink. How else would I render it likely? Have many.
[…] I had a letter from Tom by the same post as yours. He is writing about Jack Yeats, inspired apparently by some Constable exhibition & a chance remark of mine about the Watteauishness of what he has been doing lately. Every Thursday there seems to be something to prevent me going in to see him. I suppose to suggest the inorganism of the organic—all his people are mineral in the end, without possibility of being added or taken from, pure inorganic juxtapositions—but Jack Yeats does not even need to do that. The way he puts down a man’s head & a woman’s head side by side, or face to face, is terrifying, two irreducible singlenesses & the impassable immensity between. I suppose that is what gives the stillness to his pictures, as though the convention were suddenly suspended, the convention & performance of love & hate, joy & pain, giving & being given, taking & being taken. A kind of petrified insight into one’s ultimate hard irreducible inorganic singleness. All handled with the dispassionate acceptance that is beyond tragedy. I always feel Watteau to be a tragic genius, i.e. there is pity in him for the world as he sees it. But I find no pity, i.e. no tragedy in Yeats. Not even sympathy. Simply perception & dispassion. Even personally he is rather inhuman, or haven’t you felt it?
Perhaps the literary value of this letter & so if the worst comes to the worst (don’t misunderstand me) its marketable interest would be promoted by a few lines of verse. You may find them trivial & unpleasant; there seemed no point to me in beautifying them, or making them less direct in the fashionable manner. They came just as they are here.
Offer it up plank it down
Golgotha was only the potegg
cancer angina it is all one to us
cough up your T. B. don’t be stingy
no trifle is too trifling not even a thrombus
anything venereal is especially welcome
that old toga virilis in the mothballs
don’t be sentimental you won’t be wanting it again
send it along we’ll put it in the pot with the rest
with your love requited & unrequited
the things taken too late the things taken too soon
the spirit aching bullock’s scrotum
you won’t cure it if you can’t endure it
it is you it equals you any fool has to pity you
so parcel up the whole issue & send it along
the whole misery diagnosed undiagnosed misdiagnosed
get your friends to do the same we’ll make use of it
we’ll make sense of it we’ll put it in the pot with the rest
it all boils down to blood of lamb
Love ever Write often