Lessness – Samuel Beckett

If you simply want to read Beckett’s short story Lessness, skip this personal preamble. It is well worth a read if you have never previously encountered. Or, of course, if you have.

I thought I first came across this potent story around 1969 when I heard a performance/reading on the radio. I was convinced I recalled exactly where I was at the time and thus knew the date. I was wrong.

Researching last night, the recording was on BBC Radio 3, 7th May, 1971 at 9.25pm. So I was lying face down on a bed in a different bedroom and house than the one I had [erroneously] remembered for years. It was a long time ago.

But it makes sense. I was 17 in 1971, studying A levels at College. I think I had seen the film of Not I, though the timeline is sketchy, and I had certainly seen a performance of Krapps’ Last Tape at the drama club I attended occasionally. I recollect the banana.

What I do remember vividly and without question was lying face down on my bed listening that evening and being so deeply affected by the language and atmosphere created by the reading. This was significantly enhanced – spookily, is perhaps the best word – by the radio reception which drifted in and out, so the relentless wording and generating of a feeling of loss and lessness was heightened by the disappearing and returning of the sound itself. I couldn’t find out today what waveband BBC Radio 3 would have been on in 1971. Whatever, it wasn’t very stable in Ipswich, Suffolk then.

Originally written in 1969 in French and titled Sans, this was the first performance/reading in English I believe. My grasp of French is paltry, but I do know, and use, sans to mean without and/or an absence of. One definition I came across this morning was wanting. For me, the translation to Lessness is one significantly different and wholly apt – but perhaps that is because I only know the English whole, so one reflects the other. But I do know that the implication of lessness, and that precarious radio reception – and the palpable readings by Donal Donnelly, Leonard Fenton, Denys Hawthorne, Patrick Magee, Harold Pinter and Nicol Williamson – left a profound and lasting impression.

So much so that this current recalling was prompted by my using the word lessness in a recent found poem in my sequence based on the Great American Novel, American Finds. I’ll put it at the end.

One further contextualising. I think I taught Beckett at A Level, certainly Endgame, either as a coursework text or a set text, and I do suspect it was the latter. I am still proud to have taught/shared Waiting for Godot with GCSE mixed-ability groups for coursework assignments on Twentieth Century Drama. It is challenging, but all the more engaging for this. With plenty of reading, sharing and watching as well as discussion and prompts and support, the written assignment was an obvious one based on whether students thought the play was hopeful or hopeless – positive or negative – and we used the play’s focus on interpretations provided by the four gospels on the story of the two thieves.

Students also devised their own WfG scenes to perform for Speaking and Listening assessment. This was wonderfully and dynamically freeing because they could be as absurd as desired, and they were.

Lessness

Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no sound no stir. Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only up right. Blacked out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless.

Scattered ruins same grey as the sand ash grey true refuge. Four square all light sheer white blank planes all gone from mind. Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light. No sound no stir ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky. Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour.

He will curse God again as in the blessed days face to the open sky the passing deluge. Little body grey face features slit and little holes two pale blue. Blank mind.

Figment light never was but grey air timeless no sound. Blank planes touch close sheer white all gone from mind. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud. Four square true refuge long last four walls over backwards no sound.

Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand. Little body same grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one all sides endlessness.

He will stir in the sand there will be stir in the sky the air the sand. Never but in dream the happy dream only one time to serve. Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright. Earth sky as one all sides endlessness little body only upright. In the sand no hold one step more in the endlessness he will make it. No sound not a breath same grey all sides earth sky body ruins.

Slow black with ruin true refuge four walls over backwards no sound. Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness. Never but in vanished dream the passing hour long short. Only upright little body grey smooth no relief a few holes. One step in the ruins in the sand on his back in the endlessness he will make it. Never but dream the days and nights made of dreams of other nights better days. He will live again the, space of a step it will be day and night planes sheer white eye calm long last all gone from again over him the endlessness.

In four split asunder over backwards true refuge issueless scattered ruins. Little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun. True refuge long last issueless scattered down four walls over backwards no sound. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no stir not a breath. Blank planes sheer white calm eye light of reason all gone from mind. Scattered ruins ash grey all sides true refuge long last issueless.

Ash grey little body only upright heart beating face to endlessness. Old love new love as in the blessed days unhappiness will reign again. Earth sand same grey as the air sky ruins body fine ash grey sand. Light refuge sheer white blank planes all gone from mind.

Flatness endless little body only upright same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Face to white calm touch close eye calm long last all gone from mind. One step more one alone all alone in the sand no hold he will make it.

Blacked out fallen open true refuge issueless towards which so many false time out of mind. Never but silence such that in imagination this wild laughter these cries. Head through calm eye all light white calm all gone from mind. Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk.

He will go on his back face to the sky open again over him the ruins the sand the endlessness. Grey air timeless earth sky as one same grey as the ruins flatness endless. It will be day and night again over him the endlessness the air heart will beat again. True refuge long last scattered ruins same grey as the sand.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Face to calm eye touch close all calm all white all gone from mind. Never but imagined the blue in a wild imagining the blue celeste of poesy. Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind. Never was but grey air timeless no stir not a breath. Heart beating little body only upright grey face features overrun two pale blue. Light white touch close head through calm eye light of reason all gone from mind.

Little body same grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. No sound not a breath same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Blacked out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless.

No sound no stir ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky. Grey air timeless earth sky as one same grey as the ruins flatness endless. In the sand no hold one step more in the endlessness he will make it. It will be day and night again over him the endlessness the air heart will beat again.

Figment light never was but grey air timeless no sound. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no stir not a breath. On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud. Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand.

Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind. Flatness endless little body only upright same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Scattered ruins same grey as the sand ash grey true refuge. Four square true refuge long last four walls over backwards no sound. Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour. Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light.

In four split asunder over backwards true refuge issueless scattered ruins. He will live again the space of a step it will be day and night again over him the endlessness. Face to white calm touch close eye calm long last all gone from mind. Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only upright. He will go on his back face to the sky open again over him the ruins the sand the endlessness. Earth sand same grey as the air sky ruins body fine ash grey sand. Blank planes touch close sheer white all gone from mind.

Heart beating little body only upright grey face features overrun two pale blue. Only upright little body grey smooth no relief a few holes. Never but dream the days and nights made of dreams of other nights better days. He will stir in the sand there will be stir in the sky the air the sand. One step in the ruins in the sand on his back in the endlessness he will make it. Never but silence such that in imagination this wild laughter these cries.

True refuge long last scattered ruins same grey as the sands. Never was but grey air timeless no stir not a breath. Blank planes sheer white calm eye light of reason all gone from mind. Never but in vanished dream the passing hour long short. Four square all light sheer white blank planes all gone from mind.

Blacked out fallen open true refuge issueless towards which so many false time out of mind. Head through calm eye all light white calm all gone from mind. Old love new love as in the blessed days unhappiness will reign again. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one all sides endlessness. Scattered ruins ash grey all sides true refuge long last issueless. Never but in dream the happy dream only one time to serve. Little body grey face features slit and little holes two pale blue.

Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind. Never but imagined the blue in a wild imagining the blue celeste of poesy. Light white touch close head through calm eye light of reason all gone from mind.

Slow black with ruin true refuge four walls over backwards no sound. Earth sky as one all sides endlessness little body only upright. One step more one alone all alone in the sand no hold he will make it. Ash grey little body only upright heart beating face to endlessness. Light refuge sheer white blank planes all gone from mind. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no sound no stir.

Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness. True refuge long last issueless scattered backwards no sound. Blank down four walls over planes sheer white eye calm long last all gone from mind. He will curse God again as in the blessed days face to the open sky the passing deluge. Face to calm eye touch close all calm all white all gone from mind.

Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. Little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun. Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk.

  • Translated from the French (Sans) by the author.

[second poem] from Invisible Man – Ralph Elison

Lack of Color

Colorlessness.

Seriously?

The word colorlessness?

In America?

In white tyrant states?

Whence this passion
towards woven strands
of colorlessness?

Whence this conformity
to the many parts
of being invisible?

Color is.

Diversity is.

Think of what
would happen,

to end by
not a color
but the
lessness.

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3 thoughts on “Lessness – Samuel Beckett

  1. This post brings to mind two vivid memories for me. One is my introduction to Beckett at University through Waiting for Godot – still a favourite play of mine-and the other, a recollection of a drama club I ran for a number of years at school (open to all). I too decided to use some of Waiting for Godot to see what they made of it. So glad I did. Their work/ interpretations were superb and wonderfully varied. I was blown away by this somewhat unexpected result and will continue to use it whenever I possibly can. Would love to listen to Lessness – I imagibe the act of listening enhances the experience considerably.

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