“What Is The Word” was written by an 83 year-old Beckett. The poem explores struggling with words and perhaps draws from his, and a friend’s, illness.
The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckettcontains What Is The Word, and explanatory notes. The notes place Beckett’s poems in context, detailing the history and circumstances of composition and help explain obscure turns of phrase and allusion.
After a fall in his apartment in 1988, Samuel Beckett moved to the Tiers Temps nursing home, 26, rue Rémy-Dumoncel (14th arrondissement), Paris, France.
“Stirrings Still”, his last prose work to be printed in his lifetime may well draw from his life in the home.
The New York Times described it as: “… a character who resembles the author sits alone in a cell-like room until he sees his double appear – and then disappear. Accompanied by ”time and grief and self so-called,” he finds himself ”stirring still” to the end.”
It was here that Beckett, aged 83, wrote “What Is The Word” his last poem. Barbara Bray, Beckett’s long-time collaborator typed it up.
The poem is dedicated to Joe Chaikin. Chaikin had directed a number of Beckett’s plays. A stroke had left Chaikin with partial aphasia – an impairment of language ability.
As Wikipedia puts it, “What Is The Word” “grapples with an inability to find words to express oneself, a theme echoing Beckett’s earlier work, though possibly amplified by the sickness he experienced late in life”.
Samuel Beckett died on December 22, 1989, in Paris, France.
Listen to What Is The Word, by Samuel Beckett
What Is The Word, by Samuel Beckett and written for Joe Chaikin
folly – folly for to – for to – what is the word – folly from this – all this – folly from all this – given – folly given all this – seeing – folly seeing all this – this – what is the word – this this – this this here – all this this here – folly given all this – seeing – folly seeing all this this here – for to – what is the word – see – glimpse – seem to glimpse – need to seem to glimpse – folly for to need to seem to glimpse – what – what is the word – and where – folly for to need to seem to glimpse what where – where – what is the word – there – over there – away over there – afar – afar away over there – afaint – afaint afar away over there what – what – what is the word – seeing all this – all this this – all this this here – folly for to see what – glimpse – seem to glimpse – need to seem to glimpse – afaint afar away over there what – folly for to need to seem to glimpse afaint afar away over there what – what – what is the word –