For things to change, perhaps a crisis had to occur, as it did on the night of January 6, 1938, when Beckett, having finally returned to Paris after a terrible scene with his mother, was the victim of an acte gratuit: On a dark Paris street, a drunken stranger accosted him with a knife, stabbing him close to the heart. “How lovely it is being here,” Beckett writes McGreevy from his convalescent bed, “even with a hole in the side. A sunlit surface yesterday brighter than the whole of Ireland’s summer.” The proximity to death, soon to be heightened by the war, jolted Beckett out of his paralytic torpor: He sent McGreevy a new poem, beginning “they come / different and the same”—a poem notably unclotted and intriguingly spare. A new chapter was about to begin.
- Marjorie Perloff