Poetry News

A Rare Recording of Beckett Reading from Watt

By Harriet Staff


Thanks to Open Culture, you can enjoy the voice of Samuel Beckett reading two poems from Watt, the last novel he wrote in English. If you can get past the "distracting Dutch subtitles," you'll get to hear the rare sound of Beckett's voice. As noted:

Samuel Beckett was notoriously shy around recording devices. He would spend hours in a studio working with actors, but when it came to recording a piece in his own voice he was elusive. Only a handful of recordings are known to exist. So the audio above of Beckett reading a pair of his poems is extremely rare.

More on the provenance of the recordings:

The recordings were made in 1965 by Lawrence Harvey, professor of comparative literature at Dartmouth College, who traveled to Paris to meet with Beckett a number of times from 1961 to 1965 while researching his 1970 book Samuel Beckett, Poet and Critic. At one point during their discussions, Beckett recited several passages from his third but second-published novel, Watt. The book was written in English in the 1940s, mostly while Beckett was hiding from the Nazis in southern France. It’s an experimental novel (Beckett called it an “exercise”) about a seeker named Watt who journeys to the house of the enigmatic Mr. Knott and works for a time as his servant. “Watt” and “Knott” are often interpreted as stand-ins for the question “what?” and unanswerable “not,” or “naught.”

The two poems recited by Beckett are from his 37 intriguing Addenda at the end of Watt. Harvey also recorded Beckett reading a prose passage from the book. The full four-minute tape is now in the collection of the Baker Library at Dartmouth. The short clip above is from the 1993 film Waiting For Beckett.

Listen to the recording below, and make the jump to Open Culture to read more about this rarity.


Originally Published: March 28th, 2013