February 18, 2011
Samuel Beckett’s first book, Whoroscope, 1930

.

What’s that?                                                                      1
An egg?
By the brother Boot it stinks fresh.
Give it to Gillot.
 
Galileo how are you                                                         5
and his consecutive thirds!
The vile old Copernican lead-swinging son of a sutler!
We’re moving he said we’re off—Porca Madonna!
the way a boatswain would be, or a sack-of-potatoey charging Pretender.
That’s not moving, that’s moving.                              10
 
What’s that?
A little green fry or a mushroomy one?
Two lashed ovaries with prostisciutto?
How long did she womb it, the feathery one?
Three days and four nights?                                         15
Give it to Gillot
 
Faulhaber, Beeckmann and Peter the Red,
come now in the cloudy avalanche or Gassendi’s sun-red crystally cloud
and I’ll pebble you all your hen-and-a-half ones
or I’ll pebble a lens under the quilt in the midst of day.                    20
To think he was my own brother, Peter the Bruiser,
and not a syllogism out of him
no more than if Pa were still in it.
Hey! Pass over those coppers                                   
sweet millèd sweat of my burning liver!                     25
Them were the days I sat in the hot-cupboard throwing Jesuits out of the skylight.
 
Who’s that? Hals?
Let him wait.
 
My squinty doaty!                                       
I hid and you sook.                                                          30
And Francine my precious fruit of a house-and-parlour foetus!
What an exfoliation!
Her little grey flayed epidermis and scarlet tonsils!
My one child                                           
Scourged by a fever to stagnant murky blood—        35
blood!
Oh Harvey belovèd
how shall the red and white, the many in the few,
(dear bloodswirling Harvey)                                   
eddy through that cracked beater?                             40
And the fourth Henry came to the crypt of the arrow.
 
What’s that?
How long?
Sit on it.                                           
 
A wind of evil flung my despair of ease                       45
against the sharp spires of the one
lady:
not once or twice but …
(Kip of Christ hatch it!)                                   
in one sun’s drowning                                                    50
(Jesuitasters please copy).
So on with the silk hose over the knitted, and the morbid leather—
What am I saying! the gentle canvas—
and away to Ancona on the bright Adriatic,                           
and farewell for a space to the yellow key of Rosicrucians.                    55
They don’t know what the master of the that do did,
that the nose is touched by the kiss of all foul and sweet air,
and the drums, and the throne of the faecal inlet,
and the eyes by its zig-zags.                                   
So we drink Him and eat Him                                     60
and the watery Beaune and the stale cubes of Hovis
because He can jig
as near or as far from His Jigging Self
and a sad or lively as the chalice or the tray asks,                       
How’s that, Antonio?                                                    65
 
In the name of Bacon will you chicken me up that egg.
Shall I swallow cave-phantoms?
 
Anna Maria!
She reads Moses and says her love is crucified.                       
Leider! Leider! She bloomed and withered,             70
a pale abusive parakeet in a mainstreet window.
No I believe every word of it I assure you.
Fallor, ergo sum!
The coy old frôleur!                                       
He tolle’d and legge’d                                                    75
and he buttoned on his redemptorist waistcoat.                       
No matter, let it pass.
I’m a bold boy I know
so I’m not my son                                        
(even if I were a concierge)                                          80
nor Joachim my father’s
but the chip of a perfect block that’s neither old nor new,
the lonely petal of a great high bright rose.
 
Are you ripe at last,                                                         85
my slim pale double-breasted turd?                               
How rich she smells,
this abortion of a fledgling!
I will eat it with a fish fork.
White and yolk and feathers.                                   
Then I will rise and move moving                                90
toward Rahab of the snows,
the murdering matinal pope-confessed amazon,
Christina the ripper.
Oh Weulles spare the blood of a Frank                           
Who has climbed the bitter steps,                                95
(René du Perrron… !)
and grant me my second
starless inscrutable hour.


NOTES

These notes were provided by the author. 

René Descartes, Seigneur du Perron, liked his omelette made of eggs hatched from eight to ten days; shorter or longer under the hen and the result, he says, is disgusting. 

He kept his own birthday to himself so that no astrologer could cast his nativity. 

The shuttle of a ripening egg combs the warp of his days. 

line 3. In 1640 the brothers Boot refused Aristotle in Dublin.1

line 4. Descartes passed on the easier problems in analytical geometry to his valet Gillot.2

lines 5-10. Refer to his contempt for Galileo Jr., (whom he confused with the more musical Galileo Sr.), and to his expedient sophistry concerning the movement of the earth.

line 17. He solved problems submitted by these mathematicians.3

lines 21-26. The attempt at swindling on the part of his elder brother Pierre de la Bretaillière—The money he received as a soldier.

line 27. Franz Hals.4

lines 29-30. As a child he played with a little cross-eyed girl.

lines 31-35. His daughter died of scarlet fever at the age of six.5

lines 37-40. Honoured Harvey for his discovery of the circulation of the blood, but would not admit that he had explained the motion of the heart.6

line 41. The heart of Henri IV was received at the Jesuit college of La Flèche while Descartes was still a student there.

lines 45-53. His visions and pilgrimage to Loretto.7

lines 56-65. His Eucharistic sophistry, in reply to the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, who challenged him to reconcile his doctrine of matter with his doctrine of transubstantiation.8

line 68. Schurmann, the Dutch blue stocking, a pious pupil of Voët, the adversary of Descartes.9

lines 73-76. Saint Augustine has a revelation in the shrubbery and reads Saint Paul.10

lines 77-83. He proves God by exhaustion.11

lines 91-93. Christina, queen of Sweden. At Stockholm, in November, she required Descartes, who had remained in bed till midday all his life, to be with her at five o’clock in the morning.12

line 94. Weulles, a Peripatetic Dutch physician at the Swedish court, and an enemy of Descartes.13


_________________________________________________________

NOTES TO THE NOTES:

1. A reference to the brothers Gerard and Arnold Boot, who were encouraged to publish their refutations of Aristotle by Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), which they did in 1642 (not 1640, as Beckett indicates.)

2. Jean Gillot, Descartes’ friend and valet, whom Descartes taught la Méthode and then used to disseminate it

3. Isaac Beeckman (1588–1637), Dutch philosopher and mathematician, Johann Faulhaber (1580-1635), German mathematician. The problems referred to are difficult to perform without the techniques of analysis Descartes pioneered.

4. Frans Hals the Elder (1580-1666), Dutch painter who made the definitive portrait of Descartes in 1649, the year before the sitter’s death.

5. Whose teeth Descartes had removed from her skull and inserted into a replica-doll that he would think of automating from time to time. Really.

6. The gist of Descartes’ objections to William Harvey’s theory of the blood’s circulation was not that the blood didn’t circulate, but that a self-moving pump like the heart could not be fitted into Descartes’ mechanical scheme. Self-moved movers, like Harvey believed the heart to be, was something straight out of the Aristotle that Descartes saw himself as vanquishing.

7. On November 10th, 1619, Descartes has three famous dreams. The upshot of these is that he construes a visitation from an Italian painter the next day as God telling him that he ought to go on a pilgrimage to Notre Dame of Loreto in Italy. Descartes eventually makes it there in March of 1624.

8. This refers to the problem of the Eucharist actually becoming the body and blood of Christ in a world whose only principles are extension and motion. Descartes had some quantity of desire to protect Catholic orthodoxy in/from his system and gives a completely bullshit excuse to Arnauld when pressed.

9. Anna Maria von Schurman (1606-1678), one of the most educated women in Europe at the time she was heckling Descartes. A bluestocking is a derogatory term for a woman with literary or academic pretensions. The term originates in an English translation of the name a French intellectual circle gave to themselves, which was itself a reference to the distinctive hosiery of Renaissance Venetian theatrical societies.

10. Confessions VIII.19-26. A ‘frôleur’, from French ‘to rub’, is someone who achieves sexual arousal by deliberately rubbing against women in crowded public places.

11. Proof by exhaustion is analyzing the proposition into parts, and proving each part separately. The undoubted truth of the individual parts guarantees the truth of the whole.

12. Descartes eventually bought it in 1650, while in the service of the twenty-four year old Queen of Sweden. Apparently the Queen took her instruction from him early in the morning, on long, cold walks. Descartes developed pneumonia after one of these, and was feverish for several days. Eventually he recovered, having forbidden the Queen’s doctor from bleeding him. Descartes sat up in bed, began eating again, and seemed in every way on the mend. He requested that the Queen’s doctor prepare him a drink of alcohol and tobacco. Having drunk this, Descartes immediately began vomiting blood, relapsed into fever, and a day later, died.

13. Given the fact that the Queen’s doctor, Weulles, was a known enemy of Descartes, speculation about his having poisoned Descartes’ alcohol/tobacco preparation (moreso) has been rife.

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