A stately, snowy Mulligan pays Beckett tribute

Reza and Peter Mulligan read a bilingual poetic tribute to Samuel Beckett at the writer's grave in Montparnasse, Paris, yesterday.

Reza and Peter Mulligan read a bilingual poetic tribute to Samuel Beckett at the writer's grave in Montparnasse, Paris, yesterday.

 

A man in a black coat and hat stands over a slab in a snowstorm, declaiming. Green rubbish bins are lined up in the lane, a few feet from the heather that fringes the grave.

A crow caws in the naked tree, and the monolith of the Tour Montparnasse looms in the background.

When Irishman Peter Mulligan singlehandedly opened the Beckett centenary in Montparnasse cemetery with a poetry reading in sub-zero temperatures yesterday, it felt for all the world like a scene from a Beckett play.

"Suzanne Beckett, née Decheveux-Dumesnil, 1900 - 1989 Samuel Beckett, 1906-1989" are the only words on the tombstone. Beckett died on December 22nd. "We should have been here on that date," Mulligan says. "We are late - again."

Yesterday "we" meant Mulligan, his Iranian-born wife Golnar and their son Reza, a threesome as oddly matched as Vladimir and Estragon. Golnar, a tax accountant, is elegant and shelters from the snow under an umbrella. Reza, a lawyer with a US law firm in Paris, reads French versions of the poems.

Mulligan was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1939 and emigrated to Britain at age 18. Now a retired banker, he heads the Northampton Connolly Association.

In 1985 Mulligan wrote to Beckett to ask his permission to include a poem in a collection of poetry from the Irish diaspora, Beyond the Shore; the Irish Within US.

Beckett sent a note saying Mulligan could choose any poem he liked from his Collected Poems in English and French, published by John Calder.

The snow stung our faces as Mulligan read the Beckett poem that Golnar chose 20 years ago, a devastating description of a failed relationship, entitled "Cascando": saying again/if you do not teach me I shall not learn/saying again there is a last/even of last times/last times of begging/last times of loving/of knowing not knowing pretending/a last even of last times of saying/if you do not love me I shall not be loved/if I do not love you I shall not

love . . .

Every year on Bloomsday the Connolly Association holds a ceremony at Lucia Joyce's grave in Northampton.

"Beckett was James Joyce's secretary," Mulligan explains later in a café at the edge of the cemetery.

His daughter Lucia spent the last 31 years of her life at St Andrews mental hospital in Northampton.

"After Joyce died, Beckett visited her every year, and he attended her funeral," Mulligan continues.

Mulligan brought a small jar of earth from Lucia Joyce's final resting place, which he sprinkles beside the Becketts. The jar is refilled with a handful of earth from Montparnasse, to be scattered at Lucia's grave next Bloomsday.