I have an A Level in French. Just. I scraped an ‘E’ grade. If I am honest I don’t think my heart was in it, and I didn’t really put the effort in that I needed.
It was a combined A Level – Language and Literature – and while I really enjoyed the literature aspect my language skills were poor. I remember (with shame) that in one of the final exams I had to write about a leg (‘jambe’)and used the word ‘jambon’ (ham)! I only realised as I came out of the examination hall.
In the literature part of the course I discovered Moliere’s Le Misanthrope. I loved the vivid characterisation and the interaction between those different characters: the grumpy, cantankerous Alceste and his unrequited love for the flirtatious Célimène, who seemed to be courted by most of the men in the book (only serving to increase Alceste’s grumpiness!).
I was introduced to En Attendant Godot. It had an interesting history because it was written in French by Irish author Samuel Beckett, who lived in Paris for most of his life, and was only later translated by Beckett into English (Waiting For Godot). If you have never seen or read this play you will perhaps not know that it is about two unusual characters, Vladimir and Estrogon, who are waiting for a mysterious person, Godot, to turn up. To describe the play as ‘absurd’ or a farce is, in my humble opinion, to do it a disservice.
En Attendant Godot is a very simple play that is open to all sorts of different interpretations. Was it political, religious, philosophical, or even autobiographical? We are not really told. Neither are we told exactly who Godot is, and (spoiler alert) he never turns up! The play is all about the waiting.
We don’t do waiting do we? We get frustrated when we have to wait for a parcel to be delivered or someone to come to service our boiler and they are late. We like ‘next day delivery’ rather than ‘some time in the future’ (although we don’t want to pay the extra for it). We like the immediacy of the internet, but get frustrated when pages on websites take a long time to load (especially, it seems to me paradoxically, when we are on a slower connection such as our mobile phones!). We get annoyed when a bus or train does not appear at the allotted time (see pome at the bottom of the bloggage)… and so on.
But waiting is not bad for us. It may reveal to us how much we lack patience. But it may also give us time we didn’t think we had. It gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect. And it may even give us an opportunity to look for God. Vladimir and Estragon get more and more frustrated by Godot’s absence in En Attendant Godot. But what if he was there with them already and they just hadn’t seen him? What if he had come to them in the other characters who turn up during the play? And how would they react if he did turn up?
Lose the ‘-ot’ and see how it feels to you when you are waiting for God?
Be blessed, be a blessing.
This pome is one I wrote sitting on a platform waiting for a long delayed train. The title is based on what the platform announcer sounded like over the public address system.
Mwoh ray hampin araffo hree
(The train now standing at Platform 3)
Sitting on a platform at a station
Waiting for an Inter-city Godot
I find myself musing
About what use is information
Delivered with incomprehensible echo?
It’s almost amusing.
I try to stay calm and be patient,
Hearing words said through towels
But my brain is refusing
To make sense of any location.
In the midst of incontinent vowels
It’s all so confusing
That I’ve just missed my connection.
Suppressing the growls
Now I am choosing
The right tone and inflexion
for frustrated howls
at the time I am losing.
© Nick Lear 2002