“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett, Westward Ho!
There are relatively few writers who could examine the discourse of two humans from a seemingly third viewpoint quite like Beckett. Take for example the “thought” of Lucky in Waiting for Godot- there have been few writers in any language with the will or the idea to create an incredibly long and unintelligible sentence that still somehow stuck to the laws of the English language in the name of art. It is perhaps only natural that he would in turn be fascinated in the principles of lingual minimalism. The given phrase is not a real sentence or set of sentences in any academic sense- there is no given subject, and though it’s implied, this would likely get an F at the hands of any high school English teacher.
However, with an appreciation for the fact that you are allowed to “break the rules” makes us able to examine this from a higher perspective. The short, rapid burst phrases almost suggest a sort of mantra- a repeated phrase urging oneself to try again and “fail better.” The latter phrase is particularly interesting. It’s a logical contradiction at first glance- failing is inherently negative- but one sees the echos of a similar concept all across our common lexicon. Consider the classic proverb: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” All Beckett seems to be saying is a refinement on this concept- “No matter how many times you fail, what’s important is you improve on your failures and try again.”
The question is brought up of how does the punctuation effect this sentence. For examine, imagine we replaced all the periods with commas, and read it to yourself. It seems to come out a jumble of words- the clear stops given by the period help separate the disparate thoughts into a coherent series. Furthermore, following the suggestion of question marks just leaves a mildly manic sounding series of rapid fire questions. The punctuation here is purposeful and likely correct for Beckett’s purposes.
If we are to address the question of what his choice of sentence structure, or lack thereof, we ought to first put it in a more traditional format: ‘I ever tried and ever failed; no matter, I fail again and I fail better.” The one thing this lacks compared to Beckett’s version is a feeling of universality. Beckett’s phrase almost seems like both a personal statement and a piece of advice, he urges himself to “fail better” and at the same time seems to be telling you to do so. This is perhaps where the power of the statement comes from. And it does appear to be powerful- there’s at least one company named after the phrase.
Overall, Beckett urges us to follow a noble path: never surrendering in the face of adversity. In this day and age, it’s advice worth listening to.