Any admirer of Beckett’s plays and prose can see that he was a poet, but could he write poems? On the basis of this sumptuously annotated edition, the first to print a completely reliable text and to document fully the relationship between the poems and Beckett’s other writings, the answer has to be “Only sometimes.” Beckett’s later deprecations of his youthful efforts, Whoroscope (1930) and Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates (1935), are no more than just, yet there was no period of his life at which he was not writing poetry; indeed, the last thing he composed was a poem, “Comment dire” (“What is the Word”), written little over a year before his death. The English title points to his lifelong search for an adequate verbal expression of thought, baffled by the elusive nature of language itself.

Whoroscope comes just three years after...