Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bloomsday, 2012

--You, Cochrane, what city sent for him?

--Tarentum, sir.

--Very good. Well?

--There was a battle, sir.

--Very good. Where?

The boy's blank face asked the blank window.

Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as
memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings
of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling
masonry, and time one livid final flame. What's left us then?

--I forget the place, sir. 279 B. C.

--Asculum, Stephen said, glancing at the name and date in the
gorescarred book.

--Yes, sir. And he said: _Another victory like that and we are done

That phrase the world had remembered. A dull ease of the mind. From
a hill above a corpsestrewn plain a general speaking to his officers,
leaned upon his spear. Any general to any officers. They lend ear.

--You, Armstrong, Stephen said. What was the end of Pyrrhus?

--End of Pyrrhus, sir?

--I know, sir. Ask me, sir, Comyn said.

--Wait. You, Armstrong. Do you know anything about Pyrrhus?

A bag of figrolls lay snugly in Armstrong's satchel. He curled them
between his palms at whiles and swallowed them softly. Crumbs adhered to
the tissue of his lips. A sweetened boy's breath. Welloff people, proud
that their eldest son was in the navy. Vico road, Dalkey.

--Pyrrhus, sir? Pyrrhus, a pier.

All laughed. Mirthless high malicious laughter. Armstrong looked round
at his classmates, silly glee in profile. In a moment they will laugh
more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.

--Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy's shoulder with the book,
what is a pier.

--A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the water. A kind of a
bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.

Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench
whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent.
All. With envy he watched their faces: Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their
likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets
tittering in the struggle.

--Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.

The words troubled their gaze.

--How, sir? Comyn asked. A bridge is across a river.

For Haines's chapbook. No-one here to hear. Tonight deftly amid wild
drink and talk, to pierce the polished mail of his mind. What then? A
jester at the court of his master, indulged and disesteemed, winning a
clement master's praise. Why had they chosen all that part? Not wholly
for the smooth caress. For them too history was a tale like any other
too often heard, their land a pawnshop.

Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam's hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not
been knifed to death. They are not to be thought away. Time has
branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite
possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing
that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass?
Weave, weaver of the wind.

--Tell us a story, sir.

--O, do, sir. A ghoststory.

--Where do you begin in this? Stephen asked, opening another book.

-_-Weep no more,_ Comyn said.

--Go on then, Talbot.

--And the story, sir?

--After, Stephen said. Go on, Talbot.

A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork
of his satchel. He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text:

_--Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor..._

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible.
Aristotle's phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated
out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he
had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow
a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains
about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and
in my mind's darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of
brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of
thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the
soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of

Talbot repeated:

_--Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves,
Through the dear might..._

--Turn over, Stephen said quietly. I don't see anything.

--What, sir? Talbot asked simply, bending forward.

His hand turned the page over. He leaned back and went on again, having
just remembered. Of him that walked the waves. Here also over these
craven hearts his shadow lies and on the scoffer's heart and lips and
on mine. It lies upon their eager faces who offered him a coin of the
tribute. To Caesar what is Caesar's, to God what is God's. A long
look from dark eyes, a riddling sentence to be woven and woven on the
church's looms. Ay.

_Riddle me, riddle me, randy ro.
My father gave me seeds to sow._

Talbot slid his closed book into his satchel.

--Have I heard all? Stephen asked.

--Yes, sir. Hockey at ten, sir.

--Half day, sir. Thursday.

--Who can answer a riddle? Stephen asked.

They bundled their books away, pencils clacking, pages rustling.
Crowding together they strapped and buckled their satchels, all gabbling

--A riddle, sir? Ask me, sir.

--O, ask me, sir.

--A hard one, sir.

--This is the riddle, Stephen said:

_The cock crew,
The sky was blue:
The bells in heaven
Were striking eleven.
'Tis time for this poor soul
To go to heaven._

What is that?

--What, sir?

--Again, sir. We didn't hear.

Their eyes grew bigger as the lines were repeated. After a silence
Cochrane said:

--What is it, sir? We give it up.

Stephen, his throat itching, answered:

--The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.

He stood up and gave a shout of nervous laughter to which their cries
echoed dismay.

A stick struck the door and a voice in the corridor called:


They broke asunder, sidling out of their benches, leaping them. Quickly
they were gone and from the lumberroom came the rattle of sticks and
clamour of their boots and tongues.

Sargent who alone had lingered came forward slowly, showing an open
copybook. His thick hair and scraggy neck gave witness of unreadiness
and through his misty glasses weak eyes looked up pleading. On his
cheek, dull and bloodless, a soft stain of ink lay, dateshaped, recent
and damp as a snail's bed.

He held out his copybook. The word _Sums_ was written on the headline.
Beneath were sloping figures and at the foot a crooked signature with
blind loops and a blot. Cyril Sargent: his name and seal.

--Mr Deasy told me to write them out all again, he said, and show them
to you, sir.

Stephen touched the edges of the book. Futility.

--Do you understand how to do them now? he asked.

--Numbers eleven to fifteen, Sargent answered. Mr Deasy said I was to
copy them off the board, sir.

--Can you do them yourself? Stephen asked.

--No, sir.

Ugly and futile: lean neck and thick hair and a stain of ink, a snail's
bed. Yet someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart.
But for her the race of the world would have trampled him underfoot,
a squashed boneless snail. She had loved his weak watery blood drained
from her own. Was that then real? The only true thing in life? His
mother's prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode.
She was no more: the trembling skeleton of a twig burnt in the fire,
an odour of rosewood and wetted ashes. She had saved him from being
trampled underfoot and had gone, scarcely having been. A poor soul
gone to heaven: and on a heath beneath winking stars a fox, red reek
of rapine in his fur, with merciless bright eyes scraped in the earth,
listened, scraped up the earth, listened, scraped and scraped.

Sitting at his side Stephen solved out the problem. He proves by algebra
that Shakespeare's ghost is Hamlet's grandfather. Sargent peered askance
through his slanted glasses. Hockeysticks rattled in the lumberroom: the
hollow knock of a ball and calls from the field.

Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of
their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands,
traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors. Gone too from
the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement,
flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a
darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.

--Do you understand now? Can you work the second for yourself?

--Yes, sir.

In long shaky strokes Sargent copied the data. Waiting always for a word
of help his hand moved faithfully the unsteady symbols, a faint hue of
shame flickering behind his dull skin. _Amor matris:_ subjective and
objective genitive. With her weak blood and wheysour milk she had fed
him and hid from sight of others his swaddling bands.

Like him was I, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness. My
childhood bends beside me. Too far for me to lay a hand there once or
lightly. Mine is far and his secret as our eyes. Secrets, silent, stony
sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their
tyranny: tyrants, willing to be dethroned.

The sum was done.

--It is very simple, Stephen said as he stood up.

--Yes, sir. Thanks, Sargent answered.

He dried the page with a sheet of thin blottingpaper and carried his
copybook back to his bench.

--You had better get your stick and go out to the others, Stephen said
as he followed towards the door the boy's graceless form.

--Yes, sir.

In the corridor his name was heard, called from the playfield.


--Run on, Stephen said. Mr Deasy is calling you.

He stood in the porch and watched the laggard hurry towards the scrappy
field where sharp voices were in strife. They were sorted in teams and
Mr Deasy came away stepping over wisps of grass with gaitered feet. When
he had reached the schoolhouse voices again contending called to him. He
turned his angry white moustache.

--What is it now? he cried continually without listening.

--Cochrane and Halliday are on the same side, sir, Stephen said.

--Will you wait in my study for a moment, Mr Deasy said, till I restore
order here.

And as he stepped fussily back across the field his old man's voice
cried sternly:

--What is the matter? What is it now?

Their sharp voices cried about him on all sides: their many forms closed
round him, the garish sunshine bleaching the honey of his illdyed head.

Stale smoky air hung in the study with the smell of drab abraded leather
of its chairs. As on the first day he bargained with me here. As it was
in the beginning, is now. On the sideboard the tray of Stuart coins,
base treasure of a bog: and ever shall be. And snug in their spooncase
of purple plush, faded, the twelve apostles having preached to all the
gentiles: world without end.

A hasty step over the stone porch and in the corridor. Blowing out his
rare moustache Mr Deasy halted at the table.

--First, our little financial settlement, he said.

From the second chapter, sort of, of James Joyce's Ulysses.


  1. Interesting. I'm not sure I understood it all, but I loved the rhythm and language.


  2. I don't know if anyone really gets all of Ulysses, but I'm sure Joyce was working with ideas about poetry, especially epic poetry which is related to song form, so rhythm and the sounds of the words themselves is very important here. He takes that to another level (possibly the level of general incomprehensibility) in Finnegans Wake. Anyway, this is my current favorite bit of Ulysses. At midnight last night I grabbed one of our copies and read this, and the following section. It's a mighty mighty book, it is.