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And when I makes water…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 03:10 am Leave a comment

The contextual note I’m covering is Thomas Moore’s “The Meeting of the Waters,” which appears in the Lestrygonians (8.414-418).  In this passage Bloom strolls along past the urinal by Trinity College on the river Avoca, which actually begins as two rivers in County Wicklow south of Dublin: the Avonmore (“big river”) and the Avonberg (remarkably, “small river”).  One of the more famous statues in Dublin is in this location, a bust of Mr. Moore himself.  In typical Bloom fashion, the first thing Bloom thinks when he approaches the statue of “Tommy Moore’s roguish finger” (414) is that they did a good thing by putting him “over a urinal, a meeting of the waters,” (414-415) and he pragmatically (also in classic Bloom form) wonders why there is not such a place for women to urinate as well.  The poem/song is as follows (thank you bartleby.com):

“The Meeting of the Waters”

There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet

As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;

Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,

Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.

Yet it was not that nature had shed o’er the scene

Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;

’Twas not her soft magic of streamlet or hill,

Oh! no—it was something more exquisite still.

’Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near,

Who made every dear scene of enchantment more dear,

And who felt how the best charms of nature improve,

When we see them reflected from looks that we love.

Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest

In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,

Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,

And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.

Bloom goes on to quote the first line of the poem in 416-417: “There is not in this wide world a vallee,” though the spelling of “valley” he uses possesses some significance of which I cannot understand at the moment.  The reason Joyce chose this poem in this context makes sense, since Bloom is wandering down by the waters.  However, I couldn’t find a lot of commentary on this poem independent of Ulysses or otherwise.  It seems quite like Joyce to take something perhaps obscure and make it seem like it’s something we should all know about.  As Brady pointed out in his obsession post I believe, Thomas Moore’s songs are repeated throughout the text, such as “The Young May Moon” and “The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls.”  I can only imagine the use of these Irish ballads that are not seen out of Ireland suggest the sort of isolation that Bloom is feeling at this point in the novel.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was a slippery character from what I can gather.  Apparently he was Dublin born, Trinity College educated, but made most of his living in England (London to be exact) writing… Irish poems and songs.  Really, sir?  I suppose he might as well exploit the British for all they’re worth, namely their famous sentimentality.  I just found this fascinating, with Moore being Ireland’s National Bard and all.  He also bro’d around with Lord Byron and in fact became his literary executor when he died.  The two also shared a great love of debt, and apparently Moore eventually got the boot from England because of this.

I’ve been listening to Sunday Bloody Sunday on repeat as I write this.  Why, we don’t know.

All biographical information on Thomas Moore from:

DeFord, Miriam Allen.  Thomas Moore. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc.  1967.

(the spacing is also being weird on this, my apologies).

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The Harp’s the Thing

Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 02:28 am Leave a comment

In Ulysses Annotated the entry “Harp Eolian” describes a harp meant to be played by the wind (of Aeolus) rather than fingers. The harp in general was the instrument of the Celtic bards and a national symbol of Ireland. “Harp,” the Annotated goes on, is also slang for an Irish Catholic.

From these simple definitions arise some obvious inferences. First, Joyce’s reference takes place on pp. 105  in episode 7, titled “Aeolus,” after the Keeper of Winds who first aided and then rebuffed the home-seeking Odysseus. Interpreting Myles Crawford as the correspondent Aeolus, and the episode itself as being full of “bad wind,” with “wind” in general corresponding to rhetoric – rhetoric, I propose, with little or no purpose, empty words for the moment – we can see the “harp” being played by Myles and his associates at the offices, discussing the fruitless past, flowery speeches and semantics, passing stories of disappointment, and going about their daily business, the paper, itself an old and wasted item after one day. Second, the slang usage of “harp” refers to Crawford and his associates, but not Bloom or Stephen. Third, the most obvious correspondent for an actual harp, as in the instrument, lies in the floss used by either the professor or Myles to clean his teeth. When plucked between the teeth, the floss goes “Bingbang, bangbang.” I’m not certain what the significance of the floss being the harp is, but several ideas come to mind: a) the floss/harp in this section only plucks at waste and detritus, thus the gaseous ideas and frustration espoused/blown everywhere b) it sets up the next episode featuring “bad food” and where it might possibly come from (or come out of), and c) the floss/harp is the only instrument at the moment capable of cleansing away this detritus, and not enough people in this episode are using poetry/rhetoric correctly to cut down on the frustrated winds blowing everywhere.

The actual above reference occurs in a section of the episode entitled O, Harp Eolian! This invokes not only the above associations but also a strong connection to the Samuel Coleridge poem “The Eolian Harp.” The poem, begun in 1795 and revised frequently by Coleridge until 1817, was one of the first conversation poems – a group of eight poems in which Coleridge applies conversational language to describe nature, life, and death. That such a reference, not including the above connotations, should appear in the “rhetoric” episode, where dialogue and conversation are key, is unsurprising. The poem itself deals with the author’s (impending) marriage by examining love through nature, which is chiefly represented by the Eolian Harp and the music it produces. More importantly, the poem sets up a series of oppositional ideas – coyness and innocence, wilderness and order, motion and slumber – and shows how these two disparate ideas actually compliment each other. This reconciliation of seeming contradictions occurs frequently throughout Ulysses, though Joyce is careful to have the ideas reconcile only so much, leaving a bit of tension for readers to follow throughout the texts. For example, the issues we discussed on Monday regarding the overlapping and complex relations between Ireland, Greece, Rome, Britain, and Judaism (not to mention the anti-Semitism displayed by many of the local characters); or Bloom’s original love of meat turned sour by “cannibalism” only to be reconciled later (in his mind) by sex – which leads down a dizzying path of its own.