← Previous Post: | Next Post:


Bloomsday at the Beach

UD‘s exciting Bloomsday last year, where she sang and read from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in front of a packed gathering at the Irish embassy, is followed by a quiet one now, beachside.

Beachside like Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, Chapter Three, where, in despair, he walks along a beach near Dublin. A young ambitious writer who’d gone soaring off to the continent to write his great books, he’s come crashing to earth – and Ireland – in the guilty, grieving aftermath of his mother’s death. The whole chapter’s his interior monologue on themes of soaring life, haunting death, sex, love, family, and ambition, as he broods along the beach.

His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm over the sand furrows, along by the boulders of the south wall. He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls. Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.

proud rhythm/sand furrows: You see the matched pair, the metered poetry, mirroring his metered walk. Also the subtle assonance of it all: the f‘s and the v (feet/over/furrows), the monosyllabic, final d of sand and proud, taking along with them for good measure the d of sudden. The poetry too of those liquid l‘s in along/boulders/wall; the yet more poetry in all those long lovely open ah’s: march/along/wall. This is gentle prose, echoing the gentle setting of sand and waves and wind on a summer afternoon, the quietness of a solitary man walking and thinking. The storm is inside his mind; when we come to his monologue’s content, to the thoughts themselves, the prose will take a much harsher turn. But here we are still in third person, the consciousness of indirect discourse picking up on externalities.

Proud means bold means our genius is going to choose boulders, and gold , but never bold; he won’t say bold, but while we read, inside our own internal monologue, the word bold, the idea of boldness aligned with pride, will somehow bubble up, somehow subaquatically accompany all of this — haunt it, if you like, the way Stephen’s mother’s death will haunt his thoughts, present, and even insistent, but not quite there on the page. And that is the mind, that is the way it is, as our feet march in proud rhythm. Under the rhythm there’s another rhythm, deeper and always insinuating and complicating and – for Stephen, right now – dead calming, keeping him, despite his full-of-beansness, his amazing libidinal energy – from soaring.

(For an American analogue, there’s this famous passage, from A River Runs Through It:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

James Joyce can actually capture these underflows verbally. Norman Maclean wrote a great book but like virtually all other writers, he can’t do that.)

He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls.

Stephen’s morbid set of mind perceives the boulders as massive skulls, a collective grave all piled up, and of course he’ll think much more directly in those everything-I-see-is-death terms in this chapter — Omnis caro ad te veniet he will say to himself a few moments after this passage; all flesh shall come unto thee. From a requiem mass.

The beach is a graveyard of all manner of things tossed up after being spun forever in the underworld. Much of this chapter will be Dedalus describing the washed up dead things he sees. But the narrative of this short paragraph, like the narrative of his long day and night, June 16, 1904, will be an effort to rouse himself from his dead calm, to defy death and the guilt and fear and despair it occasions, so that he can live and love and write:

Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.

It’s high summer, mid-June, a very sunny day; the world bids him notice the buzzing above the oceanic cemetery. As it bade him in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, just before he left for the continent:

A soft liquid joy like the noise of many waters flowed over his memory and he felt in his heart the soft peace of silent spaces of fading tenuous sky above the waters, of oceanic silence, of swallows flying through the sea-dusk over the flowing waters.

A soft liquid joy flowed through the words where the soft long vowels hurtled noiselessly and fell away, lapping and flowing back and ever shaking the white bells of their waves in mute chime and mute peal, and soft low swooning cry; and he felt that the augury he had sought in the wheeling darting birds and in the pale space of sky above him had come forth from his heart like a bird from a turret, quietly and swiftly.

Joy; the sky above the waters. So Dedalus will, in this slender Ulysses paragraph, go with the sun, with the brightness that illuminates a rickety but real world – the slender trees, frail but lit up; the lemon houses, lemoned for a moment by the sun. It’s just a moment, but it’s real enough. It’s even poetic, with slender and lemon making another assonantal pair.

Soon enough, Dedalus will meet up with our man of the moment, Leopold Bloom, the two of them making a pair that poeticizes and makes bearable, makes legible, and lovable, the world of the living.

Margaret Soltan, June 16, 2013 11:10AM
Posted in: james joyce

Trackback URL for this post:

One Response to “Bloomsday at the Beach”

  1. dmf Says:


Comment on this Entry

Latest UD posts at IHE