This one is subdued, commemorated in a quiet house on a hot sunny day. In years past, UD has performed parts of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the Irish Embassy, won a prize at the Harvard Club Bloomsday in Washington for her reading (and singing) of parts of the Sirens chapter, crawled through the pubs of Dublin, and met up with a few of her students at a local DC bar for Irish food and recitation.

Here’s what she did this year. She downloaded the score of Mein junges leben hat ein end by Sweelinck (1562-1621), played it at her piano, and thought of this passage from the Eumaeus chapter of Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom really begin to talk to one another. These are Bloom’s thoughts as he listens to Dedalus name and sing some songs he likes.

Exquisite variations he was now describing on an air Youth here has End by Jans Pieter Sweelinck, a Dutchman of Amsterdam where the frows come from. Even more he liked an old German song of Johannes Jeep about the clear sea and the voices of sirens, sweet murderers of men, which boggled Bloom a bit:

Von der Sirenen Listigkeit
Tun die Poeten dichten.

These opening bars he sang and translated extempore. Bloom, nodding, said he perfectly understood and begged him to go on by all means, which he did.

A phenomenally beautiful tenor voice like that, the rarest of boons, which Bloom appreciated at the very first note he got out…

Bloom knows good singing, being married to Molly, and from the first note Dedalus gets out (recall that Dedalus is exhausted, beat up, and drunk) he recognizes his exceptional voice. We are also reminded here (he perfectly understood) that finally, at the end of a trying day, both men have found someone to whom they can talk honestly and by whom they can (to some degree) be understood.

The full lyrics to the Sirens song go like this:

From the Sirens’ craftiness
Poets make poems
That they with their loveliness
Have drawn many men into the sea
For their song resounds so sweetly,
That the sailors fall asleep,
The ship is brought into misfortune,
And all becomes evil.

Both songs express definitive Ulysses themes: With the death of his mother, Dedalus has indeed in some important sense come to the end of his youth; yet it’s clear from his self-destructive behavior throughout June 16 1904 that he’s resisting growing up, or let’s say that he doesn’t quite know what next step to take. The sirens song suggests one reason for his paralysis: Dedalus not only has that rarest of boons, a great singing voice. He’s – more importantly – a great writer. Yet something in him fears the pull toward the aesthetic, and though he concludes Portrait of the Artist stupendously, euphorically sure of his vocation, he has in fact grown up quite a bit by the time Ulysses begins. He has not produced the great art he thought he would by fleeing Ireland; in fact in Proteus he looks back with self-loathing on his childish narcissistic aestheticism while on the Continent:

Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand year, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once…

How to avoid the narcotic element of the aesthetic – the aesthetic as pure escape? Dedalus doesn’t yet know (his encounter with Bloom will presumably help him along here), and he is dealing with this not knowing – and of course with the pain of his mother’s death – by losing himself in the narcotic of alcohol. Indeed, the Sweelinck lyrics describe not just the end of youth, but the end of life, and Dedalus, who doesn’t eat, drinks like a fish, wears only black, is deeply depressed and angry, has earlier in the day given up his job and his lodging, and refuses any touch of (life-giving) water, himself seems drawn toward death.

Our last view of him has him quite alone, walking who knows where in a still-dark Dublin dawn.

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