Weep No More: Lycidas in Nestor

—Tell us a story, sir. —O, do, sir. A ghoststory.
Did you ever have a teacher in school who had a tenuous-at-best grip on their lessons? They were easily distracted or maybe a little too much of a hippie. Maybe they were a substitute who wasn’t too invested in the job. Stephen Dedalus is this teacher, a learner uneasy as a teacher. Stephen’s heart is just not in this job, and it’s clear from the first lines of ‘Nestor’ that he is going through the motions on the surface. His thoughts continually intrude upon his focus as he listlessly carries out his uninspired lesson plan.  Not only does his student Armstrong know less than nothing about Pyrrhus, the rest of the boys are totally disinterested in the lesson and ready to distract their teacher. Stephen grimly realizes,“In a moment they will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.”
John_Milton_1
John Milton
When the history lesson doesn’t go well, Stephen leap-frogs to his own area of expertise – poetry. The little scrap of a literature lesson is a few lines recited from the John Milton poem “Lycidas.” The significance of this poem gets glossed over in some annotations, including my favorite Gifford annotation, but it’s worth pausing a moment and considering why Joyce included this poem in particular. Afterall, “’A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” We can assume Joyce chose “Lycidas” for a reason. “Lycidas” is a pastoral elegy, that is, a poem written to commemorate and lament someone’s death, but rather than being direct, the poet uses a variety of classical and natural imagery to express their true emotions. “Lycidas” is considered one of the finest examples of this style of poetry. It was written in 1637 by John Milton, who was hugely influential on Joyce, mostly through his much more famous work Paradise Lost. Milton wrote “Lycidas” (pronounced liss-id-us) to mourn the death of his friend Edward King, a Cambridge scholar who died by drowning. Though it’s a longer poem, the lines found in ‘Nestor’ are as follows:
Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead, Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…
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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ep. 3 – Joyce v. Gogarty

Orpen_OSJGogarty
Oliver St John Gogarty

In this episode we tackle the falling out between James Joyce and Oliver St John Gogarty, the origins of the character Buck Mulligan, what really happened in the Martello tower, blasphemous poetry and how Joyce found his sense of humor.

Stream here:
https://embed.simplecast.com/af8957f2?color=f5f5f5

On the Blog:

Say ‘Hello’ to Martello Towers
Who was the Real Buck Mulligan?

Poetry in Ulysses: The Ballad of Joking Jesus

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Further Reading:

Ellmann, R. (1959). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gogarty, O. (1948). Mourning became Mrs. Spendlove and other portraits grave and gay. New York: Creative Age Press.

Lyons, J. (1984). Oliver St. John Gogarty. Dublin Historical Record,38(1), 2-13. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30100748

Riley, M. (1984). Joyce, Gogarty, and the Irish Hero. The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies,10(2), 45-54. doi:10.2307/25512607. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/25512607?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aafd1aaaa4471f11ab4207fabb5556216&seq=9#metadata_info_tab_contents

Trieste Notebook:

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/JoyceColl/JoyceColl-idx?type=div&did=JOYCECOLL.SCHOLESWORKSHOP.I0013&isize=text

Turner, J., & Mamigonian, M. (2004). Solar Patriot: Oliver St. John Gogarty in “Ulysses”. James Joyce Quarterly,41(4), 633-652. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25478099

Music

Noir – S Strong & Boogie Belgique

Joyce Ulysses literature Lady Gregory Yeats

James Joyce’s Poetic Rage

To put it nicely, James Joyce was a prickly pear. It’s well known that he left Dublin for continental Europe in 1904, never to return. His exile was self-imposed, but that didn’t stop him from metaphorically backing out of the room with two middle fingers raised. This reaction was simultaneously over-the-top and kind of justified. Joyce struggled to find his place amongst the literary set in Dublin because his own ego was frequently a major stumbling block. In fact, Joyce had a track record of throwing down poetically when things didn’t go his way. Joyce’s angry poetry reveals a lot about his personality and worldview, and since Ulysses is heavily autobiographical, it can help us understand where Joyce’s head was when he was constructing the oft unflattering portrayals of his friends in his novel.

 

The Holy Office

In order to understand this poem, we need to take a look at Joyce’s relationship with the movers and shakers behind the Irish Literary Revival underway in the early twentieth century. Often associated with people like W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and John M. Synge, this movement is associated with a flowering of Irish talent and a promotion of Irish traditional culture and nationalism. Though Joyce’s poetry is arguably in line with the style of the time, he felt that he was left behind by the literary bigwigs of his day.

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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Poetry in Ulysses: The Ballad of Joking Jesus

-We oughtn’t to laugh, I suppose. He’s rather blasphemous. I’m not a believer myself, that is to say. Still his gaiety takes the harm out of it somehow, doesn’t it?

In “Telemachus,” Stephen Dedalus and the boys head down to the sea beside their Martello tower home in Sandycove to bathe in the sea. On the way, Buck Mulligan regales them with a blasphemous tune he’s composed called “The Ballad of Joking Jesus.” Haines, the English student, is amused, but we learn that Stephen is tiring of the “Ballad,” having heard it “three times a day, after meals” for God knows how long.

joyce ulysses buck mulliganThe inclusion of “The Ballad of Joking Jesus” establishes Buck Mulligan as a low-brow blasphemer – a man whose irreverence has no deeper meaning behind it, unlike that of an artist such as Dedalus. Mulligan is just saying rude things to get a rise out of his friends or maybe a few laughs. He’s basically that one friend who constantly posts edgy memes on Facebook with the comment, “I’m going to hell lol.” Stephen’s rejection of the Church comes from a deeper more philosophic place. Stephen also refused to pray at his mother’s deathbed on principal, so I have a hard time taking his side here.

Continue reading “Poetry in Ulysses: The Ballad of Joking Jesus”