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Bloomsday Eve Teaser: The Climax

June 15, 2014

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[Three years ago on Bloomseve I sent the below, “A Bloomsday Eve Teaser”, as an email. A year later I posted it on this blog. But until now I never picked it up again.]

Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

Me. And me now.

Stuck, the flies buzzed.

– from Ulysses
by James Joyce

On June 16th 1904 Leopold Bloom stopped in at Davy Byrne’s Pub in Dublin for a light lunch. Still in existence, this pub will probably be quite crowded tomorrow, and a contemporary Bloom would certainly avoid it; but back then the Bloomsday hordes had not yet begun their annual descent upon the city, and Poldy had no trouble finding a seat and ordering his Gorgonzola sandwich and glass of wine. His mind wandered, eventually reaching the point quoted above. What happened next? Whose fat nipples were they? What does it all mean? Did the flies ever free themselves? These questions and more I will address tomorrow or the next day or next year. Until then, have a happy Bloomsday.

[That was three years ago. Now for the exciting conclusion!]

The quote above starts on page 175 of the edition I am using. We finally return to that remembered scene on page 782, the last full page of the book. Bloom has passed out on his bed, but his wife Molly lies awake, and the final section of the book is the unpunctuated record of her thoughts. For the last decade, since the death of their newborn son Rudy, their marriage has been celibate (or more precisely, “carnal intercourse had been incomplete, without ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ” — not quite the same thing, take it as you will) while that very day and in that very bed, as Poldy has surmised,  she entertained, completely, her singing impresario Blazes Boylan. She lies there and she thinks of both men, of other men, of men and women, of sex, of life, her life, going through her memories, musing, wondering, pondering, concluding, judging, her mind skipping from one thing to another, moving on along the lazy current of late night thoughts, as she waits for sleep to carry her into the darkness.

And here are the final words of the novel:

the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

And we find out that what Bloom was recalling was not just an erotic idyll, it was also the occasion when he asked Molly to marry him, and she said Yes.

But to to pull out these two quotes may give the wrong impression, because it is essential that they are separated by six hundred pages of dense prose. And though the second is given prominence by being at the end, the first is buried in the great jumble of language that makes up the book. The paragraph that immediately precedes it begins:

Mild fire of wine kindled his veins. I wanted that badly. Felt so off colour. His eyes unhungrily saw shelves of tins, sardines, gaudy lobsters’ claws. All the odd things people pick up for food. Out of shells, periwinkles with a pin, off trees, snails out of the ground the French eat, out of the sea with bait on a hook. Silly fish learn nothing in a thousand years. If you didn’t know risky putting anything into your mouth. Poisonous berries. Johnny Magories. Roundness you think good. Gaudy colour warns you off. One fellow told another and so on. Try it out on the dog first. Led on by the smell or the look. Tempting fruit. Ice cones. Cream. Instinct. Orangegroves for instance. Need artificial irrigation. Bleibtreustrasse. Yes but what about oysters? Unsightly like a clot of phlegm. Filthy shells. Devil to open them too. Who found them out? Garbage, sewage the feed on. Fizz and Red bank oysters. Effect on the sexual. Aphrodis. He was in the Red bank this morning. Was he oyster old fish at table. Perhaps he young flesh in bed. No. June has no ar no oysters. But there are people like tainted game. Jugged hare. First catch your hare. Chinese eating eggs fifty years old, blue and green again. Dinner of thirty courses. Each dish harmless might mix inside. Idea for a poison mystery. The archduke Leopold was it? No. Yes, or was it Otto one of those Habsburgs? Or who was it used to eat the scruff of his own head? Cheapest lunch in town. Of course, aristocrats. Then the others copy to be in fashion. Milly too rock oil and flour. Raw pastry I like myself. Half the catch of oysters they throw back in the sea to keep up the price. Cheap no one would buy. Caviare.  

Stories. Themes. Grand emotions. Happiness. Misery. Meaning. Significance. Logic. These you must extract from the haphazard porphyry of life, they do not come neatly ordered and labeled in an apothecary cabinet. There is your greatest moment of passion, there is lunch, there is idle speculation on shellfish economics, all in the same mix. And so in Ulysses. A barrage of words, sentences, paragraphs, sections, in strange juxtaposition, in different styles and registers,  a mixed-use urbanism of literature. Not random though. No more than Dublin was random. Always there are connections to trace. And an organic wholeness.

I think I had something more to say about the two Howth passages three years ago, but I forget. They make a beautiful pair. An estranged intimacy, a moment of joy cleaved, separated by a great emotional gulf and 600 pages, but perhaps to be joined again.

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