Posted by Richard on  UTC 2016-01-09 11:14

One page

The extract below of Finnegans Wake, just over one page in length (605:4-606:12), will illustrate the fearsome complexity that the book can achieve. As someone once pointed out, there is more fun to be had reading the commentaries than reading the text.

In this section, starting with a simple legend about St. Kevin, Joyce poured more and more allusions into the tale to build finally a single comic 431-word sentence which, at a minimum, parodies all the saintly hagiographies of the Catholic Church. He layered structure upon structure into the tale in a way that makes them intersect on the page. Why did he do this? I have no idea.

The text given here is based on that of the 1964 Faber edition of Finnegans Wake.[1] It has been emended by the present author on the basis of research by Jack P. Dalton. Not myself a Joyce specialist, I don't know whether Dalton's work, now around fifty years old, has been superseded or extended by anyone. I suspect not. His emendations to the episode of St. Kevin seem reasonable and well-founded to me and I have integrated most of them into the present text. [2]

Nor have I consulted the 'Restored' Finnegans Wake edited by Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, published in 2012. This edition is outrageously expensive, contains no apparatus criticus, but claims to offer a text for the general reader. How many general readers plug their way through Finnegans Wake, I wonder? Two?

The text here is an attempt to visualise the structures Joyce created in the text by marking words and phrases with colours that indicate the structure to which they belong. There are a number of other patterns we have left unmarked, such as word transformation patterns ('Procreated', 'precreated', 'postcreated' etc.), but we are already at the limit of digestibility with the structures we have here.

The individual structures are listed after the text in a key. If you hover the cursor over a marker a tooltip will be displayed that specifies the structure involved.

The various hierarchies and progressions can be imagined as superimposed crosses, a technique known as 'chiasmus'. On page 298 of Finnegans Wake Joyce makes a marginal entry concerning 'Ecclasiastical and Celestial Hierarchies. The Ascending. The Descending.' Now, 307 pages later, he gives us the fully worked example of St. Kevin. Here it is.

Saint Kevin takes a bath

Yad. Procreated on the ultimate ysland of Yreland in the encyclical yrish archipelago, come their feast of precreated holy whiteclad angels, whomamong the christener of his, voluntarily poor Kevin, having been graunted the praviloge of a priest’s postcreated portable altare cum balneo, when espousing the one true cross, invented and exalted, in celibate matrimony at matin chime arose and westfrom went and came in alb of cloth of gold to our own midmost Glendalough-le-vert by archangelical guidance where amiddle of meeting waters of river Yssia and Essia river on this one of eithers lone navigable lake piously Kevin [also pious], lawding the triune trishagion, amidships of his conducible altar super bath, rafted centripetally, diaconal servent of orders hibernian, midway across the subject lake surface to its supreem epicentric lake ysle, whereof its lake is the ventrifugal principality, whereon by prime, powerful in knowledge, Kevin came to where its centre is among the circumfluent watercourses of Yshgafiena and Yshgafiuna, an enysled lakelet yslanding a lacustrine yslet, whereupon with beached raft subdiaconal bath propter altar, with oil extremely anointed, accompanied by prayer, holy Kevin bided till the third morn hour but to build a rubric penitential honeybeehivehut in whose enclosure to live in fortitude, acolyte of cardinal virtues, whereof the arenary floor most holy Kevin excavated as deep as to the depth of a seventh part of one full fathom, which excavated, venerable Kevin, anchorite, taking counsel, proceded towards the lakeside of the ysletshore whereat seven several times he, eastward genuflecting, in entire ubbidience at sextnoon collected gregorian water sevenfold and with ambrosian eucharistic joy of heart as many times receded, carrying [the lustral domination contained within his most portable privileged altar unacumque bath, which severally seven times] into the cavity excavated, a lector of water levels, most venerable Kevin then effused thereby letting there be water where was theretofore dry land, by him so concreated, who now, confirmed a strong and perfect Christian, blessed Kevin, exorcised his holy sister water, perpetually chaste, so that, well understanding, she should fill to midheight his tubbathaltar, which handbathtub most blessed Kevin ninthly enthroned in the interconcentric centre of the translated water, whereamid, when violet vesper vailed, Saint Kevin Hydrophilos, having girded his sable cappa magna as high as to his cherubical loins, at solemn compline sat in his sate of wisdom, that hipbathtub, whereverafter, recreated doctor insularis of the universal church, keeper of the door of meditation, memory extempore proposing and intellect formally considering, recluse, he meditated continuously with seraphic ardour the primal sacrament of baptism or the regeneration of all man by affusion of water. Yed.

Key: ascending and descending, sevens and nines

  • The angelic hierarchy: NINE, in ascending order of power: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominations (dominions), thrones, cherubim, seraphim.
  • The ascent of Kevin's soul: NINE, in ascending order of holiness: poor, pious, holy, most holy, venerable, most venerable, blessed, most blessed, saint.
  • The priestly hierarchy: SEVEN, in descending order of power: priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, doorkeeper. Note: Joyce has transposed 'lector' and 'exorcist'.
  • Kevin's bath: SEVEN occurrences.
  • The cardinal virtues: SEVEN, gifts of the holy spirit. Joyce reverses the normal order: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord. Note: 'fear of the Lord' occurs in a sentence that just precedes our extract.
  • The liturgical colours: SEVEN, white, rose, gold, green, red, violet, black.
  • The canonical hours: SEVEN, running forward from dawn to night: matins (pre-dawn), prime (First Hour, 06:00), tierce (Third Hour, 09:00), sext (Sixth Hour, 12:00), none (Ninth Hour, 15:00), vespers (sunset), compline (bedtime).
  • The Holy Sacraments: SEVEN, running backwards: matrimony, holy orders, extreme unction, penance, the Eucharist, confirmation, baptism.
  • The number seven: explicitly four times. In addition to the properties that occur in sevens noted above, there are a number of impicit sevens: Kevin was seven years old went sent by his parents to be educated by monks; his solitude at Glendalough lasted seven years; Glendalough had seven churches; seven pilgrimages to Glendalough were equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. But of course you knew that already – silly me!

Is it worth it?

This text makes clear the overall problem of explication in Finnegans Wake. Just alluding to the story of St. Kevin helps the reader hardly at all. Without an understanding of the theological layers the tale is just an uneventful story told in an extremely confusing way. As readers here can assure themselves, even when only some of Joyce's allusions are identified and their details laid out as we have done here, understanding the text requires serious patience and application. Just reading Finnegans Wake and patting yourself on the back for deconstructing Joyce's multilingual puns can be fun – up to a point – but it is not the same as understanding the text or its meaning. One page! that is what we have done: only 627 to go!

In itself bad enough, but worse is to come. We take a printed book and see a text cleanly set out in a legible typeface and imagine that that is what the author wrote. Usually that is a fair assumption: most authors take trouble with proof reading. In Joyce's case it is not. During the sixteen years of its creation Joyce was beset with problems, the gravest of which for someone writing at this level of complexity was his deteriorating eyesight. In trying to rescue what he could of his sight he underwent several unpleasant procedures. Towards the end of the period in question Joyce could barely see the door, let alone a printer's proof.

And proofreading was never more needed than it was with Finnegans Wake. Typists were trying to transcribe from Joyce's scribbled handwriting words they had never seen before in languages they did not understand; words that were almost always Joyce's punning blending of several languages. Compositors were struggling through the manuscripts trying to reproduce not only Joyce's mangled words but also the mangled punctuation and syntax that the typists had created. Their task was heroic, but impossible. Lacking the author's final imprimatur we can have little trust in the clean, beautifully set texts we find in books. Is the Finnegans Wake we find there really the Finnegans Wake that Joyce wrote?

And if, for the vast majority of readers, Finnegans Wake is not worth the effort of reading it, is it really worth the effort of restoring it? Such a restoration will just transform it from an incomprehensible, sub-Joycean muddle into an incomprehensible, possibly Joycean text. In the St. Kevin text we have given here, after much acribic research in the various manuscripts and typescripts, Dalton was able to emend 'ubidience' to 'ubbidience' [605:29]. An immense effort that has not changed the status of the emended word: it is still 'baffling'.

However, if we can't read Finnegans Wake, perhaps we can just listen to it.

Getting Joyce to read Finnegans Wake for you

If Finnegans Wake is not worth reading, as we suggested a moment ago, why is it worth cleaning up? Why is it worth explicating at all?

But then there is this recording of Joyce reading the 'washerwomen at dusk' section, Faber text, p213-216, in 1929 [3]– just over 1100 words of magic. Perhaps Finnegans Wake is not so obscure after all. Don't try to understand it, just listen. Joyce appears to be operating at a level of consciousness and language that we can only grasp in its totality, text and speech. Finnegans Wake is a magnificent, monumentally great work, even though it is incomprehensible at the textual level. It is full of dark, half grasped illusions that run in a dream under your consciousness.

Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. ’Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace! Aman. Will we spread them here now? Ay, we will. Flip! Spread on your bank and I’ll spread mine on mine. Flep! It’s what I’m doing. Spread! It’s churning chill. Der went is rising. I’ll lay a few stones on the hostel sheets. A man and his bride embraced between them. Else I’d have sprinkled and folded them only. And I’ll tie my butcher’s apron here. It’s suety yet. The strollers will pass it by. Six shifts, ten kerchiefs, nine to hold to the fire and this for the code, the convent napkins, twelve, one baby’s shawl. Good mother Jossiph knows, she said. Whose head? Mutter snores? Deataceas! Wharnow are alle her childer, say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them farther? Allalivial, allalluvial! Some here, more no more, more again lost alla stranger. I’ve heard tell that same brooch of the Shannons was married into a family in Spain. And all the Dunders de Dunnes in Markland’s Vineland beyond Brendan’s herring pool takes number nine in yangsee’s hats. And one of Biddy’s beads went bobbing till she rounded up lost histereve with a marigold and a cobbler’s candle in a side strain of a main drain of a manzinahurries off Bachelor’s Walk. But all that’s left to the last of the Meaghers in the loup of the years prefixed and between is one kneebuckle and two hooks in the front. Do you tell me that now? I do in troth. Orara por Orbe and poor Las Animas! Ussa, Ulla, we’re umbas all! Mezha, didn’t you hear it a deluge of times, ufer and ufer, respund to spond? You deed, you deed! I need, I need! It’s that irrawaddyng I’ve stoke in my aars. It all but husheth the lethest zswound. Oronoko! What’s your trouble? Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue riding the high horse there forehengist? Father of Otters, it is himself! Yonne there! Isset that? On Fallareen Common? You’re thinking of Astley’s Amphitheayter where the bobby restrained you making sugarstuck pouts to the ghostwhite horse of the Peppers. Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper! It’s well I know your sort of slop. Flap! Ireland sober is Ireland stiff. Lord help you, Maria, full of grease, the load is with me! Your prayers. I sonht zo! Madammangut! Were you lifting your elbow, tell us, glazy cheeks, in Conway’s Carrigacurra canteen? Was I what, hobbledyhips? Flop! Your rere gait’s creakorheuman bitts your butts disagrees. Amn’t I up since the damp dawn, marthared mary allacook, with Corrigan’s pulse and varicoarse veins, my pramaxle smashed, Alice Jane in decline and my oneeyed mongrel twice run over, soaking and bleaching boiler rags, and sweating cold, a widow like me, for to deck my tennis champion son, the laundryman with the lavandier flannels? You won your limpopo limp fron the husky hussars when Collars and Cuffs was heir to the town and your slur gave the stink to Carlow. Holy Scamander, I sar it again! Near the golden falls. Icis on us! Seints of light! Zezere! Subdue your noise, you hamble creature! What is it but a blackburry growth or the dwyergray ass them four old codgers owns. Are you meanam Tarpey and Lyons and Gregory? I meyne now, thank all, the four of them, and the roar of them, that draves that stray in the mist and old Johnny MacDougal along with them. Is that the Poolbeg flasher beyant, pharphar, or a fireboat coasting nyar the Kishtna or a glow I behold within a hedge or my Garry come back from the Indes? Wait till the honeying of the lune, love! Die eve, little eve, die! We see that wonder in your eye. We’ll meet again, we’ll part once more. The spot I’ll seek if the hour you’ll find. My chart shines high where the blue milk’s upset. Forgivemequick, I’m going! Bubye! And you, pluck your watch, forgetmenot. Your evenlode. So save to jurna’s end! My sights are swimming thicker on me by the shadows to this place. I sow home slowly now by own way, moyvalley way. Towy I too, rathmine.

Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia, trinkettoes! And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills. Gammer and gaffer we’re all their gangsters. Hadn’t he seven dams to wive him? And every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch had its seven hues. And each hue had a differing cry. Sudds for me and supper for you and the doctor’s bill for Joe John. Befor! Bifur! He married his markets, cheap by foul, I know, like any Etrurian Catholic Heathen, in their pinky limony creamy birnies and their turkiss indienne mauves. But at milkidmass who was the spouse? Then all that was was fair. Tys Elvenland! Teems of times and happy returns. The seim anew. Ordovico or viricordo. Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle’s to be. Northmen’s thing made southfolk’s place but howmulty plurators made eachone in person? Latin me that, my trinity scholard, out of eure sanscreed into oure eryan! Hircus Civis Eblanensis! He had buckgoat paps on him, soft ones for orphans. Ho, Lord! Twins of his bosom. Lord save us! And ho! Hey? What all men. Hot? His tittering daughters of. Whawk?

Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome? What Thom Malone? Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. Ho, talk save us! My foos won’t moos. I feel as old as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia’s daughtersons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now! Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!

Even after this wonderful performance by the creator himself we are left unsettled. We assume that the text he read was at least his definitive text. Yet if listen attentively to the magical performance we note differences between the Faber text and the spoken performance. So, for example: 'this' is read as 'one' [213:28]; 'Gammer and gaffer' is read as 'Gaffer and gammer' [215:14]; 'Night! Night!' is not read at all [215:36].

What on Earth are we supposed to do with this damn book?


  1. ^ James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, Faber and Faber, London, 1964, p. 605f.
  2. ^ Jack P. Dalton, 'Advertisement for the Restoration', in Twelve and a Tilly: Essays on the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of 'Finnegans Wake,' edited by Jack P. Dalton and Clive Hart, 119-37. Faber, London, 1966.
  3. ^ Ubu Web from which this recording is taken also contains an interesting account by Sylvia Beach on the uphill struggle to record the master's voice.

0 Comments UTC Loaded:

Input rules for comments: No HTML, no images. Comments can be nested to a depth of eight. Surround a long quotation with curly braces: {blockquote}. Well-formed URLs will be rendered as links automatically. Do not click on links unless you are confident that they are safe. You have been warned!

Name  [max. characters: 24]
Type   into this field then press return:
Comment [max. characters: 4,000]