Tag Archives: modernism

Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 11

Painting by William Etty

Painting by William Etty

This episode corresponds to the section in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus encounters the sirens. “In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island” (Wikipedia). In Ulysses, the episode takes place inside a bar and the sirens are represented by the two barmaids, Lydia Douce and Mina Kennedy, who are very flirtatious. Joyce also incorporates themes of music and intoxication into the episode. Essentially, this is the sex and drugs and rock and roll chapter.

Joyce does something very creative at the beginning of this episode. He essentially composes an overture to the chapter. He takes snippets of text from the episode and weaves them together, creating a literary prelude of sorts. It reads like a modernist poem, and while I have not been impressed with Joyce’s poetry, I have to say that this works well for me. The actual episode begins with the word: “Begin!”

Early in the episode, Lydia and Mina are gossiping and laughing. They are immediately portrayed as sexual by their little dirty jokes.

—O saints above! Miss Douce said, sighed above her jumping rose. I wished I hadn’t laughed so much. I feel all wet.

—O, Miss Douce! Miss Kennedy protested. You horrid thing!

And flushed yet more (you horrid!), more goldenly.

(p. 260)

As the episode continues, the connection is made between music and sexual arousal. In the next passage, a tuning fork is used as a phallic symbol to reinforce the connection between music and sexuality.

From the saloon a call came, long in dying. That was a tuningfork the tuner had that he forgot that he now struck. A call again. That he now poised that it now throbbed. You hear? It throbbed, pure, purer, softly and softlier, its buzzing prongs. Longer in dying call.

(p. 264)

As Leopold Bloom sits in the bar, the combination of alcohol, music, and sexuality starts to overwhelm him. He loses himself in a flood of thoughts, memories, and fantasy caused by the environment.

Tenderness it welled: slow, swelling. Full it throbbed. That’s the chat. Ha, give! Take! Throb, a throb, a pulsing proud erect.

Words? Music? No: it’s what’s behind.

Bloom looped, unlooped, noded, disnoded.

Bloom. Flood of warm jimjam lickitup sweetness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow, invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her. Tup. Pores to dilate dilating. Tup. The joy the feel the warm the. Tup. To pour o’er sluices pouring gushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrop. Now! Language of love.

(p. 274)

Toward the end of the episode, there is a scene where Lydia is stroking the beer tap like it is a penis. This is symbolic of the connection between intoxication and succumbing to sexual temptation.

On the smooth jutting beerpull laid Lydia hand lightly, plumply, leave it to my hands. All lost in pity for croppy. Fro, to: to, fro: over the polished knob (she knows his eyes, my eyes, her eyes) her thumb and finger passed in pity: passed, repassed and, gently touching, then slid so smoothly, slowly down, a cool firm white enamel baton protruding through their sliding ring.

With a cock with a carra.

(p. 286)

When I read Ulysses for the first time in college, this was one of the episodes that really stood out for me. Probably because I played music for so many years, I really related to the musical imagery and symbolism that permeates this episode.

Next week I will cover Episode 12 which ends on page 345 with the phrase “… like a shot off a shovel.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section11.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siren_%28mythology%29

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 4 of 4: Little Gidding

FourQuartets

For my fourth and final installment on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I decided to do something a little different. For each of the first three poems, I explored some of the themes and symbolism that appeared throughout the poems. For “Little Gidding” I am going to focus on a single motif: Eliot’s impressions of the impact his poetry had on the world.

Eliot was 54 when he completed this poem in 1942. This would have been right in the midst of World War II. It is not surprising that as he was entering the later years of his life and observing the turmoil around him that he would contemplate the impact he might have had on the world as well as his contributions to humanity.

There are two sections of the poem that I want to explore. The first is within the long stanza at the end of Part II. Here, Eliot is having a conversation with himself. The elder self, having the wisdom that comes with experience, shares his insights with the younger self.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.

It appears that Eliot feels he is at the end of his creative period and that a new voice, or new poet, is needed to begin advancing the next generation. I sense a touch of sadness, but the older self is encouraging and validating, reminding himself that his words had an impact, that they have value. Eliot’s poetry can certainly “urge the mind to aftersight and foresight.” I know that whenever I have read anything by Eliot, I find myself examining my past and at the same time envisioning my future, while somehow staying centered in the present.

The other section I want to talk about appears at the beginning of Part V.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident not ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

I almost feel guilty writing about this section. It is so beautiful and honest, I feel like anything I write would fail to live up to the poetic beauty expressed here. It is the perfect description of Eliot’s poetry. When I think about all the poetry I have read by Eliot, it is true that every phrase and every sentence is just right. Every word that he chooses, whether common or formal, fits right in and does not seem out of place. The cadence of the language has an innate musicality that causes the words to dance together, bringing the poems to life. And yes, “every poem is an epitaph.” Each of his poems honors his genius and his contributions to humanity.

As a writer and a musician, I am no different from many other artists. I have no desire to become rich and powerful, but I have a humble hope that something which I create and share might have a positive impact on another person. I wish I could let Mr. Eliot know that his words have made a difference in my life.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 3 of 4: The Dry Salvages

FourQuartets

The third of the Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages,” uses water and the ocean as metaphors throughout the poem. The ocean symbolizes the collective unconscious, where our individual consciousnesses can either drift aimlessly, or merge and become part of the Universal Mind.

Eliot begins the poem by establishing a connection between water and the divine consciousness, or god. God is represented by a river, implying that a connection with god provides a pathway for our consciousnesses to flow into and merge with the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, we have allowed our obsession with science and technology to interfere with our ability to connect with the “river god.”

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Eliot then makes the connection between our consciousness and the collective. In keeping with Eastern mystical traditions, it is described as being with us and at the same time around us. It is what connects us to the world around us, as well as to all creation.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:

(Lines 15 – 18)

In the second section of the poem, humans are depicted as lost and adrift in the sea of consciousness. Our psyches have become fragmented and we are like the wreckage of ships tossed aimlessly, instead of voyagers navigating the realm of the divine consciousness.

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,

(Lines 79 – 82)

JMW Turner

JMW Turner

Later in the poem, Eliot attempts to describe the connection between the individual and the collective consciousnesses, but admits that it is something beyond verbal expression.

I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:

(Lines 96 – 100)

For me, the final stanza, which comprises the entire fifth section, is the most fascinating. Here, Eliot describes our interest in the mystical arts as an attempt to guide us through the turbulent sea of consciousness.

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams;

(Lines 184 – 194)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

While I personally do not think this poem is as great as the first two in the book, it is still a very good poem and worth taking the time to read. There is quite a bit more in there that I didn’t cover but could certainly be explored, such as the metaphor of the train symbolizing our movement from past to future, as well as some interesting allusions to Christian and Eastern mysticism. Again, it’s definitely worth reading.

Look for Part 4—“Little Gidding”—soon.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 1 of 4: Burnt Norton

FourQuartets

I read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets early on in college and really didn’t grasp it. I think the fact that I read it on my own and not as part of a class was what made it difficult for me to grasp. Anyway, I decided to read the collection of poems again and to write about them one at a time. So this is my first of four posts on the Four Quartets.

“Burnt Norton” is a poem about time, essentially, the cycle of time and how the past and the future relate to the present. I found it to be very spiritual and it seems to me that Eliot was drawing inspiration from Eastern religions. The language and the metaphors he uses conjured images of a mandala, where the present is the center and the past and future revolve around, folding into and out from the central point.

Mandala

From the poem’s opening lines, you immediately get the sense that time is not linear.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

There is a definite impression that everything that ever was and everything that will come into being already exists in the now. Time is relative to our point of existence in the universe. The infinity of possibilities extends in every direction, emanating from our point in space.

Since time and possibility surrounding us is infinite, there is no way that our consciousness can grasp its depth. As Eliot expresses in the following lines, we are only able to grasp an infinitesimal amount of reality, and that is symbolized by the present.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(Lines 42 – 46)

Since we cannot fully grasp the past or the future, since both are infinite, all we can do is focus on the present. The only thing we can grasp completely is the moment in which we exist. In order to do this, one must still the mind, as expressed in the following lines.

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
T be conscious is to not be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbor where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

(Lines 82 – 89)

So in order to become fully conscious, we must transcend time. The way that we transcend time is through meditation. When we enter a deep meditative state, time is no longer linear. Everything exists within the single moment of our awakened consciousness. At that point, the past and the future become one with the present in our psyches. This is the only way that we can truly comprehend time and existence.

Later in the poem, Eliot offers a great description of how it feels to enter the deep meditative state.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

(Lines 114 – 126)

As I read these lines, I recalled experiences I have had while meditating. There is a sense that you lose touch with the world around you, and yet, at the same time, you are fully connected with the world and with all existence within that one moment. It is something that is very hard to describe because it transcends our ordinary reality. The closest you can come to expressing that feeling is through poetry, and Eliot does a great job here.

There is much more to this poem than what I have covered here; for example, I noticed symbolism of time as an eternal circle which I personally associate with the ourosboros. In addition, the number 10 appears in the poem which for me is a very mystical number. Finally, there are references to various Eastern and Western mystic traditions. Any of these could be explored deeper in another post. But I will leave some for you to explore. I encourage you to read this poem, even if you have read it before. It is deeply spiritual and profoundly inspiring.

Look for Part 2—“East Coker”—soon.

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