Monday, 11 November 2013

A Phoenix Park Nocturne

When it comes to describing dusk and nightfall, nobody can beat James Joyce. Dusks run through all of Joyce's books, beginning with his 1905 short story, Araby:

When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.

This is how Joyce wrote the Wake!
By the time Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake, his eyesight was so bad that his daylight had become twilight, and he needed to wear a white jacket to reflect what light there was onto his paper (left). You can't help finding this growing blindness in the book's dusks ('my sights are swimming thicker on me by the shadows of this place' 215.09). 

Dusks can be found on pages 158 ('Ah dew! It was so duusk that the tears of night began to fall') and 213-6 ('Look, look, the dusk is growing!'). But my favourite one is on pages 244-6. Joyce called this 'A Phoenix Park Nocturne.'

It was also one of Joyce's favourites. In 1938, when the Greek
emigré Tériade (Stratis Eleftheriades) asked him for a piece for his avant-garde art review, Verve, Joyce gave him the Nocturne. Here's the cover, by Georges Braque.

Verve Vol 1, No 2, March-June 1939

I've tweaked my photos to make them look  nocturnal!
'A Phoenix Park Nocturne' is a lyrical description of night falling on the park, where the birds in the trees and the exotic animals in the park zoo are saying their prayers and settling down for their night. It takes place during the first part of the night, which the Romans called 'Conticinium' (the time when all becomes still).  
The central theme is of growing silence and peace.

So it's very different from the noisy nightfall at the end of the Anna Livia chapter, where the washerwomen's voices are drowned out by the sound of rushing waters and the 'bawk of bats'. There are no bats in 'A Phoenix Park Nocturne', and the river is still and silent.

Soon after the Nocturne was published in Verve, Joyce met the Swiss critic, Jacques Mercanton, who was planning to write about 'Work in Progress'.

'Since I had made known to him my wish to study in detail, as an example, one page from 'Work in Progress', he proposed the admirable fragment just published by the art review Verve, 'A Phoenix Park Nocturne', promising at the same time to help my enterprise....He told me about new difficulties with his editor, objectively moreover, knowing full well that his book was a monster. Yet that monster was his only pleasure, and his face brightened as he explained the meanings of the words in the passage he had proposed I should study.'  

Jacques Mercanton, The Hours of James Joyce, 1963

Joyce provided detailed notes on the passage, which Mercanton published as 'L'Esthetique de Joyce' in Études de Lettres, Lausanne XIII 39-40. You can read them in the original French, in Roland McHugh's Annotations to Finnegans Wake. I remember being astonished, and dismayed by some of these notes when I first read them in the 1980s. You'll see what I mean shortly!

Before the Nocturne begins, there's a prelude, which you should read aloud. In fact William York Tindall writes that the whole Nocturne 'calls for reading aloud, in a small tiled room, preferably' (A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake). 

Here Joyce describes the moon rising, the bells of the church ringing a curfew, and the children, who have been playing games outside the pub, called home.  The moon is combined with the evening lamplighter who, in Joyce's day, lit each gas lamp individually. In the dusk episode of Ulysses, Nausicaa, a lamplighter is described 'going his rounds'.

The bells would be those of St Laurence's Church, the village church of Chapelizod, which is a key Wake location. It's the church in Sheridan LeFanu's novel, The House by the Churchyard. We visited it last month and were disappointed to find it locked.

Below we come to the famous opening of the Nocturne, and Joyce's first explanatory note to Mercanton.

Thanks to Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon's magnificent James Joyce Digital Archive, we know that in 1932  Joyce originally wrote, 'It darkles all this our fun nominal world.' Follow the Nocturne grow through several levels, as Joyce adds extra meanings.

The most mysterious thing here is (tinct tint) - added to the Galleys in 1938. Joyce's explanation of this was 'Gradual disappearance of the light - tinct losing the c - and the sound of the bells which grow weaker.'  So the theme of falling silent is introduced by the fading sound of tinct tint.

I couldn't see how the loss of the letter 'c' meant 'disappearance of the light', until I read the suggestion, in fweet, that 'c' is a play on 'see'! We lose our ability to see as it darkens. Was Joyce really making puns on individual letters?

'Our funnanimal world' playing with phenomenal, fun and animals is a lovely phrase. On another occasion, Joyce told Mercanton that the central meaning of his book was that 'history repeats itself comically; this is our funnanimal world.' 

We are surrounded by obscurity/darkness, and men and wild animals are cold, wishing not to be doing anything. People are indoors keeping warm by the fire. Zoo koud! is 'so cold' in Dutch, and introduces the Phoenix Park Zoo. Joyce's note on Drr, deff... was 'deaf old man put coal on the fire and busy woman of the house sees that it catches fire.'  There are also Deucalion and Pyrrha, Mr and Mrs Noah in Greek myth, in deff, coal, lay on and pyrress.
Joyce told Mercanton that Nancy Hands was 'a pub in Dublin with an echo of Anna Livia in it.' It's on the eastern side of Phoenix Park.

The wolf with his lolling ears has fled (Isengrim is the wolf in Reynard the Fox). Fare well!

Joyce's note here is: 'Gill: name of the person who attacks the hero, HCE; he drops pebbles from his pocket to mark the road: allusion to the legend of Deucalion and Pyrrha.'

Gill is the name of the cad with a pipe whose encounter with HCE in the park on p.35-7 leads to the hero's public disgrace. There's no mention there of Gill dropping any pebbles, but he does leave a trail of dandruff! (one could hound him out had one hart to for the montucules of scalp and dandruff droppings blaze his trail 37.10).  Here are Deucalion and Pyrrha again. In Greek myth, after the flood, they created a new race of humans by throwing pebbles behind them.

The craggy road for rambling echoes the song 'The Rocky Road to Dublin', sung here by Luke Kelly of the Dubliners and here, by Shane MacGowan of my favourite band, The Pogues.

Stephen thinks of the song in the 'Nestor' episode of Ulysses too:

Lal the ral the ra.
The rocky road to Dublin.

A gruff squire on horseback with shiny topboots. Soft day, sir John. Soft day, your honour... Day... Day... Two topboots jog dangling on to Dublin. Lal the ral the ra, lal the ral the raddy.

The next bit looks up at the night sky. The craggy road for rambling leads Joyce to think of the Milky Way, which has not yet appeared through starland, but the moon is there:

Nor yet through starland that silver sash. Joyce's note 'appearing in the sky under the aspect of the Milky Way; the milky road to Juno'.
What era's o'ering? Lang gone late. Joyce's note:, 'What astronomical hour is it?...It is long past eight.'
Say long, scielo! Sillume, see lo! Selene, sail O! Amune! Joyce wrote, 'Three phrases announce it is quarter to nine' ('neuf heurs moins un quart').
See lo! - the Italian 'cielo' (sky). 
Selene, sail O! is the moon (Selene is the Greek name for the moon and its goddess). So the capital 'O' is an image of the Moon.

Selene, the horned moon goddess, on a Roman sarcophagus
Thomas Moore has an Irish Melody 'Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark'  

Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark
Where'er blows the welcome wind,
It cannot lead to scenes more dark,
More sad than those we leave behind. 

All of Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies are in the Wake.

Amune! Ark!? Noh?! 'A moon! Is it Noah's Ark?! No?!' - there because of the animals theme, and the references to Pyrrha and Deucalion.
According to Roland McHugh, Jacob Bryant, the early mythographer, identified Noah's Ark with the new moon.
Another note from Joyce, 'The moon and the stars...their luminous barques.'
There's also the Egyptian Barque of the god Amun (Amune! Ark?!), in which the statue of the god was carried in processions. The Egyptians imagined their gods crossing the night sky in barques like this.

Next is a beautiful passage, describing the total peace that falls on the park's wild animals.  This one is another great one to read aloud. 

I don't know what Quiet takes back her folded fields means, but it's a lovely phrase. To me it suggests that the day has been folded up, like sheets, and put away by the night.

Roland McHugh has identified imbraced, alleged, injoynted and unlatched as medieval terms for carving various birds.

Joyce provided an extraordinary note on the ‘ii’ at the end:  ‘two little birds, male and female, release their little prayers, the two dots on the i's.’

So here Joyce is using his letters as pictures! It was this that suggested to me that the capital O in Selene, sail O! is a picture of the Moon.

When I first read this note, I was astonished by the genius of a writer who could look at a letter and see it as a picture of a bird praying (and Joyce said he had no imagination!). But I was also dismayed to realise that I would only ever understand a fraction of what he intended. How many other letters in Finnegans Wake are also pictures?!

A fallow deer stag in the Phoenix Par
Lower down the page, we move to the zoo, where we find the lion and tiger going to sleep. 

Joyce explained
Lord the Laohun is sheutseuyes to Mercanton: 'Laohun, 'the tiger' in Chinese, and Sheutseuyes, the lion, which is much less ferocious in Asia and is said to have its eyes almost always closed. Joyce, stumbling among the pebbles on the shore, closed his eyes' (The Hours of James Joyce).

By the way, the Phoenix Park Zoo is famous for its success at breeding lions. Slats, the first lion used as the MGM mascot, was born here in 1919.

Now conticinium....The time of lying together will come and the wildering of the nicht till cockeedoodle aubens Aurore.

These are the Four Roman Watches, or divisions, of the Night, whose names were given by Macrobius as Conticinium (growing quiet/still), Concubium (lying down), Intempesta Nox (Dead of Night) and Gallicinum (cockcrow). You can also find these at 143.16: 

comesilencers to comeliewithhers and till intempestuous Nox should catch the gallicry and spot lucan’s dawn.

Like the birds, the animals in the zoo are saying their prayers.

Here we've got Joyce's last note to Mercanton. Panther Monster is a prayer 'addressed to the ancestral monster' - in other words, a prayer said by the zoo animals to their god!

Panther monster. Send leabarrow loads amorrow is a play on 'Pater Noster' (Our Father) and 'sed libera nos a malo' (but deliver us from evil' in the Lord's Prayer)

Panther: There was a widespread Jewish and pagan belief that Jesus Christ's true father was a Roman centurion called Panthera. So this is a blasphemous joke - Jesus saying 'Our Father' would be addressing Panthera.

The elephant has fallen silent - he has finished singing his trumpeting/ triumphant song of 'Great is the Elephant of the Big Teeth'. Siang is 'elephant' in Burmese, and elephas and magistrodontos mean 'elephant' and 'big teeth' in Greek. After kneeling to say his pious prayers for his fellow beasts, the Behemoth and the Mammoth, he will rest from the 'tusker toils' of the day. Lovely!

Here's a photo I took of a modern elephant in the Phoenix Park zoo in 2010. Imagine him kneeling to say his prayers.

Phoenix Park Zoo rhinos

Listing the inhabitants of the zoo which have fallen silent, Joyce quotes another great list maker, Francois Rabelais, in Thomas Urquhart's translation of Gargantua and Pantagruel. It's from the account of a philosopher who retreats from the world, but is unable to find peace because of the racket from all the animals:

'nuzzing of camels, wheening of whelps, buzzing of dromedaries, mumbling of rabbits, cricking of ferrets, humming of wasps, mioling of tigers, bruzzing of bears, sussing of kitlings, clamouring of scarfs, whimpering of fulmarts, booing of buffaloes, warbling of nightingales, quavering of mavises, drintling of turkeys, coniating of storks, frantling of peacocks, clattering of magpies, murmuring of stock-doves, crouting of cormorants, cigling of locusts, charming of beagles, guarring of puppies, snarling of messens, rantling of rats, guerieting of apes, snuttering of monkeys...' 

That's from a much longer list, which you can read here. I wonder why Joyce chose the beagles and not the buffaloes or bears...

This bit describes Irish lightships and lighthouses being illuminated around the coast. arcglow's seafire siemens: E & W Siemens fitted out the lighthouse at Arklow. The Tuskar ('tusker toils') is another Irish lighthouse.

Elsewhere, Joyce associates nightfall with the Irish lighthouses and lightships. At the end of Anna Livia, one of the washerwomen says, '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?' (215.01). In Nausicaa, Bloom sees the Bailey lighthouse on Howth head and thinks, 'Howth. Bailey light. Two, four, six, eight, nine. See. Has to change or they might think it a house. Wreckers. Grace Darling. People afraid of the dark. Also glowworms, cyclists: lightingup time. Jewels diamonds flash better. Light is a kind of reassuring.'

Hung maid mohns are bluming is from  another Thomas Moore ballad, 'The Young May Moon, She's Beaming, Love.'

We move south from the park to the River Liffey, where the little fishes (pesciolines) have finished hearing their bedtime stories and gone to sleep.

They've stopped arguing about Jonah and the Whale and Papal Infallibility and the Procession of the Holy Ghost (the bonkers theological controversy which caused the great split between the Eastern and Western Churches, and which is often mentioned in the Wake).

In the second sentence, Joyce is saying that if a tramp ('liobar na bóthair' in Irish) laid his ear to the river, save for the din going on in his own mind, he would not hear a flip flap in all Finnyland - because the fish have all fallen asleep! I love that image of a tramp listening to the river.  

Back to the park, we look forward from Conticinium to the second Watch of the Night, Concubium, the 'time of lying together'. Lovers are arriving, and the silence of the First Watch is broken.

Darkpark's acoo with sucking loves. 

The dark park echoes with kissing lovers cooing like doves. 'Sucking dove' jumped into my head. I googled it and found that it's a quotation from A Midsummer Night's Dream, where Bottom says, 'I will aggravate my voice so that I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you an ’twere any nightingale.'

Rosimund's by her wishing well.  

Rosamund's pond in St James's Park London, was a rendezvous for lovers and a place where jilted lovers committed suicide, until it was filled in 1770.

Soon tempt-in-twos will stroll at venture and hunt-by-threes strut musketeering. Brace of girdles, brasse of beauys.

Soon the two temptresses and three musketeers hunting for sex (witnesses of HCE's sin in the park on page 34) will be strolling and strutting. The Phoenix Park at night was a popular place for lovers. This reminds me of another night scene in the park, in Joyce's Chapelizod story, A Painful Case:

When he gained the crest of the Magazine Hill he halted and looked along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which burned redly and hospitably in the cold night. He looked down the slope and, at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair.

Joyce often uses repeated rhythmic motifs in the Wake - something familiar for the baffled reader to grasp hold of. There are more than a thousand of them in the book, catalogued by Clive Hart in Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake.

There are two motifs here.

Brace of girdles, brasse of beauys. With the width of the way for jogjoy

A description of the two girls and three soldiers, whose rhythm can be found here:

'a roof for may and a reef for hugh butt under his bridge suits tony' 6.06
'Sudds for me and supper for you and the doctor's bill for Joe John.' 215.17
'A palashe for hirs, a saucy for hers and ladlelike spoons for the wonner' 246.14
'Oil for meed and toil for feed and a walk with the band for Job Loos.' 448.21
'Her sheik to Slave, his dick to Dave and the fat of the land to Guygas.' 494.26
'cuffs for meek and chokers for sheek and a kink in the pacts for namby' 614.06

Dithering dathering waltzers of. Stright!

A water motif which echoes the last words of the Anna Livia chapter: 'Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!' 216.04. Like a musical leitmotif, it summons up Anna Livia. Here are the other appearances:

'wasching the walters of, the weltering walters off. Whyte.' 64.20
'and watch her waters of her sillying waters of' 74.29
'arride the winnerful wonders off, the winnerful wonnerful wanders off' 265.15
'baffling with the walters of, hoompsydoompsy walters of. High!' 373.06
'Amingst the living waters of, the living in giving waters of. Tight!' 462.04

Hulkers cieclest elbownunsense is HCE, which brings us to his pub.

And if you wend your way to the Liffey, wanderer, you'll find a warm welcome in the pub. 

You took with the mulligrubs and we lack mulsum? Mulligrubs is an old word for depression, 'mulsum' is a Roman drink mixing wine and honey. In other words, there's no need to feel depressed while the pub is supplied with booze.  'What, are you sick of the mulligrubs' is from Sheridan LeFanu's The House by the Churchyard, where it is a quotation from Swift's Polite Conversation.

Why did he choose 'mulligrubs' and 'mulsum'? Because the pub is the Mullingar Inn!

You'll find 'dapplebellied mugs and troublebedded rooms and sawdust strown in expectoration.' Those '-ation' words characterise the twelve drinkers in HCE's pub.

So the Nocturne ends with the pub, the setting of the following two chapters of the book.

You don't need to know any of the above to enjoy 'A Phoenix Park Nocturne'. Joyce once said of Finnegans Wake, 'It's pure music', and many of his techniques, such as the use of leitmotifs, are musical. 'Nocturne' is a term borrowed from music. Just read it aloud and let the music take you.

After reading the Nocturne, in Verve, the Russian composer, Arthur Lourié (1892-1966), an emigré in Paris, was inspired to write a piece of piano music dedicated 'to the memory of James Joyce'. Lourié would missed many of the references, but he loved Joyce's prose.

If you google 'A Phoenix Park Nocturne', you're more likely to find Arthur Lourié's music than Finnegans Wake. Listen to it played by Shawn Heller and imagine night falling on a park in Dublin.



  1. The pianist is Shawn Heller. Afshin Farzadfar recorded it. Thanks anyways for the post. Cheers!

    1. Sorry for the mistake, Shawn, which I've now corrected. You play it beautifully!