James Joyce, Bloomsday and onions

James Joyce, one of the controversial omission...
James Joyce, one of the controversial omissions of the Literature Prize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last Saturday Ireland celebrated Bloomsday, a day that stands out each year because of the many faces Irish people, foreign residents and visitors alike give it.

For those unknown to what Bloomsday is, Leopold Bloom is the main character in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The story was set in and around Dublin on June 16th, 1904. In 1954 Bloomsday became what it is today and Leopold Bloom and Joyce got their just rewards: a day named after them and a day to showcase the wonderful artistry of Joyce.

I’ve always admired Irish authors; they seem to have a wonderful sense of imagination, and they have the gift of putting this into words, much like the Greeks did with their myths. My love for them is old, ancient and combined with my love for literature and books; Bloomsday 2012 in the National Library of Ireland was going to be big.

And it truly was as I was reminded of why I love Ireland so much (after all, one of the reasons I wanted to live in Ireland was because of my love for its literature). Senator David Norris, once a Trinity College lecturer and a member of Seanad Éireann, has been credited with being “almost single-handedly responsible for rehabilitating James Joyce in once disapproving Irish eyes.”

David Norris holds a degree of M.A. in English Literature and Language in Trinity College and was elected a Foundation Scholar in that subject before achieving a 1st Class Moderatorship. On Bloomsday 2012 he gave a fantastic talk on James Joyce in the National Library of Ireland, something I will remember for many years to come.

The way MMrNorris talked about James Joyce was beyond good, and I had a smile on my face from the first minute he started reciting Gas from a Burner until the very last second of who and what Joyce was. How I wished Mr. Norris was one of my literature lecturers; I would hang on every word he says while enjoying the art of the written word.

There’s something heavenly about authors, and something even better about those able to perform those words. William Butler Yeats once said Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame! Somehow, his Faeries are those words, ‘the flame’ my love for Irish authors. David Norris brought me right back to when I finished collecting poems and writing them down in my poetry books: the day I moved to Ireland, now nine years and eight months ago.

This is why I am in Ireland, why I will always love Ireland and why I feel so connected to Irish life. Those authors, and those able to make their words come to life, carry my heart in their words and I carry them in my heart. Maybe I feel a little bit more connected to the Celtic Revival authors like William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and the likes of Irish myths and legends, but on Saturday the world of James Joyce was once again added to that list by a brilliant David Norris.

Having followed James Joyce’s steps through Ulysses, and now digesting places, phrases, and people, I wanted to check on my video of David Norris’ talk on Joyce in the National Library of Ireland. Mr Norris started with reciting part of “Gas from a Burner” and used Joyce’s insanely funny yet sometimes offending language, like “shite and onions” and need I say it again… the Irish have a way with words others only marvel at… they truly have the gift of the gab.

But let’s not forget Mr James Joyce, so here is “Gas from a Burner” (1912):

“Ladies and gents, you are here assembled
To hear why earth and heaven trembled
Because of the black and sinister arts
Of an Irish writer in foreign parts.
He sent me a book ten years ago.

I read it a hundred times or so,
Backwards and forwards, down and up,
Through both the ends of a telescope.
I printed it all to the very last word
But by the mercy of the Lord
The darkness of my mind was rent
And I saw the writer’s foul intent.
But I owe a duty to Ireland:
I held her honour in my hand,
This lovely land that always sent
Her writers and artists to banishment
And in a spirit of Irish fun
Betrayed her own leaders, one by one.
‘Twas Irish humour, wet and dry,
Flung quicklime into Parnell’s eye;
‘Tis Irish brains that save from doom

The leaky barge of the Bishop of Rome
For everyone knows the Pope can’t belch
Without the consent of Billy Walsh.
O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose)

To show you for strictures I don’t care a button
I printed the poems of Mountainy Mutton
And a play he wrote (you’ve read it I’m sure)

Where they talk of ‘bastard’, ‘bugger’ and ‘whore’
And a play on the Word and Holy Paul
And some woman’s legs that I can’t recall

Written by Moore, a genuine gent
That lives on his property’s ten per cent:
I printed mystical books in dozens:
I printed the table-book of Cousins
Though (asking your pardon) as for the verse
‘Twould give you a heartburn on your arse:
I printed folklore from North and South
By Gregory of the Golden Mouth:
I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm:
I printed the great John Milicent Synge
Who soars above on an angel’s wing
In the playboy shift that he pinched as swag

From Maunsel’s manager’s travelling-bag.
But I draw the line at that bloody fellow
That was over here dressed in Austrian yellow,
Spouting Italian by the hour
To O’Leary Curtis and John Wyse Power
And writing of Dublin, dirty and dear,
In a manner no blackamoor printer could bear.
Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print
The name of the Wellington Monument,
Sydney Parade and Sandymount tram,
Downes’s cakeshop and Williams’s jam?
I’m damned if I do– I’m damned to blazes!
Talk about _Irish Names of Places!_

It’s a wonder to me, upon my soul,
He forgot to mention Curly’s Hole.
No, ladies, my press shall have no share in
So gross a libel on Stepmother Erin.
I pity the poor– that’s why I took

A red-headed Scotchman to keep my book.
Poor sister Scotland! Her doom is fell;
She cannot find any more Stuarts to sell.
My conscience is fine as Chinese silk:
My heart is as soft as buttermilk.

Colm can tell you I made a rebate
Of one hundred pounds on the estimate
I gave him for his Irish Review.
I love my country– by herrings I do!

I wish you could see what tears I weep
When I think of the emigrant train and ship.
That’s why I publish far and wide
My quite illegible railway guide,
In the porch of my printing institute
The poor and deserving prostitute
Plays every night at catch-as-catch-can
With her tight-breeched British artilleryman
And the foreigner learns the gift of the gab
From the drunken draggletail Dublin drab.
Who was it said: Resist not evil?
I’ll burn that book, so help me devil.
I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn
And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn.
I’ll penance do with farts and groans
Kneeling upon my marrowbones.
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
_Memento homo_ upon my bum.”

Related articles where James Joyce is mentioned:

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

12 thoughts on “James Joyce, Bloomsday and onions

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