Who Goes with Fergus? . . .

Mulligan idly sings a few lines of ‘Who Goes with Fergus?’ This sets Stephen careening.

It was a song from Yeats’ play The Countess Cathleen. The countess sells her soul that her people might not starve.   The song is sung to comfort her.

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

by W. B. Yeats

Along with Bloom’s recalling the sentimental favorite “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and the ad jingle for Plum’s Potted Meat (think Spam!) run throughout Ulysses.  They are magical.

How beautiful.  How appropriate for touching off a scene of mourning.  Stephen internally moves among many sections of it.  “Love’s bitter mystery”.  I know the song only from the youTube video above.  It is what we think of when we hear Irish bagpipes and penny whistles.

This poem is essential because it evokes, in Stephen, a very stirring internal scene of deep mourning for his mother.  For practical purposes, Joyce has assumed that all Irish readers would know this poem, and that the evocation might work for them smoothly.  Most Americans are ready to throw the book out by this very same  time, claiming grave irreconcilable cultural differences.

In those few dozen lines that start and end this scene, I count eight or more curiosities that I would need explaining, and most of those are in Stephen’s internal monologue.

I started underlining some of the text and adding comments that would appear as rollovers.  In chapter 1, Ulysses adds his internal monlogues gently, I feel.  But without descriptions of where we’re at or who these folks are, I’m lost.  It’s been a long time.  The first seven or eight time I drove through hell for leather.  Now I want to feel what makes chapter 1 great.

Since our ancient hunter-gatherer heritage relied on narrative to make their puny captures seem grand (“and that was the mammoth that got away”) and their brutish lives grander, we cannot easily walk without that structure.  I was walking around saying “Narrative is the longline of our lives” without any real idea what I was saying.

Then, it hit me, Narrative truly is that longline for approaching Ulysses, no matter what anyone tells you.  As you as you lose that longline, you are lost.

There is much straightforward narrative in chapter 1–probably all the way to Scilla & Charybdis and Wandering Rocks.  The advantages of digital media is that I can gray out large, large sections of text.  There was not the equivalent years ago.

So, I set the highlight tool to a nice dark gray that would fit Stephen’s mood, but that would still leave his interior monologue visible.  All else was gravy.  I, if I ever teach Joyce, can now ask my students to READ THE NARRATIVE once through–the longline..  Let us then discuss.  Then let’s read once again–this time reading the grayed out stuff that intrigues us.

One can easily summarize the narrative part of the text.  I quickly marked up all chapters up to Scylla & Charybdis.  Past that–there be monsters.  Calypso, Bloom’s first appearance, is downright hilariously brief.  It could take the fear out of any student to read only his making breakfast and his walking and back from the butcher’s.

We’ve gotta strategy going.  I still need to annotate, but I recognize that not everything needs explansion, even for a Protestant and Unitarian American like myself, who can no longer read a word of Latin–and who has never heard the Vulgate Mass.

Not every odd reference needs explaining.  Some do.  As I pumped through the pages, I was starting to feel viscerally not only the deep depression of Stephen but also the blasphemy of Malachi.  Honestly, Buck was making me squemish.  I had never felt that before.

There are a few moments in chapter 1, where we feel–or ought to feel–Stephen’s mourning for his mother.  Exhibit one is Malachi’s singing lines from “Who Goes with Fergus?”  This triggers a sweet and sad and finally frightening fugue state in Stephen’s.  It is most definitely worth the time to place any important explication pop-outs and comments that can unobtrusively lead one down Stephen’s personal Hades.  And if I miss some good lines, so be it.

I think I’ve done well for a draft.  Rather than going straight on to do the same, I would like to gray down the interior monologue in each chapter.  Narrative is the clothesline.  We blindly follow that and attempt to describe and feel with all our scenses.  If blinded as you are, your whole body draws through the experience of the what’s hanging there.  Bedsheets, pillowcases, and Victoria’s Secret stuff . . .  How did that get in there?

Lingerie aside, I believe that any teacher must condition the student for plummeting those depths with Stephen.  I don’t believe in just a citation somewhere else to “Who Goes with Fergus?”.  I give the whole sad song, with some information about the play.  How beautiful, how sad.  You know why Stephen would sink like a stone.  But he doesn’t, because of the thoughtlessly cruel Malachai.  I would cite every line of Stephen’s in exchange for long stretches of Malachai being a bozo.


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