Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now.
James Joyce, Ulysses
I’ve played a little game while in Dublin on and off over the span of 10 days. Could I spot the same person in a different place separated by any small length of time? There was only one chap, a Dubliner whom I recognized from a neighborhood pub on Parnell Street walking through a different corner a few days later. He was described by the bartender as an “(adjective withheld) lunatic”.
In Ulysses, you are introduced to over 200 characters, many of them overlapping throughout the unfolding events of June 16, 1904. A principle theme driving the plot is wondering about the chance encounter between the two main characters: Steven Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Stephen, like Joyce is a sensitive and gifted young man who lacks an older mentor and guide. Leopold is an equally sensitive and reflective older man who carries the consequences of estrangement and grief from the loss of his own son due to a premature death.
Throughout the novel, the son in search of a father-figure and the forlorn father in search of a son provides the tension of several near-misses until at the exhausting day’s end, they meet and carry forward the culminating interaction the reader has been waiting to experience with them.
I suppose this Dublin is still around for those who travel in familiar circles. I’ve enjoyed meeting many locals who pride themselves on the importance of extending kindness and hospitality as cardinal virtues. Whether inside the busy metropolis of Ireland’s largest and most diverse city or out in the beautiful countryside, the people I’ve met are some of the friendliest ever encountered.
David, an 84 year-old Jungian psychoanalyst from London has been regularly coming to Dublin for over 50 years to celebrate Bloomsday. He spoke of the city’s familiarity, well-known buildings along recognizable streets. The celebrations of Ulysses are still on-going. The life-blood of River Liffey still pours essential vitality into the heart of Dublin and Ireland herself. There was a great deal of celebratory joy in his annual pilgrimage to this Irish capital.
But it is seldom you hear English spoken upon the streets or in the buses and trams of the busy city. It seems this development has been occurring over the past 20 years. Dublin is an incredibly diverse city, more so than any I can ever remember visiting. Such complexity is a powerful challenge for any city. Most I spoke with considers it valuable. “It makes us more tolerant,” reflected one Irishman in his mid-60s. Another, in high-government challenged me when I said I was adjusting to being in a foreign country. “No!” he gently chastised me, “You are in my country and I am not calling you a guest, but a friend. You are in another part of your home.”
Lookout for the Irish. They have been at the intersection of migration and hosptiality for thousands of years. They were the first city in Europe to affirm same-sex marriage. They are extremely kind to the millions of tourists who come their way from every corner of the globe. They are a shining model of what a world of welcome, freedom and inclusion might be.
The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind.
James Joyce, Ulysses
This past week offered an incredibly wonderful unique occasion for myself and my two sons. As young adults with busy lives and often thousands of miles between us, we were together sharing Ireland memories for almost four days. Our trip included the Guinness Storehouse, the amazing 9th Century Book of Kells under the Long Room at Trinity College, enjoying the food and people throughout Dublin’s busy streets and sidewalks and taking quite a dubious, anxious and all-around thrilling adventure driving through the Wicklow mountains.
Every moment is unique, fewer still those we might call special.
Joyce’s Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904, but was written throughout the First World War and the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. Looking back through the benefits of history, we read about the ordinary lives of over 200 Dublin characters and how radically their lives are certain to change in the 10 – 15 years coming.
The same can be said for us. The winds of history and circumstance can turn in a moment. The slow, steady and relentless march of time waits for no one. It just keeps moving and we are constantly left wondering how to find ourselves at peace within it.
It’s time for some new definitions. Every moment might be unique, but any day there is shelter, food, companionship, and a meaning we can gather from the seemingly capriciousness of life is, indeed, very special.
I will treasure the time I shared with my sons in Ireland. It was exceptional. And so too, this moment of reflection, memory and gratitude.
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”
― Henry Ward Beecher
Near the current place I’m staying are the ruins from the St. Jude Church of Ireland. Built in 1864, this building was sold in the 1980’s and demolished before the end of the decade. All that remains is the impressive spire in Early English Gothic Style. While there remains a hint of the building’s majestic status, a closer inspection at ground level reveals cheap boarded up entrances, gapping holes, trash, graffiti and an iron fence toped with rusty spikes. From a distance, it looks grand. Closer up, it’s pretty spooky.
A little further down the road stands the infamous Kilmainham Gaol (or Jail). It was the site of numerous abuses, but is best known as the location for the imprisonment, torture and execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising by their British overlords. Today, tour buses line up as folks traveling from all over the world come to visit its hallowed grounds. And yet, across the street is a brand-new Hilton Hotel. As I ate dinner overlooking these two sites, I thought about how strange these neighbors, once you remove the 100 years separating them. At one time prisoners sat in darkness, isolation, hungry, thirst and fear as they awaited interrogation, torture and eventual death. Now, across the street folks sleep in comfortable beds and start their day with the convenience of a good night’s rest, a hearty Irish breakfast and a bevy of taxis to take them wherever they would like to go.
Things change. Times change. But do people? Are we stuck in an endless loop? Creating the same problems over and over again, refusing to learn our history lessons, distrusting one another, chasing power and seeking domination over one another, fearing one another, turning a blind eye to oppression, especially if we are not threatened and waiting for a few courageous souls to finally say enough!
The 1916 rebellion organized and planned by Padraic Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke and others was badly received by the Irish public they had hoped to liberate. Upon their surrender, they were jeered and spat upon because of their failure and the blame placed at their feet for the destruction that had been caused by the overwhelming British force employed to squash them.
But, once they were in custody, it was their unfair and inhumane treatment, secret trial, and quick execution that turned the mood of the public to reflect more deeply upon the common plight they all shared for freedom and the necessity of joining a resistance movement that would eventually produce greater liberation and create the Republic of Ireland.
The struggle of freedom still continues. Brexit threatens the hard-won easing of tensions from the last generation in North Ireland. I believe the humanitarian needs of the immigration and asylum issues occurring at our southern border and our slow, callouss and indifferent response to them will one day prove as shameful as any chapter in American history. Brown and black- skinned Americans are still detained, arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than demographics should allow. Women continue to earn less for equal work done by male counterparts. Over 60 percent of LGBTQ youth deal with depression due to past experiences of bullying, rejection of family and friends, and a hopelessness about their future.
The Republic of Ireland’s flag speaks to a new hope. One side is green representing Irish nationalism and their Catholic faith. The other side is orange representing the Protestant influence mostly from the British. The white in the middle represents the peace that now exists between them. May we not tire in the struggle for freedom and work toward the resolutions that are so possible and yet elusive in the midst of all our challenges.
I can’t get these compelling images by Turkish photographer Uğur Gallenkuş out of my head, and hope not to. As I travel and take advantage of the privilege this world has offered me, all these members and those they represent from the masses of struggling humanity are never far from my thoughts nor my willingness to help when I can, as I can.
Every sentence in ‘Ulysses’ has more than one meaning and sometimes many meanings.
And a great burden was upon his back.
Pilgrim’s Progress (p. 1)
It was early in the reading of Ulysses, barely through the first 10 pages, when I stumbled upon the Fergus’ poem referenced in the last blog. Only three lines from the poem would be included when it was sung by Mulligan descending the Martello stairwell midway through the first chapter. I was hooked. I wanted to know more.
The first bit of help came from Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated. There I learned about the poem’s inclusion in the play the Countess Cathleen, and became acquainted with its actual short length, only two short stanzas in a simple ABC rhythmic progression. I also discovered its author was the legendary Irish poet, and 1923 recipient for the Nobel Prize in Literature, W.B. Yeats.
My journey with Joyce had barely begun and I was on the short end of the knowledge I craved. It would begin by scrambling to figure out who exactly is Fergus? And what is a “brazen car?” And what event or lesson is being referenced for our consideration?
And like the many paths you are lead to follow while reading Ulysses, it’s easy to burn through several afternoons trying to run down all the leads. Allow me save you some time on this one. If you try to google “brazen cars,”on Youtube, you’ll end up with an assortment of videos showing “brazen car thieves” (This one may have been my favorite waste of time).
If you have kids or grandkids, you may recognize the name Fergus, as in Fergus the traction train from the popular Thomas and Friends children’s stories. For those trying to remember, he’s the one who speaks with a persistent cough because of his dusty work upon the rails. These stories have been around a long time, since 1945. Yet, they are at least 50 years too late for my interests. Another dead-end.
But my Youtube search was not totally worthless. I did unearth a few excellent resources on The History of the Celts from Archeologist Barry Cunliffe. Who knew they may have originated from middle Europe, rather than Ireland?
Next, I turned to the online digital library known as JTSOR (I was still able to access it through my old Lexington Theological Library ID card, score!) and found a couple of very interesting articles onYeats and The Countess Cathleen (I’ve updated the bibliography posted on May 13, 2019).
If you’re curious, I also consulted Wikipedia. But at first, I found some of their material more confusing than straightforward and wondered in the back of my mind if there needed to be a little more confirmation from at least one or two other sources.
I had more luck tracking down Fergus by turning to Irish mythology. Once you wade through the nearly ridiculous and stereotypical renditions from Disney Studios’ production of Brave, you’ll learn how he was a great mythical King with a collection of grand sagas and a host of (what we call today) “complicated” relationships.
But there’s more than one Fergus. Which one was right? Wikipedia helped me identify a spurious series of anywhere from 37 to 45 different Scottish Kings who supposedly linked a Fergus I with a Fergus II, separated by a span of 700 years and ending in the 6th Century. Believed authentic throughout the 12-18th Centuries, this “genealogical myth” proudly boasted the Fergus name.
But, it was all later proved to be counterfeit. Nothing more than a perpetuated lie designed for bragging rights of the supremacy of the Scottish over their English and Irish neighbors.
At this point, the best I can gather is how Yeats was referring to Fergus mac Roich or mac Roig, or mac Rossa, or maybe Mor mac Eirc, son of Erc the legendary king of Dal Riata, linked to the Fergus II from the 6th Century referenced above (yes, it all gets rather confusing).
This Fergus, according to legend, was part of the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology featuring stories of murder, betrayal, family in-fighting, regional wars, greed, brutality, sexual prowess, and other hijinks to rival your favorite episode of Game of Thrones. They are also stories of courage, conquest, daring and honor.
Fergus is tricked out of his kingship by his wife, Ness and her son, Conchobar who was a small child at the time of the deception. In the capable hands of his maneuvering Mother, Conchobar wins the support of the Ulster elite ousting Fergus who eventually forms an alliance (romantic and political) with their rival adversary, the married Queen Madh. The “bad blood” continues when Conchobar, now all grow-up tricks Fergus again and an epic battle ensues involving Fergus against his nephew, the esteemed Cuchulainn, an Irish version of the great Hercules.
But where are the “brazen cars” in this folklore? Again, I don’t know exactly but remember this clue. Fergus took refuge in the woods during the times he was shunned or banished. Looking again at the poem might suggest how he made the best of his situation and took as much authority within the “shadow of the wood” as the mastery he had when in command of his own chariot. The question is sharpened. “Who Goes with Fergus?” Anyone willing to come face to face with their displacement in order to find a deeper sense of purpose and self-identity.
This is the truth that eludes Buck Mulligan, but will direct both Stephen Dedalus, and his eventual friend and surrogate father-figure, Leopold Bloom.
Which leads us around the long way to the true point of describing my search for Fergus. Reading Ulysses, the epic account of the thoughts, experiences and ramblings from one single day, is in itself, an elaborate journey offering multiple layers of perpetual discovery. It’s possible to go off in hundreds of different directions, just from the wealth found on one page, or in this case, from one single line.
In my searching, I did find an incredible online project that was began in 1990, just after the introduction of HTML script. The Joyce Project features every word of Ulysses in an online format. Compiled by a team of 14 different contributors it offers a color-coded guide of the many reference points available on the 750 plus pages within this incredibly dense book. In order to give you a sense of the depth you are invited to dive into and the paths you can travel with Ulysses, here’s a copy of their expansive categories.
Green links (Ireland) refer to Irish history, politics, customs, language, humor, religion, mythology, economics, industry, geography, modes of transportation, flora, fauna, and weather.
Orange links (Literature) signal allusions to published texts including poetry, fiction, drama, critical essays, history, philosophy, scripture, theology, science, biography, hagiography, travelogues, and newspapers.
Brown links (Dublin) point to landforms like the river and bay, the built environment such as streets, canals, buildings, bridges, trams, and statues, cultural ephemera such as money, and civic institutions.
Purple links (Performances) indicate notes about songs, operas, oratorios, stage plays, nursery rhymes, speeches, recitations, advertising pitches, prayers, liturgical rites, performative social gestures, and impromptu clowning.
Red links (The Body) encompass anatomy, sexuality, childbirth, eating, drinking, excretion, clothes, personal accessories, disease, death, medicines, poisons, the physiology of emotion, the vagaries of memory, mental illness, and dreams.
Blue links (The Writer) address narrative styles, techniques, revisions, and effects, as well as textual variants, aesthetic theories, and the shaping of real lives into fictional ones.
Like my journey with Fergus, Joyce’s Ulysses opens up strange, perplexing and occasional directions of clarity and eventual insight. And there are more helps available, like here with images associated from the book and this news of other projects from an article in the New York Times. Again, quoting from the Joyce Project:
Nearly every detail in Ulysses has relevance, not only to details immediately before and after it in the order of the narrative, but also to ones that may lie hundreds of pages off. The notes supply threads to begin navigating the textual labyrinth that Joyce built—whether to find the way toward perfect comprehension, or to become happily lost, or simply to seek the nearest exit, will be up the individual.
Fergus rules the brazen cars? He had better! I obviously have my hands full.
Be content to bear your burden, yet a little while
Pilgrim’s Progress (p. 14)
Countess Cathleen is the name of a play (1898) written by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and loosely based upon a legendary figure in Irish folklore. In Yeats’ treatment, the Countess is faced with an impossible choice. In order to feed her people during a time of famine, she can sell her soul for their relief. There is much to contemplate as Yeats uses his art to offer a subtle rebuke aimed at the Protestant ascendancy of 19th Century Ireland, the Catholic complicity and acquiesce to it and how they collaborated to further the abuses suffered by the Irish people through nearly 800 years of British oppression.
In the presentation of the play, Yeats added a poem he wrote in 1893 from his Rose collection. Accompanied by a harp, it is offered to comfort the countess, after she completes the Faustian bargain that sacrifices her soul to rescue her people. James Joyce attended the premiere of this play at the tender age of 17 and believed these words to be the finest lyric ever constructed in all the world. It begins:
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 fears no more.
Later in life, Joyce completes his epic masterpiece Ulysses (1922). It begins with the brash and bullish Buck Mulligan making a mockery of the Latin mass and harassing his more impressionable and introspective companion, Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is the continuation of the main character in Joyce’s earlier work, Portrait of An Artist As a Young Man (1914), and in both books is a projection of the author’s own twenty-two year old self.
Mulligan is on the attack, speaking from the parapet of a Martello tower in Sandycove, located just 8 miles to the southeast from the center of the city of Dublin. Bold and dauntless in speech, he spews his words with the rapidity and force of cannon fire, strutting forward with the irritating confidence of a playground bully, the hyperbolic overdrive one might expect from an equally proud and self-professed hyperborean [1:213]. Yet, another term jammed-packed with meaning!
But Stephen is more perceptive than his critic and understands the entirety of Yeats’ poem at a far more profound and complex level than what is being offered by Mulligan. Sorrow is not merely a mood you can turn off and on. Genuine melancholy is not just a temperament you can choose to abandon at will. The second stanza completes the poem, Who Goes with Fergus?:
And no more turn aside and brood, / Upon love’s bitter mystery, / For Fergus rules the brazen cars, / And rules the shadow of the wood, / And the white breast of the dim sea / And all disheveled wandering stars.
Those who fret over the condition of the world and their role within it are connected to something far greater than themselves or their personal problems. And often, those who intent to push them away from their troubles, like Mulligan with Stephen, or Antinous, Claudius, and Gertrude in Hamlet, do so for their own selfish purposes.
It is better, though more burdensome, to know how sadness is associated with careful perception and awareness, to confront the transience of our numbered days and the reality of entropy, to identify with those who suffer and recognize the long arch of lament that extends throughout time immortal. “The whole creation groans together in travail,” recounts the Apostle (Romans 8:22).
We should not rush too fast past this point. In my experience, still holding to the vitality of a faith obviously scorned and at points, legitimately denounced by both Mulligan and Dedalus, identification with those who suffer is the beginning of true compassion. We do not simply feel sorry for others we judge as misfortunate. We join with them in their discontent and courageously join this chorus present from the beginning of the world.
This weekend was a short suspension from the Sabbatical schedule as I had the honor to officiate the wedding for Kevin and Evonne. We had planned this date over a year ago and I was very happy to celebrate this wonderful and beautiful ceremony with them.
This week, involves final preparations for Ireland and making my way there soon. The learning and benefits of this Sabbatical continue. I was so proud of our youth and encourage you watching the worship service they led on the church’s livefeed Youtube channel (as I did) if it was missed. Heck, I would venture it’s worth watching a second time, even if you were there. They all did super and before the wedding I was told by more than one person (including my own Mother!) that I may need to move aside and let Ethan take over.
Awesome! I’ll extend the sabbatical and see you for Advent. 🙂