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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seahorses, Etcetera


Airs romped around him, nipping and eager airs. They are coming, waves. The whitemaned seahorses, champing, brightwindbridled, the steeds of Mananaan.
- James Joyce, Ulysses

In his analysis of the works of James Joyce, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words,* Joseph Campbell wrote of this passage:
I am now living by the beach, and I frequently think of this image when I look out and see the waves rolling in, the foam flying like the manes of the four seahorses pulling the chariot of Mananaan MacLir, the Irish Lord of the sea. He is a hospitable host, with a great palace under the sea where he entertains the dead who drown in his waters.

Our Ulysses study group will be meeting soon for only the second time, but already the four of us are gaining confidence as we begin to work together through this difficult but magnificent book. Ineluctably, Joyce draws us into the visible, the audible, the personally interpreted and imagined Dublin of one June day in 1904. We may be confused at times about what is going on, but we are definitely there. My reading of this book in the past has only been reading, unguided, not study, and I've loved it but only skimmed the delightful surface, so this time through, paying attention to the symbolism and history, the experience is richer by far. What a gift to the world, this book! The Irish in me can't help feeling proud.

*Actually, Campbell did not sit down and write Mythic Worlds, Modern Words; it is a collection of his articles, lectures, and answers he gave in Q/A sessions on Joyce's work, gathered together and edited by Edmund L. Epstein. The thoughts and language are, however, recognizably Campbell's.

8 comments:

Gerry said...

These bright blue days fly by. Soon, soon the deep frost comes. Soon. But until it's here let's ride the seahorses to shore!

P. J. Grath said...

Remember, it's a rare winter when Lake Michigan freezes completely over. It's possible we could have waves all winter.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I love the word 'brightwindbridled'! It has such a lovely ring to it when said aloud, and conjures up such wonderful images.

P. J. Grath said...

It is a wonderful word. Joyce is full of brilliant, delightful wordplay, all of it very much to his purpose.

centria said...

You are going to study Ulysses! Pamela, bowing very low in admiration. As for seahorses, you have brought to mind little seahorses we viewed in a museum in Duluth this summer. What delicate beautiful creatures!

P. J. Grath said...

If I hadn't read (not studied) the book several times already, I might not have the nerve, but it is truly the masterpiece it is taken to be and brimming over with pleasure for a reader.

flandrumhill said...

Is that really the lake? With those waves and that colour, it looks more like the ocean. Water is so beautiful in its many forms. Now wonder writers and artists are so inspired by it.

P. J. Grath said...

Lake, yes, but one of the Great Lakes, the "inland seas." As beautiful as an ocean but--"No salt, no sharks, no worries!" Sorry! That's not a very inspiring motto, but it always makes me smile, as it's very much the way I see the Great Lakes.