Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who Wrote This?

The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace. Far away in the west the sun was setting and the last glow of all too fleeting day lingered lovingly on sea and strand, on the proud promontory of dear old Howth guarding as ever the waters of the bay, on the weedgrown rocks along Sandymount shore and, last but not least, on the quiet church whence there streamed forth at times upon the stillness the voice of prayer to her who is in her pure radiance a beacon ever to the storm-tossed heart of man, Mary, star of the sea.
A post on Siris yesterday titled “Maris Stella,” put up in commemoration of the feast day celebrating the birth of our Lady, instantly recalled the passage above to my memory. So who wrote this? Out of its native context this passage has one kind of sound, within its broader context quite another. I think it was a sardonically rendered imitation of the sound and flavor of romantic novels written for women, and it forms part of that wondrous structure of sublime decadence called Ulysses by James Joyce. I read this passage in the summer of 1961 while a soldier in Germany. It startled me at that time—as I’m sure it was intended to. I resolutely ignored the context, drew a line in the margin in pencil to mark it, and, on the flyleaf up front noted the passage using the words “Ode to Isis 329”; the number was the page in my John Lane The Bodley Head edition of 1947, the gift of a very bookish friend, now passed away, Alvin Coger, a fellow sergeant. I couldn’t stand the book, but in those days I chewed my way through things like that to form my own opinions. Monuments to decadence. Joyce and Dali are two of my great saints of cultural collapse.

1 comment:

  1. Joyce is always very interesting; so very Catholic and so very unCatholic at exactly the same time. I suppose in a sense that's the sort of thing we mean when we call something decadent, that it both is and isn't at the same time.


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