Thursday, March 6, 2014

"The Holy Office" (annotated) 1904 poem by James Joyce

The Holy Office

[the unapologetic braggadocio and contempt for all his competition establish this as uniquely Edwardian battle-rap. Joyce's newfound success with Nora may have given him confidence]

Myself unto myself will give
This name Katharsis-Purgative.

Aristotle describes catharsis as the purging of the emotions of pity and fear that are aroused in the viewer of a tragedy

'cathartic' and 'purgative' were slightly less genteel (?) terms for laxatives.

I, who dishevelled ways forsook
To hold the poets' grammar-book,

'dishevelled' usually refers to hair

so when did he forsake these ways?
for which poets?
(instead of joining the 'dishevelled' Dublin literary community, he announces himself as their... higher conscience?)

Bringing to tavern and to brothel
The mind of witty Aristotle,

nobody has ever found Aristotle funny

The Jesuits, via Aquinas, continued to hold him in the highest intellectual esteem, and Joyce felt this gave him an edge over anyone without this training.
Carrying this viewpoint into tavern and brothel was a daring and original plan.

Lest bards in the attempt should err
Must here be my interpreter:

I... Must here be my own interpreter

Wherefore receive now from my lip
Peripatetic scholarship.

learned in the world, not in the library

To enter heaven, travel hell,

Blake: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

Be piteous or terrible

ie, arouse Aristotle's tragic emotions of pity and fear

One positively needs the ease,
Of plenary indulgences.

(maybe: Catholics believe that relief from punishment for their sins can be won by obedience, with 'plenary' implying complete relief rather than 'partial'. Joyce takes this pseudo-seriously as permitting every sinful experiment???)

For every true-born mysticist
A Dante is, unprejudiced,

(this is how they fancy themselves, anyway?)

Who safe at ingle-nook, by proxy,
Hazards extremes of heterodoxy

i see Yeats and AE dreaming of revolution without daring to actually disturb the universe

(probably 'ingle-nook' is a jab at someone's particular use of that cheap imagery)

Like him who finds a joy at table
Pondering the uncomfortable.

Joyce wouldn't have known that Yeats had been using hashish and mescaline (but probably would have condemned it as a safe substitute for real risk)

Ruling one's life by common sense
How can one fail to be intense?

this paradox seems obviously unconvincing-- common sense is the opposite (cf Blake again)

But I must not accounted be
One of that mumming company —

'mummers' implies actors, here especially the Irish Literary Theatre movement (also, faking their radicalism)

With him who hies him to appease
His giddy dames' frivolities
While they console him when he whinges
With gold-embroidered Celtic fringes —

Yeats was fairly asexual (he lost his virginity at 30) but enviably charming, with loyal supporters like Lady Gregory, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr, and the weird sisters of Dun Emer (who in fact specialised in embroidered Celtic fringes): Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, Lily Yeats and Evelyn Gleeson.
Maud Gonne was a raving terrorist by comparison

'hies' is obsolete for 'hurries'

Or him who sober all the day
Mixes a naggin in his play —

Synge uses the word 'naggin' in works published later, in 1905 and 1912

Or him who[se] conduct "seems to own"
His preference for a man of "tone"

Gogarty had written a poem a few months earlier, probably about his sister: "When the sun shines on Mary's hair / The splendour seems to own / That solid rays of sunlight there / Are blended with the brown." JAJ must have judged it weak.

OG's friend-since-1899 Arthur Griffith was a follower of Wolfe Tone. OG would help AG found Sinn Fein in 1905.

but assuming this couplet does means Gogarty, it couldn't have been worse-timed, for he'd just agreed to host Joyce at the Tower for a year, but withdrew the offer when he read these insults

Or him who plays the rugged patch
To millionaires in Hazelhatch
But weeping after holy fast
Confesses all his pagan past —

Padraic Colum the year before had been promised a stipend to write by millionaire Thomas Kelly of Celbridge/Hazelhatch, who'd rejected Joyce's overambitious plan to start a daily newspaper called the Goblin

Or him who will his hat unfix
Neither to malt nor crucifix
But show to all that poor-dressed be
His high Castilian courtesy —

Eglinton/Magee, teetotaler [more]

Joyce's limerick:
There once was a Celtic librarian
Whose essays were voted Spencerian
His name is Magee
But it seems that to me
He's a flavour that's more Presbyterian

Stannie:  "Magee is a dwarfish, brown-clad fellow, with red-brown eyes like a ferret, who walks with his hands in his jacket pockets and as stiffly as if his knees were roped with sugauns. He is sub-librarian in Kildare Street, and I think his mission in Ireland is to prove to his Protestant grandaunts that unbelievers can be very moral and admire the Bible. He is interested in great thoughts and philosophy, whenever he can understand it."

Or him who loves his Master dear —

George Roberts, w/AE

Or him who drinks his pint in fear —


Or him who once when snug abed
Saw Jesus Christ without his head
And tried so hard to win for us
The long-lost works of Eschylus.

AE (anticipated Prince by adopting the ligature Æ)

But all these men of whom I speak
Make me the sewer of their clique.
That they may dream their dreamy dreams
I carry off their filthy streams
For I can do those things for them
Through which I lost my diadem,

(skeptics would have asked how he could lose a badge of royalty if he'd never won one)

Those things for which Grandmother Church
Left me severely in the lurch.
Thus I relieve their timid arses,
Perform my office of Katharsis.
My scarlet leaves them white as wool
Through me they purge a bellyful.
To sister mummers one and all
I act as vicar-general

And for each maiden, shy and nervous,
I do a similar kind service.
For I detect without surprise
That shadowy beauty in her eyes,
The "dare not" of sweet maidenhood
That answers my corruptive "would",

Whenever publicly we meet
She never seems to think of it;
At night when close in bed she lies
And feels my hand between her thighs
My little love in light attire
Knows the soft flame that is desire.

Joyce was paid, later in August, for a poem that begins "My love is in a light attire / Among the apple trees". He'd been dating Nora for two months, so this presumably refers to her, alone in bed, remembering his touch and probably masturbating. We have to assume he was throwing all caution to the wind and challenging even those closest to him-- Nora and Gogarty-- to accept his art even when it addressed them personally.

But Mammon places under ban
The uses of Leviathan
And that high spirit ever wars
On Mammon's countless servitors
Nor can they ever be exempt
From his taxation of contempt.
So distantly I turn to view
The shamblings of that motley crew,
Those souls that hate the strength that mine has
Steeled in the school of old Aquinas.
Where they have crouched and crawled and prayed
I stand the self-doomed, unafraid,
Unfellowed, friendless and alone,

JAJ had used the phrase "I am going alone and friendless" in his 1902 letter to Lady Gregory asking for help

Indifferent as the herring-bone,

a very odd metaphor. Joyce had not yet written : "the artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails". Maybe the herringbone that chokes someone to death is indifferent to its victim?

Firm as the mountain-ridges where
I flash my antlers on the air.

'firm' seems a little weak-- wasn't there any other one-syllable synonym? tough? stout? fixed? strong? hale?

already in January he had written "...behind the rapidly indurating shield the sensitive answered. Let the pack of enmities come tumbling and sniffing to the highlands after their game — there was his ground: and he flung them disdain from flashing antlers." [PoA04]

Let them continue as is meet
To adequate the balance-sheet.

uncommonly a verb

Though they may labour to the grave
My spirit shall they never have
Nor make my soul with theirs at one
Till the Mahamanvantara be done:

in Theosophy, 311 trillion years, or about 20,000 times the age of the universe [cite]
Joyce's targets had mostly dabbled with Theosophy, but the reference seems trivial now (and there's an extra syllable!?)

And though they spurn me from their door
My soul shall spurn them evermore.

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