Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin Street,
A gentleman Irish mighty odd,
He had a tongue both rich and sweet,
An' to rise in the world he carried a hod.
Now Tim had a sort of a tipplin' way.
With the love of the liquor he was born.
An' to help him on with his work each day,
He'd a drop of the craythur every morn.
Whack fol the dah, now dance to your partner
'Round the floor your trotters shake.
Bend an ear to the truth they tell you,
We had lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake!
— "Finnegan's Wake", Traditional (1st stanza)
One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.
— James Joyce
, about Finnegans Wake
in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 24 November 1926
From the Book
But I'm loathing them that's here and all I lathe. Loonely in me loneness. For all their faults. I am passing out O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me sea silt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising ! Save me from those therrble prongs ! Two more. Onetwomoremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one dings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair ! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish ! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememoremee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given ! A way a lone a last a loved a long the
— Final parapraph of Finnegan's Wake, which circles back to...
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
But O, Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn't un be a sky of a lark
To see that old buzzard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark
And he hunting round for uns speckled trousers around by Palmer-
Hohohoho, moulty Mark!
You're the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah's ark
And you think you're cock of the wark.
Fowls, up! Tristy's the spry young spark
That'll tread her and wed her and bed her and red her
Without ever winking the tail of a feather
And that's how that chap's going to make his money and mark!
— Part 2, Chapter 4, Opening
Well, you know or dont you kennet or havent I told you every telling has a tailing and thats the he and the she of it.
— Part I, Chapter 8, Dialogue of the Washerwomen
Life, he himself said once, (his biografiend, in fact, kills him verysoon, if yet not, after) is a wake, livit or krikit, and on the bunk of our bread-winning lies the cropse of our seedfather, a phrase which the establisher of the world by law might pretinately write across the chestfront of all manorwombanborn.
— Part 1 Chapter 3, Page 55, Penguin Modern Classics Edition
About the Book
The reception of the book discouraged the dying Joyce, yet how could it have been otherwise? ... Only a few pages into the great "Anna Livia Plurabelle" section of the Wake, Joyce keens, "By earth and the cloudy but I badly want a brandnew bankside, bedamp and I do, and a plumper at that!" Bankside puns on "backside," bedamp on "bedammed, " and since this is the Liffey River speaking as well as Earwicker's wife, [James S. Atherton' s] comment is apt: "What Joyce is saying is that he wishes the Liffey had a South Bank where literature was appreciated as it was by Shakespeare's Thames." Shakespeare had the Globe Theatre and its audience; Joyce has only a coterie.
— Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: Joyce's Agon with Shakespeare.
The end of Finnegans Wake, the monologue of the dying Anna Livia-mother, wife, and river-is frequently and rightly esteemed by critics as the most beautiful passage in all of Joyce. Going on fifty-eight, Joyce wrote his final fiction, evidently in November 1938. A little more than two years later he was dead, just before he turned sixty. Patrick Parrinder sensitively remarks that "Death, which has been faced with curiosity, anguish, mockery and farce in Joyce's earlier work, is here the subject of a painful excitement, a terrible rapture." If one substituted "Shakespeare's" for "Joyce's" in that eloquent sentence, the "here" would be the death of the king at the very close of King Lear. The river going home to the sea at the end of Joyce would be a version of dead Cordelia in the arms of her mad father, very soon to die himself.
— Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: Joyce's Agon with Shakespeare.
It was a Dublin street ballad of the last century that found its way to the Dublin music halls...James Joyce, the author, was fascinated by this song. Most of us saw it as a drinking song — Fella dies, is laid out, whiskey spills on him, the water of life, and needless to say he rises from the dead — I mean what else can he do. The rest of us could see it as a pleasant little song, fun at a party. Joyce saw in it the entire cycle of life, death, and the resurrection of the entire universe. Joyce is presenting us with a dream, not with a piece of Freudian or Jungian dream-exegesis. Interpretation is up to us: he makes up the riddles, not the answers. But, as with so much of Joyce, a key to the language awaits us in popular literature: the verbal technique comes straight out of Lewis Carroll. HCE is identified with that great faller Humpty Dumpty, and it is Humpty Dumpty who explains the dream-language of "Jabberwocky". What Humpty Dumpty calls "portmanteau-words" -like "slithy", which means "sly" and "lithe" and "slimy" and "slippery" all at the same time are a very legitimate device for rendering the quality of dreams...The technique of Finnegans Wake represents a sort of glorification of the pun, the ambiguity which makes us see a fundamental, but normally disregarded, identification in a burst of laughter or a nod of awe. The very title is a complex pun, one missed by printers and editors who restore the apostrophe which Joyce deliberately left out...The very name contains the opposed notions of completion and renewal: "fin" or "fine" (French, Italian) and "again". Once we understand the title, we are already beginning to understand the book.
— Anthony Burgess
Typos in Finnegans Wake
? How could you tell
— Kim Stanley Robinson
, on the mid-1990s publication of a "updated" edition that boasted of correcting typos, among other revisions
If our society should go to smash tomorrow (which, as Joyce implies, it may) one could find all the pieces, together with the forces that broke them, in Finnegans Wake
. The book is a kind of terminal moraine in which lie buried all the myths, programmes, slogans, hopes, prayers, tools, educational theories, and theological bric-a-brac of the past millenium. And here, too, we will find the love that reanimates this debris ... Through notes that finally become tuneable to our ears, we hear James Joyce uttering his resilient, all-enjoying, all-animating 'Yes', the Yes of things to come, a Yes from beyond every zone of disillusionment, such as few have had the heart to utter.
—Joseph Campbell, A Skeleton Key
"Theres something about Finnegans Wake
that is not intellectual. It's not snooty. Some people say it sounds good when read to babies. I'm not sure about that, that it's a magical thing. It is a document that gives people the opportunity to decode it."
, quoted in "A Slow Devouring"
by Steve Marcone, The American Scholar
, Spring 2008
In Somerville, Massachusetts, an unabridged, unapologetic dictionary lies on a pub table surrounded by lagers, pints of Guinness, burgers, chicken Caesar wraps, and Corona-bottles-turned-salt-and-pepper-shakers. Its a Tuesday night, and the dictionary has been pulled off the shelf near the bar to help certain patrons decode what many consider to be the most dense, difficult piece of literature ever written. Right now, eight members of the Finnegans Wake
reading group are, for the most part, chewing. Soon they will read aloud a page or two of the Wake, as they do every week, and discuss the passage for about an hour. Some have been doing this since 1997. They are not yet halfway through the book.
The immediate reaction [to the density and impenetrability of Finnegans Wake
] is "how the hell are they going to make a Classics Illustrated
comic book out of this one?"
"Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clap can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherization."
"[T]he work of a psychopath or a huge literary fraud."
—Stanislaus Joyce, brother of the author
towers over the rest of Joyce's writings, and in comparison to its noble originality and unique lucidity of thought and style the unfortunate Finnegans Wake
is nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room, most aggravating to the insomniac I am."
"Now with regard to this literary experiment of yours. It's a considerable thing because you are a very considerable man and you have in your crowded composition a mighty genius for expression which has escaped discipline. But I don't think it gets anywhere. You have turned your back on common men on their elementary needs and their restricted time and intelligence, and you have elaborated. What is the result? Vast riddles. Your last two works have been more amusing and exciting to write than they will ever be to read. Take me as a typical common reader. [...] I ask: Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?"
Jonathan: Have you ever read Finnegans Wake by James Joyce?
Neither has anyone else. It's totally unreadable.