Saturday, October 06, 2012

`Be Happy, Dear Ones!'

On Friday, to an Irish-born professor of mechanical engineering I sent a Happy Flann O’Brien Birthday email. Over the years we’ve traded bits from the novels and columns, and he, a native Irish speaker, translates much that I miss. I learned his wife shares a birthday with O’Brien. He replied, in part: “Speaking of dates, the [Rice University] Centennial is upon us, celebrated Oct. 10-14.  One love, one fear.” 

The final phrase puzzled me. It sounded like Bob Marley. The professor is almost seventy-six, so a pop culture reference seems unlikely. I turned to the internet and found this passage from Book II, Episode 3, of Finnegans Wake: 

“Rowdiose wodhalooing. Theirs is one lessonless missage for good and truesirs. Will any persen bereaved to be passent bringback or rumpart to the Hoved politymester. Clontarf, one love, one fear. Ellers for the greeter glossary of code, callen hom: Finucane-Lee, Finucane-Law.” 

I know Michael has dabbled in the Wake so the Joycean allusion may be what he had in mind. The minutiae of Irish history in the Wake always lose me. Clontarf is a suburb north of Dublin, site of the Battle of Clontarf in which Brian Boru defeated the Vikings of Dublin and their allies, the Irish of Leinster, in 1014. Otherwise, like much of Finnegans Wake, the passage is fireflies on a moonless summer night. The insects are beautiful but provide little illumination. Of the forty-three words in the passage, my spell-check software fails to recognize seventeen of them – not a bad average for the Wake. But even in the midst of incomprehension, Joyce offers luminous fragments: “one love, one fear” is lovely. So too, this passage from late in the novel, a favorite, composed of conventional and perfectly understandable English:     

“Try not to part! Be happy, dear ones! May I be wrong! For she'll be sweet for you as I was sweet when I came down out of me mother. My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud. In peace and silence. I could have stayed up there for always only. It's something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall. And let her rain now if she likes. Gently or strongly as she likes.” 

It’s “First we feel. Then we fall” that I love, the first passage from the novel, after the opening/closing sentence, that I memorized. I read it first in A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake while in high school, long before I blundered through the Wake itself. Those six words thematically distill the novel, I know, but they also distill much of life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

(I John 4:18)