Had we but world enough, and time

Early in this week’s reading, I scribbled in the margins of my edition of Ulysses a brief set of notes and arrows attached to the line “Hurry up, damn it. Make hay while the sun shines.” Bloom thinks these thoughts as he contemplates the hams of the voluptuous girl he wishes to follow out of the butcher shop. My notes read more or less as follows:

carpe diem —> typically a vitality genre, often full of senses —> Calypso is Odysseus’s chance to get moving

The middle note bears some explanation. I had noticed that Joyce’s Calypso episode seemed unusually full of sense descriptions, from oddly accurate onomatopoeic representations of a cat’s meow to the pissy tang that Bloome finds appealing in kidneys. There are odors galore (in one of the annotations at UlyssesSeen, we’re told that Joyce was one of our great smell writers) — water scented with fennel; a bar squirting out whiffs of ginger, teadust, and biscuitmush; fresh air; “the lukewarm breath of cooked spicy pig’s blood,” the recollected perfume of citrus fruit; the smell of breath; and of course the stench of feces. Each of the other senses is represented as well, some of them very vividly.

The Calypso episode begins with eating and ends with death. In between, there’s more eating, thoughts of sexual activity, and evacuation. It’s an episode very much about the details of living, told with the specter of death in the background. I began to think of it as something of a carpe diem piece. “Enjoy even the most basic, prosaic things about life to the fullest,” it seemed to me to say.

Then The Lotus Eaters episode continued the venial theme and did so with a floral motif. In The Odyssey, the adventurers who consume the troublesome flower are stopped in their tracks by apathy and a lack of any desire to continue their journey home. The flower in the old story represents the suppression of desire. Joyce turns that representation on its ear. Bloom — masquerading in print as Henry Flower (both floral names, note) — writes titillating letters back and forth with one Martha. Bloom can’t even notice the horses he passes without thinking about the fact that they’re gelded. We see various references to pins (tiny phalluses), including one bawdy song with the refrain “To keep it up.” There’s a passage on page 78 about the eucharist that uses very suggestive language about women bowing their heads and having things put into their mouths and drops shaken in. He imagines the old popes as eunuchs. He contemplates (I believe) masturbating in the bath, and the episode ends with Bloom considering the languid floating flower of his genitals and pubic hair floating in the bath. There’s more that I haven’t catalogued here and no doubt more that I missed. Toward the end of the episode, Joyce writes “Always passing, the stream of life, which in the stream of life we trace is dearer than them all.” Here too I made a margin note of “carpe diem.” In an episode very much about desire and filled with floral associations, it bears keeping in mind that flowers are perhaps nature’s most overtly sexual beings, with their colorful organs ever on display, the smell of their sex valuable to people (Bloom goes to the chemist’s for a scented lotion) as a perfume.

Our third section for the week addresses death more frankly than it does life and sex and sensation, but it’s not drained wholly of these matters. Bloom thinks about his daughter’s blooming as she reaches her mid-teens, for example, and there’s much made of heirs potentially ruined (Stephen) or already dead (Bloom’s dead child Rudy). Joyce writes of “love among the tombstomes.” “In the midst of death we are in life” he writes. Rather touchingly, he writes of Bloom’s ill-fated son’s conception:

My son. Me in his eyes. Strange feeling it would be. From me. Just a chance. Must have been that morning in Raymond terrace she was at the window, watching the two dogs at it by the wall of the cease to do evil. And the sergeant grinning up. She had that cream gown on with the rip she never stitched. Give us a touch, Poldy. God, I’m dying for it. How life begins.

I begin, as I chew on these episodes a bit, to think of Calypso as a chapter about appetite and desire generally. It’s so full of senses, and yet it is not bawdy or often explicitly sexual, and so it seems to me to be a chapter about living life in general to its fullest, about enjoying even the tiniest things like a remembered scent of oranges and citrons. Lotus, then, is an amplification of the particular desire for sex. But it is still a chapter about desire more than about fulfillment of desire. The titillating letters are ever about a future meeting and not about a successful tryst. Hades, then, is in some way about long-past fulfillment of desire (see the passage quoted at some length above) and contemplation of the inevitability of death; it’s about regret and loss (as it is in Joyce’s source material).

I don’t think I’m quite ready to declare that this week’s reading assignment constitutes a formal, intentional member of the carpe diem genre, but certainly with all its desire and sexual innuendo (and nuendo?), its direct statements in the carpe diem vein, and its preoccupation with the finitude of life, it can be read with the carpe diem genre very much in mind.

Which brings me to the title for my post, which I take from the opening stanza of Marvell’s exemplary carpe diem poem “To His Coy Mistress”:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;

Ulysses is, of course, a book obsessed with time. It details a day’s activities and thoughts painstakingly, often with nods to the time of day. It is also a book obsessed with place, and it is a pedestrian book, by which I mean not that it is boring or usual but that it is a walking book. So Marvell’s opening lines work nicely as a sort of epigraph as I consider this week’s reading through the filter I’ve here described rather disjunctively. Had we but world enough and time to walk and pass our long love’s day, we might instead read Ulysses.

16 thoughts on “Had we but world enough, and time

  1. Paul July 20, 2010 / 10:10 am

    Great post Daryl.
    The book is so rich in symbolism (and so many carefully chosen words)that it’s easy to miss a ton! I can’t believe I didn’t connect Bloom to Flowers!

    But I’m happy to see that we touch on a lot of the same ideas [ http://ijustreadaboutthat.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/james-joyce%E2%80%93week-2-ulysses-1922/%5D. Although I think you’re more eloquent than I about it.

    It also sounds like you’re enjoying the book a bit more now that you’ve passed the wall…

    • Leroy July 20, 2010 / 5:26 pm

      Jumping back to chapter 2, I just wanted to point out that in Irish dialect Mr. Deasy is a flower too since his name would be pronounced “Daisy”.

  2. Daryl L. L. Houston July 20, 2010 / 10:23 am

    I’m not sure I’d go quite so far yet as to say I’m enjoying the book, but I am beginning to appreciate it. It’s hard, slow going for me. I’m trying to read each week’s batch of pages twice through pretty carefully, but I still feel like I miss so much very obvious stuff. I think this is probably going to be one of those books I admire and acknowledge the greatness of but don’t much enjoy or take much visceral, emotional delight in. Much of Pynchon is like that for me. It’s early yet, though, and there is much to be admired in terms of style in Hades in particular. The way he keeps coming back to little Rudy with single lines out of context is gorgeous and deft, for example.

    • Judd Staley July 20, 2010 / 2:30 pm

      Great post Daryl: I was slacking this weekend, but clearly you’ve got things more than covered w/o me.

      And as far as the book getting better, just wait. I think the next section is when the book really takes off. Not that the first six chapters aren’t great.

    • Cathy Hand July 22, 2010 / 11:43 pm

      Yes, me too, Daryl, to all you wrote. Although my first read is a skim; then Gifford’s annotations; then a second read, which reveals much that wasn’t there before; a third read is smoother and more clarifying, but I don’t always get to that.

  3. crazymonk July 20, 2010 / 12:58 pm

    Great post. Leopold certainly seems to have a bit of the hedonist in him, although it’s not clear yet whether or not Joyce sees this as a positive attribute.

    “I still feel like I miss so much very obvious stuff.”

    I was hoping that Blamires’s Bloomsday Book was going to help me out with this kind of thing, but so far it’s been fairly useless. However, I took a trip to the library this past weekend and checked out Joseph Campbell’s Mythic Worlds, Modern Words (http://www.amazon.com/Mythic-Worlds-Modern-Words-Campbell/dp/1577314069), which also has a episode-by-episode analysis of the book. So far it’s been quite excellent, and surprisingly not just in his analysis of the mythical parallels. He does a line-by-line analysis of Proteus that really opened it up for me, and unlike most crit. lit. about Ulysses, it’s written mostly for a first time reader, but isn’t afraid to tackle the esoteric parts.

    • Judd Staley July 20, 2010 / 2:23 pm

      Campbell is excellent, though his theory about Ulysses and the Inferno seems a bit of a stretch to me. I agree that Blamires is pretty useless. I don’t know why so many people swear by it.

  4. Stevie July 20, 2010 / 2:57 pm

    i’ll admit, since these posts started & i’ve been reading them i haven’t actually gone back to the book. partly because i remember enough to understand all of this without doing so, & partly because every time i have gone back to the book i end up getting sucked in to yet another re-read. what you’ve called to my attention here is the descriptions of smells; i think smell is the one aspect of the past that’s hardest for us to imagine. when we think about people living without indoor plumbing & antiperspirant, we think “ewww” but i don’t think we can really know what it was like. we’ve created ways to record almost everything else for posterity, but with smells, words are really the only way to capture them. maybe that’s a good thing?

    • Ezekiel Crago July 26, 2010 / 2:04 pm

      What’s interesting about smell to me is not only that we find it hard to imagine, or “picture” in our mind, but smell is intimately linked to memory. Much of these chapters are little snippets of memory. One Joyce theme that was pointed out to me years ago reading Robert Anton Wilson, is what he called “the absent present.” The references to ghosts and the way that both Stephen and Bloom are haunted by their dead all goes back to Joyce’s story “The Dead.” The dead affect the living through their absence and they do this because of the persistence of memory. Since smells trigger memories, they play a prominent role in the text.

  5. Greg Carlisle July 21, 2010 / 9:30 pm

    Okay, I put the Campbell book on my wish list, but my e-friends crazymonk and Judd Staley are hurting me with their disparagement of Blamires. On my first read (second attempt), I asked for the least intrusive guide. Blamires was suggested; it was just the little bit of help I needed. It engendered my love of guide books (for Ulysses I have since read two other guides, have two at home to read, and now two on my wish list) and inspired me to write my own guide book in support of another author. Which is sentimental and not a reasoned defense of the book with pertinant examples, but still perhaps it’s worth a quick perusal on amazon’s Look Inside before dismissal by those new readers who find they need a guide when they hit the middle of the book.

    • Judd Staley July 22, 2010 / 12:08 pm


      No personal affront intended. I just find Blamires’ approach to be dreadfully watered-down: his idea of a guide is basically a restatement of the book in “plain English” (I guess Molly would have appreciated it). If plot summary and basic explication is all you want, The Bloomsday Book will do, but you could probably find much the same sort of stuff in the Wikipedia entry. And I remember thinking he was just plain inaccurate about some things in the later chapters (I’d have to go back and look, and as you can imagine, I don’t really have a great deal of desire to do that).

      I should be clear, also: Campbell’s “Mythic Words, Modern Worlds” is not a guide to Ulysses (unlike his “Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake,” which is very much a guide, and an important one). “MW,MW” is a collection of essays and lectures he gave on Joyce’s work generally; the Ulysses sections are broken up by chapter, but I don’t think he gives any overall summary. I WILL go back on look on that one, though: Campbell is always a pleasure to read.

      And for the record, Elegant Complexity (a “guide book in support of another author”) is nothing like The Bloomsday Book: it goes far beyond simple plot summary and explication, IMO. Not to be a flatterer.

  6. Greg Carlisle July 22, 2010 / 1:26 pm

    That’s a fair assessment of The Bloomsday Book. I think I needed something that simple at the time. I was just entering the world of big, thick, important novels and could not read at the level I can now. Ulysses was my gateway to books like Infinite Jest, Moby-Dick, and The Recognitions.

  7. crazymonk July 23, 2010 / 3:49 am

    Yeah, I do think Blamires’s book serves a purpose as a basic guide, but it’s just not sufficient for my first Ulysses read. I don’t expect to be reading this novel again any time soon, so I want to devour it whole. Ulysses for me sits at the very end of the sequence of the books you mentioned, Greg (my order is: Infinite Jest, Moby-Dick, The Recognitions, and now Ulysses) — so I guess I’m approaching it differently than you, although I don’t expect to ever be at the level of being able to put something together as comprehensive and perspicacious as Elegant Complexity. (Like Judd, not to be a flatterer.)

    ‘”MW,MW” is a collection of essays and lectures he gave on Joyce’s work generally; the Ulysses sections are broken up by chapter, but I don’t think he gives any overall summary.”‘

    Yes, very true, I don’t think MWMW would sufficient alone as a reading guide, as it by no means attempts to be complete. (Alas, I broke down and bought the Gifford annotations.) But the several points he makes and theories he advances are almost always revealing.

  8. Chris Forster July 24, 2010 / 10:52 am

    Just catching up with the posts here. I think I agree with your discussion about the sort of carpe diem tone of much of these chapters. It does not seem unrelated to Bloom’s entirely more pragmatic and optimistic sense of the world than Stephen’s (I think of Stephen’s reflections on the the “intellectual modality of the visible” compared to Bloom’s wondering about how to most efficiently bury folks in “Hades”–standing up? reusable coffins?). Stephen’s heavily philosophical (though not entirely faithful or orthodox) Catholicism gets in the way of the sort of epicureanism of which Bloom is such a compelling model. (Worthy of consideration here are there very different attitudes towards books and literature, no doubt).

    I wanted only to complicate this vision of Bloom the hedonist by pointing to what surprised me as moved through some of these sections—the way in which Bloom himself seems afflicted by his own desire, or how his desire is less than one hundred percent clear, self-evident, and self-consistent. When he passes those gelded horses he wonders “Might be happy all the same that way” (5.219) and indeed this is just one of such sentiments throughout these chapters (he returns to these thoughts around 5.410, e.g.). Rather than “carpe diem,” the thinking about “the Orient” (which Bloom himself seems pleasantly aware of as sheer orientalism) dramatizes a question about how to relate to the world and to desire specifically: to participate (to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may) or to abnegate (“all desire is suffering…” “pretty girls make graves” as Kerouac was fond of noting).

    The letter from Martha, later on the same page, also opens up a masochistic vein in Bloom’s desire(which, I think, becomes more obvious later in the text). “I am awfully angry with you. I do wish I could punish you for that… Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy? … Remember if you do not I will punish you” (5.230-250ish). Figuring out exactly how this relationship-by-letter works is not easy; but Bloom is titillated by the possibility of being punished and by the sheer fact of transgression (being “naughty”).

  9. crazymonk July 25, 2010 / 4:12 pm

    OK, I admit it, Blamires helped me out quite a bit with Scylla and Charybdis. Also, was I ignorant for not knowing that Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet until I read S&C?

    • Greg Carlisle July 26, 2010 / 11:24 pm

      I found out about Hamnet from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman issue on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I find the fact that Will named his son Hamnet immensely more interesting than the fact that he based his play on a medieval Danish royal named Amleth.

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