On 21 April 1928 Joyce wrote a short poem, ‘Crossing to the Coast.’
‘Crossing to the Coast’ was written on the back of a postcard that Joyce sent to Sylvia Beach on 21 April 1928. The front of the postcard showed a view of St Peter’s Church in Avignon, from where he sent the card.
On 19 April Joyce set out from Paris to Dijon on a journey to the Mediterranean coast. He was in Lyons on 20 April, Avignon on 21, Toulon on 23, and returned along the same route, arriving back in Paris on 17 May.
The poem is set to the air of the military quick march ‘Killaloe’ (or ‘Killaloo’) which is associated with various Irish regiments of the British Army. Joyce’s poem parodies the chorus of ‘Killaloe’:
You may talk of Boneyparty
You may talk about Ecarté
Or any other party and “Commong de portey voo”
We larnt to sing it aisey
That song the Marshalaysy
Boolong toolong the continong
We larnt at killaloe.
With its references to Bonaparte and its odd spellings, the song was obviously of interest to Joyce for Work in Progress. Indeed there are references in Finnegans Wake to ‘killallwho,’ ‘killalulia,’ and ‘killalooly.’
Reflecting the theme of military marches, Joyce starts by mentioning the explorers HM Stanley and David Livingstone. Stanley marched from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika and back in search of Livingstone who at one time crossed Africa from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean coast. Joyce also mentions General Sherman’s march from Atlanta, Georgia, to Savannah on the Atlantic coast.
All these journeys were ‘crossings to the coast,’ but Joyce’s was at a much more relaxed pace, a theme he takes up in the second verse of his poem. Though Joyce’s ‘crossing to the coast’ is much shorter than the crossings of Stanley, Livingstone or Sherman, he still considers it ‘toulong,’ a pun on his destination, Toulon, and imitating the ‘toolong’ of the original song.
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Poems and Shorter Writings, edited by Richard Ellmann, A Walton Litz, John Whittier-Ferguson, London: Faber & Faber, 1991.