“The Ballad of Persse O’Reilley” (FW p. 44 – 47)
As I described in my last blog post, rumours of HCE’s indiscretion had progressed from whisper to street chant to song, finally to be composed as a slanderous ballad by frosty Hosty. The crowd, united in their ridicule of Earwicker, are whipped into a frenzied ‘rann’, ending in one of Joyce’s parenthesized ‘thunderwords’, (FW p. 44.20 – 21). Then, having nicely cued the orchestra, Joyce provides both verse and score for the Ballad itself, that we as readers may also be implicated in the ridiculing of Earwicker.
This kind of insertion of material depicting, almost evidencing, what is being described occurs several times in the Wake. It is very much in the spirit of graphic playfulness seen in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, as if Joyce is saying “and look, here it is, the Ballad itself. You can sing along if you like!”
In considering how to visually represent the song already so graphically ‘present’ in the score, I had to acknowledge a difference in the way in which the mental impression occurred, compared to the Wake’s by now established (if not ever stable) prose. The musical notation tends to override the usual mode of internal imaging, anchoring any reading firmly to the page as it were. This effect is also apparent in the way that the conventional structuring of the verses of the ballad inhibits immersion in their content, retaining too much of an ‘exterior’ visual emphasis on their formal arrangement and instructional aspect. I would experience this again in Joyce’s use of footnotes and marginalia in the ‘Nightlessons’ episode in Book II, for example. I don’t read music, and there is no melodic dimension to my reading of the words in the ballad. Focusing purely on the words as verbal content though, visual impressions do present themselves. I find that the staves of the sheet music imaginatively present as residual rhythmic lines threaded through mental impressions of the song. A cliché perhaps, but like many other ‘basic forms’ conjured by this mode of reading, unquestionably there and so duly recorded. These impressions, in some sense appropriate to the function of ballads, are both synthesis and distorted exaggeration of the forerunning narrative text. Applying the reading/drawing process did feel different when moving into the ballad – it had a different current – but I found the resultant images interesting and relevant nonetheless. Here they are as sketchbook notation and developments in charcoal.
‘Illuminating the Wake’ at DarcSpace: I hope some of you will be able to come and see a selection of my work on Finnegans Wake exhibited at DarcSpace Gallery, 26 North Great George St., Dublin, from 7th May to Bloomsday. I’ll be showing drawings, prints, paintings and bookworks all concerned with my attempts at a visual reading of the Wake.