This episode consists entirely of Stephen walking along the beach thinking random things, and when I say random I mean the full spectrum of abstract randomness. The episode is almost entirely written in a stream of consciousness/inner monologue and it does make for slower reading — often I had to go back and re-read pieces because I lost Stephen’s train of thought — but that was all okay because, for the first time in the novel, I saw a glimpse of what makes Joyce great.
There is poetry in Stephen’s inner dialogue and lines kept popping out at me as I read, grabbing my attention. Sometimes I knew what the lines were referencing, and sometimes those lines referenced something abstract or outside my knowledge base, but in both cases, the words spoke in the elegance of their composure.
“Across the sands of all the world, followed by the sun’s flaming sword, to the west, trekking to evening lands.”
“Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten.”
“He had come nearer the edge of the sea and wet sand slapped his boots. The new air greeted him, harping in wild nerves, wind of wild air of seeds of brightness.”
These are just a few of the examples and it is in these passages that a rhythm emerges, a rhythm that caught and held me throughout. Yes, it is hard to follow as Stephen’s mind jumps from one thing to another; and there are a number of sentences in different languages and references that I did not know, but it is still the rhythm of this particular chapter/episode that makes it my favorite.
So what actually happens in the episode?
Not a whole lot. Stephen walks down the beach to waste time before a meeting. He thinks about going to go see his Aunt but decides against it. He sees *cocklepickers and watches their dog. He writes a poem. The end, more or less.
There is a decided note of melancholy to the episode though, as we get an intimate look into Stephen’s brain and perhaps that is why I enjoyed it. I am, by nature, a melancholy individual and the current social world has exasperated this tendency. I understand the darkness that bleeds through the words.
“His shadow lay over the rocks as he bent, ending. Why not endless till the farthest star? Darkly they are there behind this light, darkness shining in the brightness, delta of Cassiopeia, worlds. Me sits there with his augur’s rod of ash, in borrowed sandals, by day beside a livid sea, unbeheld, in violet night walking beneath a reign of uncouth stars. I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form? Who watches me here? Who ever anywhere will read these written words.”
Those words wormed straight into my chest and rested there.
An interesting side note to any readers who are also writers: when I typed out the above passage, Grammarly made a red mess of the passage, underlying a large portion of the paragraph; something to remember in this age of writing on computers and where every misspelling and grammar mistake is underlined in bright red. Create freedom in your writing by turning those tracking devices off. Sometimes the most beautiful sentences, the kind that go straight to the gut, are the ones that are the least grammatically correct.
All in all, this particular episode made me hopeful for the rest of the book. Episode two felt like a burden, information that was arbitrary without the insight that this chapter brought. Sure, in this one Stephen just walks down the beach, but there is so much more than that going on.
I’m now looking forward to the next installment.
Episode four is up next, friends! Happy reading.
*Cocklepickers are individuals harvesting shellfish if you didn’t know. Not a word in the American English lexicon.