Friday, March 20, 2015

Protean Prosody

In the third chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the novel's main characters, young Stephen Dedalus, walks on the beach and wallows in angst and intellection. Stephen is preoccupied with, among other things, prosody. He is composing a poem along the way. As he walks and introspects, he tries on different metrical hats, much of it centered around tetrameter.

In drafts, Joyce had named chapters, but in galleys he removed the chapter names. In Joyce studies, the chapters of Ulysses are traditionally referred to by those original names. Hence, the third chapter, which is neither named nor numbered, is known as “Proteus”. Proteus is a sea-god Odysseus encounters on a beach in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus seeks information from Proteus, but to get that information from the uncooperative divinity, Odysseus will have to seize and hold him until Proteus relents and tells Odysseus what Odysseus wishes to know. But things are never easy on an odyssey, and Proteus has the power to change form, instantly metamorphosing into different animals, each one difficult to hold on to or terrifying in aspect. The parallel in James Joyce's novel is that Steven walks along the beach while his mind explores many issues with his intimidatingly educated and incisive mind, including the terrifying: mortality, the nature of reality, salvation, and the eternal question of “will anyone see me if, here and now, I....”

I will quote the first five paragraphs of Proteus herebelow. The text is as printed in the 1992 Modern Library Edition of Ulysses by James Joyce (Modern 37).

INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusy boot. Snotgreet, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.
          Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o'er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a'.

                    Won't you come to Sandymount,
                    Madeline the mare?

          Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare.
          Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.
          See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.

So now I come to the point: the 1986 Gabler edition of Ulysses (Gabler 31) introduces an error into the above passage—an error based on a misreading that is itself based on an ignorance of prosody. That error has propagated through other editions and electronic versions of the text. If one has an even rudimentary understanding of English-language prosody—an understanding far below that of Stephen Dedalus, let alone that of Stephen's Author—it doesn't make sense.

I refer to the revision in the Gabler edition (devision is more appropriate) of the words “A catalectic” to the word “Acatalectic”.

“Catalexis” is a technique in poetry in which a foot at the end or the beginning of a line has a syllable lopped off. It can be used to emphasize a particular word, impose a startling brevity, to unsettle the reader's rhythmic expectations with a syncopation, or to break up a pattern to keep a poem's form from becoming monotonous or predictable.

For instance, if Tennyson had decided to “change up” the incessant ta-tum of iambic tetrameter in “The Lady of Shallot” and changed “On either side the river lie” to “Either side the river lie” or “And through the field the road runs by” to “Through the field the road runs by”, by dropping a syllable from the opening foot, that would be catalexis. William Blake's “The Tyger” is a famous example of end-line catalexis: “Tyger, tyger, burning bright”. The meter Blake employed was catalectic trochaic tetrameter. If that line were acatalectic, it would read thus: “Tyger, tyger, burning brightly.”

To reiterate: An acatalectic line has no truncated metrical feet. An acatalectic line of iambic (or trochaic) tetrameter has eight syllables, not seven. An acatalectic line of iambic (or trochaic) trimeter has six syllables, not five.

So, for Gabler's change to be appropriate, the lines of verse preceding “acatalectic”--the verses in Stephen's stream of consciousness, so we know what he's thinking about--would have to be acatalectic, not catalectic.

A traditional verse form often used in Irish songs and poetry is the ballad stanza. Ballads are composed of quatrains alternating iambic tetrameter/iambic trimeter/iambic tetrameter/iambic trimeter.

Here are the two lines of Stephen's verse again:

                    Won't you come to Sandymount,
                    Madeline the mare?

These are two catalectic lines from a ballad stanza—seven syllables/five syllables. Here is what the lines look like with an insertion to make them acatalectic:

                    Oh, won't you come to Sandymount,
                    Oh, Madeline the mare?

Admittedly, the “oh” in both cases is ad hoc, but it clearly delineates (“delines”) what the rhythm would be if the lines were acatalectic. The change of “A catalectic” to “Acatalectic” in the Gabler edition is erroneous.

At the root of this error, and its propagation thereafter, is ignorance of basic English-language prosody on the part of a surprising number of scholars, some of whom are quite eminent.

To re-reiterate, the two lines Stephen recites to himself are both catalectic, a couplet, in ballad form. They are, as he says, iambs marching.

And Stephen himself, following the row of seawrack along Sandymount strand, “delines the mare”--mare being Latin for the sea but conflated with the English word for an adult female horse so that Stephen can refer to meter as “agallop”.

All through this passage, Stephen is engaging in metric play. Let's take a look at the intermediary passage between “Madeline the mare” and “a catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching”:

                    Rhythm begins, you see. I hear.

By calling the passage out isolated and indented similarly to Stephen's lines of verse, it becomes apparent that it is itself tetrametric. But it is not purely iambic: the word “rhythm” is a trochee. “Begins”, “you see”, and “I hear” are all iambs. (“'I am's” is a pun that runs beneath “Proteus” as a tacit organum. Many people are put off by Stephen's introspection throughout Proteus, but a Joycean joke is behind Stephen's angst. The Arranger has Stephen wrestling with prosodic composition; Stephen has no choice as to what he can think about: It is “I am”s all the way down.)

Joycean play is amok through this delightful passage. “Rhythm begins” brings us (by a commodious recirculation) back to Los, the Blakean Demiurge. The music of the spheres is a testament to the rhythm as well as the harmony initiated with Creation. (What Galileo saw, God “hears”.) The conversational “you see” separated by the period from “I hear” turns the period into the crux of a chiasmus. “I hear” is a homonym for “I here”, which is an the first-person present of the verb to be inheres: iamb is present, making it “I am here” by yet another commodious circulation—while riffing on Stephen's earlier counterpoint of the modalities of sight and sound: “Stephen closed his eyes to hear”.

An intriguing exercise in tetrameter is in the sound of Stephen's unseen (sea <=> see) footsteps on the seawrack of Sandymount Strand:

                    Crush, crack, crick, crick.

Seewrack heard. But not in iambs--the world speaks to Stephen in monosyllabic feet. It is tetrametric, but in Stephen's slow blind pace. One syllable, one foot, one step. It is an interesting exercise in prosodic composition: To write a metric line in single-syllable, stressed feet. Stephen is trying out his Dedalean wings; a different rhythm to the same beat. And what could be more catalectic than an entire line of missing syllables? After all, the happy patter of little iambs proceed heel-toe; Stephen's cracking crush on drying wrack is flat: sole, sole, sole, sole.

- - - - -

Addendum I

This is the poem that Stephen composes in Proteus:

                    On swift sail flaming
                    From storm and south
                    He comes, pale vampire,
                    Mouth to my mouth.

We don't see what Stephen wrote on the strand until Chapter 7, “Aeolus”, when Stephen recalls what he had written on a scrap of paper torn from Mr. Deasy's letter to the editor on hoof and mouth disease (Everyman 132). When Stephen hands in Mr. Deasey's letter at the newspaper, one of the newspapermen, Lenehan notices that the bottom of the last page was torn off, and jests “Who tore it? Was he short taken.” “Short taken.” The Arranger has given Lenehan a winking reference to Stephen's catalexis. [Gabler here makes a change that holds water, changing the full stop after “short taken” to a question mark (Gabler 109), thereby reinstating the punctuation of the first edition of 1922 (Dover 127).]

Note the last line of Stephen's quatrain. The source for the meter employed in Stephen's poem, and in particular for the last line, is “My Grief on the Sea”, a poem by Douglas Hyde (Gifford 62):

                    My grief on the sea,
                    How the waves of it roll!
                    For they heave between me
                    And the love of my soul!

                    Abandon'd, forsaken,
                    To grief and to care,
                    Will the sea ever waken
                    Relief from despair?

                    My grief and my trouble!
                    Would he and I were,
                    In the province of Leinster,
                    Or County of Clare!

                    Were I and my darling--
                    O heart-bitter wound!--
                    On board of the ship
                    For America bound.

                    On a green bed of rushes
                    All last night I lay,
                    And I flung it abroad
                    With the heat of the day.

                    And my Love came behind me,
                    He came from the South;
                    His breast to my bosom,
                    His mouth to my mouth. (Hyde)

Stephen appropriates Hyde's last line for his own last line, but drops the first syllable, producing a catalectic variant on Hyde's original. Stephen's thinking is focused throughout on catalectic meter. To change “a catalectic” to “acatalectic” is simply wrong.

- - - - -

Addendum II

In the Oxford World Classics edition of Ulysses, an edited and endnoted edition of the original 1922 text, a note on the question of whether the text should read “a catalectic” or “acatalectic” quotes a letter from James Joyce to Harriet Weaver in which Joyce writes “divide better A catalectic” (Oxford 785). The editor concludes the note, “That ought to settle the matter.” Indeed.

- - - - -

Works Cited

Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988. Print.

Hyde, Douglas. “My Grief on the Sea”., 1 January 2004. Web. 20 March 2015. <>.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Facsim. 1922 ed. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2009. Print.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: The Modern Library, 1992. Print.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Gabler, Hans Walter, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Print.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Johnson, Jeri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment