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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

At That Hour

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. On this day in 1904, as recorded in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, advertising salesman Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin. In great detail, Joyce lets us in on Bloom’s thoughts and feelings and actions, as well as those of Molly Bloom, his wife, and Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego.

With its many allusions, masterful use of language, and complex weaving back and forth, the novel famously echoes Homer’s epic poem
Odyssey. Ulysses has become one of the most influential works of modern writing.

While Joyce is best known for his novels and short stories, he also wrote poetry, including the verse below about the power of love ─ it makes the world go ’round.

(Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, 1955,
by Eve Arnold, American photojournalist)

There seems to be some question about this photograph, given Marilyn Monroe’s public persona. The explanation is found in R. B. Kershner’s Joyce and Popular Culture:

In a letter to me of 20 July 1993, Eve Arnold has kindly offered the following memorial reconstruction of those circumstances which, with her kind permission, I quote in full.

“We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet. As far as I remember (it is some thirty years ago) I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it — but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned — but almost more her input.”


At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing into Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?

When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?

Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.

~ James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish writer of novels, short stories and poems

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