The Books: “Ulysses” – the Sirens episode (James Joyce)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

ulysses67.bmpUlysses (The Gabler Edition) – by James Joyce.

Episode 1: The Telemachus Episode
Episode 2: The Nestor Episode
Episode 3: The Proteus episode

Episode 4: The Calypso Episode
Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters Episode
Episode 6: The Hades Episode
Episode 7: The Aeolus Episode
Episode 8: The Lestrygonians Episode
Episode 9: The Scylla and Charybdis Episode
Episode 10: The Wandering Rocks Episode
Episode 11: The Sirens Episode
Episode 12: The Cyclops Episode
Episode 13: The Nausicaa Episode
Episode 14: The Oxen of the Sun Episode
Episode 15: The Circe Episode

Episode 16: The Eumaeus Episode
Episode 17: The Ithaca Episode

Awesome chapter – one of my favorites to read (once I figured out what was going on. Of course.)

So now we’re at about 3:30 pm on June 16, 1904 … each episode represents (roughly) an hour of time. At 3:30 the Ormond Hotel bar opens (which is where much of the action takes place). This is the hour of Blazes Boylans’ rendesvous with Molly Bloom. Leopold, tormented by this thought, walks through Dublin, carrying the smutty book Sweets of Sin that he bought in the last chapter – to bring home to his wife – an irony that is too painful to even acknowledge. As an act of defiance, perhaps, Bloom stops off at a stationary store and buys a card – he plans on writing to Martha (the woman he is considering having an affair with).

First of all: there is the obvious connection with the Homeric epic: the sirens, as most people know, were mermaids – whose beautiful alluring songs would drive sailors to smash their ships onto the rocks … in order to get closer to the music. The sirens: beautiful. Deadly. Odysseus makes his men put wax in their ears, but he feels he must hear the song. So he has his men tie him up and order them to totally ignore anything he says as he listens to the music.

There are multiple connections with this in Joyce’s chapter – and I’m sure I’m only getting one or two levels. But here’s my take: First of all: this is the hour of Blazes Boylans’ rendesvous with Molly Bloom – a siren herself, luring not only Boylan but also Bloom, into danger. The danger and threat of sex and females, in general (which is so interesting to me – considering how the book ends … with Molly, and Molly alone). We have heard so much about her, she has grown in stature and grotesquerie in our minds … and then, we get to hang out with her … alone, and private … and who she is is not at all who she is thought to be. But I am getting ahead of myself.

But there are more sirens in this chapter. Bloom walks by the Ormond Hotel – a place with a bar and a singing room (like most Irish establishments in those days). The two barmaids chatter away, and call out to Bloom as he walks by. They are sirens, too. Bloom, after going to the stationary store, sees a poster of a mermaid (duh) and then catches a glimpse of Blazes Boylan … and decides to follow him. Boylan goes into the Ormond Hotel, his love-hour with Molly Bloom completed. Bloom follows him inside. Bloom sits in the dining room area, and listens to the singing and joking going on at the bar – and he is acutely isolated from all of that. People sing – Bloom hears snippets of the lyrics – which all, of course, correspond to what is happening in his life. Joyce is never explicit – you have to figure it out – but the songs sung in that bar are VERY interesting, in terms of their history and meaning in Irish life. And how they connect to Joyce’s book. I’ll get to that in a minute. Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, is there – drunk, and singing.

One of the things I think it is important to interject here, which I realize I haven’t said yet: all of this, the way I am describing it, perhaps makes Bloom sound like a wet noodle type of guy. A self-pitying passive drip. There is that element to him – he feels impotent, and helpless, indeed. He doesn’t know what to do. But he also balances that out (or Joyce does) with Bloom’s decency as a human being, his common sense approach to things (we see this in many of his encounters) – and also his utter lack of black-and-white thinking. Which is partly why he got into this mess. A black-and-white fellow would NEVER go through what Bloom went through on June 16 … he wouldn’t allow it. His idea of how life should go would NEVER include grappling with the issues Bloom grapples with on that day: what it means to be a father, a husband, a lover … what it means to be a Jew … etc. Bloom, though, cannot help but see the other side of every argument. This is his main appeal as a human being, and also his main “flaw” (although it’s not a flaw – it’s just that many of his problems arise from his balanced way of looking at things). This becomes totally clear in the scary Cyclops chapter, when Bloom has the run-in with “The Citizen” – an Irish type which is totally familiar to anyone who knows anything about Ireland: the loud “patriot”, unwilling to compromise, a social bore, who lives in a world where there is only ONE way to look at things, and anyone who deviates is to be crushed. Bloom avoids that kind of thing like the plague. Irish politics are vicious, in general (I guess like politics most everywhere) – and the hot-button issues require complete agreement or disagreement. So. I’m just saying that all of the episodes – with Bloom walking around, basically waiting for his wife to sleep with Blazes Boylan so that he can eventually go home … may give the impression that Bloom is not a sympathetic character, that he is weak. But that’s not right. He is certainly troubled. He has lost his son. His father committed suicide. He is losing his wife. He is trying to stay afloat financially (the whole “Keyes” advertisement thing shows that). He is doing the best he can with the cards he has been dealt. You kind of love him, even though there are times when you want him to challenge Blazes Boylan to a duel or something. But Bloom is under no obligation to behave in the way we want him to behave. If we judge him, then perhaps – like Shaw said – we should look in the mirror, rather than pointing the finger at Bloom’s inadequacies. Often, strong anti-reactions like that come from recognition, and a refusal to even admit that it is recognition, and there is no place for such thought processes while reading Ulysses. Now, that is a very human thing – we all do it. We all want to be thought well of, we all want to be perceived that we are good, and moral and whatever. So to have that threatened, or to have someone (Joyce) suggest that possibly we are not looking deeply enough … that possibly there is more of Bloom in us than we want to admit … can be quite disorienting. If you’re willing to let that stuff duke it out inside of you as you read the book, then I can guarantee you will get more out of it. That was my experience anyway. I kept getting frustrated with Bloom, as I read the book the first time. Like: DUDE. Just TELL Molly you love her – punch Boylan in the nose – and go home and fuck Molly like you’ve never fucked her before – she’s DYING for it – what is your problem??? But as the book went on, I realized what I was reacting to – was my own proclivity for passivity, or fatalistic thinking … my own feelings of defeat in the face of emotional challenges … my own desire to avoid a big fat fight and also – my almost pathological need to never be hurt again. No. I will NEVER be hurt again. (I know this is illogical – But humans aren’t always logical. The book brought all of that to the forefront for me, as I wandered around with Bloom … he was pushing these buttons, and at first I blamed HIM – but slowly – since the book is so long – I started to recognize myself more and more, the parts of myself I do not love, the parts of myself I am ashamed of – and do not like to share … They’re ALL there in Bloom. And once I made that kind of uncomfortable adjustment … the book was so much more rewarding, and also extremely redemptive. Almost spiritual in nature – because it connects all of us – in our shared humanity. Nobody is exempt. Nobody.)

Back to the episode. Bloom has a bit of dinner – as the rowdy singing continues in the other room – and he tries to write a letter to Martha … but he doesn’t sign it. As the lyrics of the songs emanate out towards him, he goes into a trance almost (sirens) … and begins to realize that Molly is the only woman he will ever love. Come hell or high water, Blazes Boylan or no.

The episode ends with Bloom taking a walk and he passes by an antique store – where the words of the martyred Irish patriot Robert Emmet are seen in the window. Bloom reads the words, and as he reads them, he farts. Satisfyingly. That is the end of the episode. Hysterical. But of course Joyce was working on multiple levels here. The glorious Irish martyrs are for the idealistic, the black-and-white people of the world. Bloom cannot “go there” – and because of that, because he farts as he reads the martyred man’s words, he is basically the hope for all of humanity. hahaha But seriously. Joyce was highly suspicious of political rhetoric – it seemed to him quite empty … and a symbol of all that was dangerous and stuck in Ireland national life. Those who resist the call of martyrdom, who do not swoon into a daze at the thought of Irish blood being shed for the cause … represent hope for ALL of us.

Now let me talk a bit about the style of the chapter. Because we’re in the ‘sirens’ episode – there is music mixed with speech – and it’s seamless. Joyce does not narrate anything here … it is a completely aural chapter. That’s why it seems daunting at first, because it doesn’t even seem to be written in English. And, strictly, it’s not. It’s written in SOUND … the way music seems when it is heard from another room – the way the chattering barmaids’ conversation ebbs and flows in your (Bloom’s) consciousness … There is a blind beggar who shows up, and the tapping of his cane is omnipresent through the entire chapter. Tap. Tap. Tap. The episode reads like a musical score. It is how sounds ACTUALLY occur to us when we are in a busy social environment … The music heard is woven into the other sounds … and all blend together into a whole, a symphony, with many instruments. Joyce treats the entire episode like a piece of music, introducing a ton of aural themes in the first two pages … themes which recur throughout the episode, sometimes the tap – tap- tapping takes precedence over other sounds – sometimes Simon Dedalus singing surges into the foreground – sometimes the barmaids chattering are the main theme … So it’s best to read this episode as though it is a piece of music.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning – that one of the songs sung by Simon Dedalus is “Tis the Last Rose of Summer” – a song I grew up with myself. One of those sad “four green fields” type of songs – so typical to the Irish. The tragic tales of domination, war, martyrdom, romantic yearning for the past, etc. Another song sung is “The Croppy Boy” – an Irish ballad commemorating the 1798 rebellion against the British. Joyce doesn’t ever hit the nail on the head – and I suppose you would have to know the history of these songs – to get Joyce’s deeper meaning, but that’s part of the fun of it. Joyce is, in a way, setting the stage for the Cyclops episode – when Irish politics move fiercely to the forefront, in a most terrifying way. But here he does it subtly – and breaks it up into fragments … so the songs just seem to be sounds, fragments of sounds Bloom hears from the other room … sounds he takes personally (for various reasons) – since he is in that contemplative state when the entire world seems to be reflecting your own personal experience. But on a higher level, yet again Joyce is making his points about the STUCK nature of Irish cultural life, the always looking backwards (1798? Come on now … let’s look forwards, please), and the glorification of death and martyrdom … something which Joyce, with his fierce love of life, could never get behind.

I think that’s enough. That’s mainly the chapter. Which, as you will see below, is written in a language that is not entirely English. This is the opening of the excerpt. And believe it or not, once you succumb to the style, it becomes quite easy actually (it’s easier to read and comprehend than the Scylla and Charybdis episode – and also some of the later episodes) … watch how the aural themes are introduced here – all at once. Then, once Joyce has established them, he pulls back – and lets the actual TUNE begin. Peppering the rest of the episode with the themes he has already set up.


EXCERPT FROM Ulysses (The Gabler Edition) – by James Joyce – the Sirens episode

Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyrining imperthnthn thnthnthn.

Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more.

A husky fifenote blew.

Blew. Blue bloom is on the

Gold pinnacled hair.

A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castille.

Trilling, trilling: I dolores.

Peep! Who’s in the… peepofgold?

Tink cried to bronze in pity.

And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call.

Decoy. Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade. O rose! Notes chirruping answer. Castille. The morn is breaking.

Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.

Coin rang. Clock clacked.

Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!

Jingle. Bloo.

Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.

A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.

Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.

Horn. Hawhorn.

When first he saw. Alas!

Full tup. Full throb.

Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come!

Clapclop. Clipclap. Clappyclap.

Goodgod henev erheard inall.

Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.

A moonlight nightcall: far: far.

I feel so sad. P. S. So lonely blooming.


The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you the? Each and for other plash and silent roar.

Pearls: when she. Liszt’s rhapsodies. Hissss.

You don’t?

Did not: no, no: believe: Lidlyd. With a cock with a carra.


Deepsounding. Do, Ben, do.

Wait while you wait. Hee hee. Wait while you hee.

But wait!

Low in dark middle earth. Embedded ore.

Naminedamine. All gone. All fallen.

Tiny, her tremulous fernfoils of maidenhair.

Amen! He gnashed in fury.

Fro. To, fro. A baton cool protruding.

Bronzelydia by Minagold.

By bronze, by gold, in oceangreen of shadow. Bloom. Old Bloom.

One rapped, one tapped with a carra, with a cock.

Pray for him! Pray, good people!

His gouty fingers nakkering.

Big Benaben. Big Benben.

Last rose Castille of summer left bloom I feel so sad alone. Pwee! Little wind piped wee.

True men. Lid Ker Cow De and Doll. Ay, ay. Like you men. Will lift your tschink with tschunk.

Fff! Oo!

Where bronze from anear? Where gold from afar? Where hoofs?

Rrrpr. Kraa. Kraandl.

Then, not till then. My eppripfftaph. Be pfrwritt.



Bronze by gold, Miss Douce’s head by Miss Kennedy’s head, over the crossblind of the Ormond bar heard the viceregal hoofs go by, ringing steel.

— Is that her? asked Miss Kennedy.

Miss Douce said yes, sitting with his ex, pearl grey and eau de Nil.

— Exquisite contrast, Miss Kennedy said.

When all agog Miss Douce said eagerly:

— Look at the fellow in the tall silk.

— Who? Where? gold asked more eagerly.

— In the second carriage, Miss Douce’s wet lips said, laughing in the sun. He’s looking. Mind till I see.

She darted, bronze, to the backmost corner, flattening her face against the pane in a halo of hurried breath.

Her wet lips tittered:

— He’s killed looking back.

She laughed:

— O wept! Aren’t men frightful idiots?

With sadness.

Miss Kennedy sauntered sadly from bright light, twining a loose hair behind an ear. Sauntering sadly, gold no more, she twisted twined a hair. Sadly she twined in sauntering gold hair behind a curving ear.

— It’s them has the fine times, sadly then she said.

A man.

Bloowho went by by Moulang’s pipes, bearing in his breast the sweets of sin, by Wine’s antiques in memory bearing sweet sinful words, by Carroll’s dusky battered plate, for Raoul.

The boots to them, them in the bar, them barmaids came. For them unheeding him he banged on the counter his tray of chattering china. And

— There’s your teas, he said.

Miss Kennedy with manners transposed the teatray down to an upturned lithia crate, safe from eyes, low.

— What is it? loud boots unmannerly asked.

— Find out, Miss Douce retorted, leaving her spyingpoint.

— Your beau, is it?

A haughty bronze replied:

— I’ll complain to Mrs de Massey on you if I hear any more of your impertinent insolence.

— I mperthnthn thnthnthn, bootsnout sniffed rudely, as he retreated as she threatened as he had come.


On her flower frowning Miss Douce said:

— Most aggravating that young brat is. If he doesn’t conduct himself I’ll wring his ear for him a yard long.

Ladylike in exquisite contrast.

— Take no notice, Miss Kennedy rejoined.

She poured in a teacup tea, then back in the teapot tea. They cowered under their reef of counter, waiting on footstools, crates upturned, waiting for their teas to draw. They pawed their blouses, both of black satin, two and nine a yard, waiting for their teas to draw, and two and seven.

Yes, bronze from anear, by gold from afar, heard steel from anear, hoofs ring from afar, and heard steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel.

— Am I awfully sunburnt?

Miss Bronze unbloused her neck.

— No, said Miss Kennedy. It gets brown after. Did you try the borax with the cherry laurel water?

Miss Douce halfstood to see her skin askance in the barmirror gildedlettered where hock and claret glasses shimmered and in their midst a shell.

— And leave it to my hands, she said.

— Try it with the glycerine, Miss Kennedy advised.

Bidding her neck and hands adieu Miss Douce

— Those things only bring out a rash, replied, reseated. I asked that old fogey in Boyd’s for something for my skin.

Miss Kennedy, pouring now fulldrawn tea, grimaced and prayed:

— O, don’t remind me of him for mercy’sake!

— But wait till I tell you, Miss Douce entreated.

Sweet tea Miss Kennedy having poured with milk plugged both two ears with little fingers.

— No, don’t, she cried.

— I won’t listen, she cried.

But Bloom?

Miss Douce grunted in snuffy fogey’s tone:

— For your what? says he.

Miss Kennedy unplugged her ears to hear, to speak: but said, but prayed again:

— Don’t let me think of him or I’ll expire. The hideous old wretch! That night in the Antient Concert Rooms.

She sipped distastefully her brew, hot tea, a sip, sipped sweet tea.

— Here he was, Miss Douce said, cocking her bronze head three quarters, ruffling her nosewings. Hufa! Hufa!

Shrill shriek of laughter sprang from Miss Kennedy’s throat. Miss Douce huffed and snorted down her nostrils that quivered imperthnthn like a shout in quest.

— O! shrieking, Miss Kennedy cried. Will you ever forget bis goggle eye?

Miss Douce chimed in in deep bronze laughter, shouting:

— And your other eye!

Bloowhose dark eye read Aaron Figatner’s name. Why do I always think Figather? Gathering figs I think. And Prosper Loré’s huguenot name. By Bassi’s blessed virgins Bloom’s dark eyes went by. Bluerobed, white under, come to me. God they believe she is: or goddess. Those today. I could not see. That fellow spoke. A student. After with Dedalus’ son. He might be Mulligan. All comely virgins. That brings those rakes of fellows in: her white.

By went his eyes. The sweets of sin. Sweet are the sweets.

Of sin.

In a giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended, Douce with Kennedy your other eye. They threw young heads back, bronze gigglegold, to let freefly their laughter, screaming, your other, signals to each Other, high piercing notes.

Ah, panting, sighing. Sighing, ah, fordone their mirth died down.

Miss Kennedy lipped her cup again, raised, drank a sip and giggle-giggled. Miss Douce, bending again over the teatray, ruffled again her nose and rolled droll fattened eyes. Again Kennygiggles, stooping her fair pinnacles of hair, stooping, her tortoise napecomb showed, spluttered out of her mouth her tea, choking in tea and laughter, coughing with choking, crying:

— O greasy eyes! Imagine being married to a man like that, she cried. With his bit of beard!

Douce gave full vent to a splendid yell, a full yell of full woman, delight, joy, indignation.

— Married to the greasy nose! she yelled.

Shrill, with deep laughter, after bronze in gold, they urged each other to peal after peal, ringing in changes, bronzegold goldbronze, shrilldeep, to laughter after laughter: And then laughed more. Greasy I knows. Exhausted, breathless their shaken heads they laid, braided and pinnacled by glossycombed, against the counterledge. All flushed (O!), panting, sweating (O!), all breathless.

Married to Bloom, to greaseaseabloom.

— O saints above! Miss Douce said, sighed above her jumping rose. I wished I hadn’t laughed so much. I feel all wet.

— O, Miss Douce! Miss Kennedy protested. You horrid thing!

And flushed yet more (you horrid!), more goldenly.

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