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  • Leopold Bloom on Death
  • Jefferey Simons (bio)

In Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom's thought, rising in moments of lyric resonance, forms a sort of "oceansong" (U 11.378) that unites the opening three episodes, devoted to Stephen, to the closing episode, "Penelope," devoted to Molly.1 Over this expanse, Bloom thinks about many things, and often about death. Joyce does not give to Bloom, as he does to Stephen, such polished lyric resonance as "Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide" (U 1.246–7), nor would Bloom think of anyone, as Stephen does of Mulligan, in observing "He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his" (U 1.152). But at certain moments Joyce subtly enhances Bloom's thought, so as to give it a homespun eloquence of its own, one able to lampoon the high-flown oratory in "Aeolus" as "gassing about the what was it the pensive bosom of the silver effulgence. Flapdoodle to feed fools on" (U 8.381–2).

When not mocked by others or undone by the intuition of imminent cuckoldry, Bloom is at home with linguistic play, as evinced by his lively sense of the English alphabet. In "Calypso," we see this when he muses, "Fresh air helps memory. Or a lilt. Ahbeesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyouvee doubleyou" (U 4.136–8); in "Hades," when he recalls the song lyrics, "Has anybody here seen Kelly? Kay ee double ell wy" (U 6.373–4); and in "Aeolus," when he reflects, "It is amusing to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry with a y of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall" (U 7.166–9). In these reflections on language, often breezy and at times moving, we hear Bloom's thought rise in moments of lyric expression. The theme to inspire most often this lyric resonance is human mortality: Bloom's reflections on death move him to particular eloquence. While Stephen is haunted by a morbid preoccupation with death, particularly his mother's, and while Molly recalls the pathos of her infant son Rudy's [End Page 86] death and burial, Bloom views death with greater calm and wit, with vitalism and irreverence, as well as pain and longing.

Death is symbolically introduced early in "Calypso" with Bloom's thought, "these black clothes feel it more. Black conducts, reflects, (refracts is it?), the heat. But I couldn't go in that light suit. Make a picnic of it" (U 4.79–81). The theme arises twice in the Blooms' early morning conversation, first regarding the time of Paddy Dignam's funeral—"Eleven, I think" (U 4.320)—and then concerning metempsychosis. Bloom first turns the word into a verb in "so they metamspychosis. That we live after death. Our souls" (U 4.351–2), and then glosses it for his wife as the belief "we go on living in another body after death, that we lived before" (U 4.362–3). Thus introduced, the theme of death marks the exclamatory close of "Calypso" with "Poor Dignam!" (U 4.551), moves subtly through the narcotic atmosphere of "Lotus-Eaters," and then burgeons in "Hades," where Dignam's "deathday" (U 6.227) infuses the episode's events and idiom.

A first moment of lyric resonance shows Bloom's vitalist response to death, marked by his desire for "Warm beds: warm fullblooded life." Near the close of "Hades," as the Glasnevin Cemetery "gates glimmered in front: still open" to lead Bloom "Back to the world again" (U 6.995), he formulates this lyric thought:

Give you the creeps after a bit. I will appear to you after death. You will see my ghost after death. My ghost will haunt you after death. There is another world after death named hell. I do not like that other world she wrote. No more do I. Plenty to see and hear and feel yet. Feel live warm beings near you. Let them sleep in their maggoty beds. They are not going to get me this innings. Warm beds: warm fullblooded life.

(U 6.999–1005)

The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4241
Print ISSN
1049-0809
Pages
pp. 86-107
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-16
Open Access
No
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