James Joyce’s Pean to Water

I am a long time student of water metabolism. I also greatly admire Jame’s Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. It’s not surprising, therefore, that one of my favorite parts of the novel is his ode to water. The tribute to to H20 is the literary equivalent of an aria. The arias in Ulysses are all great; none is better than this one. It’s in the 17th chapter – Ithaca Here it is:

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?

Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature
in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator’s
projection: its unplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific
exceeding 8000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface
particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence
of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic
quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides:
its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar
icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance:
its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its
indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region
below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability
of its primeval basin: its luteofulvous bed: its capacity to dissolve
and hold in solution all soluble substances including millions of
tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and
islands, its persistent formation of homothetic islands, peninsulas
and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and
volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns:
its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones:
its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and
confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic
currents, gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence
in seaquakes, waterspouts, Artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies,
freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers,
cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts:
its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs and
latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments
and exemplified by the well by the hole in the wall at Ashtown
gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its
composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part
of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead
Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate
dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst
and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and
paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow,
hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs
and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and
archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and
arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility
in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power
stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals,
rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality
derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level
to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe),
numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its
ubiquity as constituting 90 percent of the human body: the noxiousness
of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded
flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon.

No matter that he misrepresents the aqueous fraction of the human body. He was a literary genius not a renal physiologist.The novel, of course, has had an enormous influence on subsequent English literature. But I think it best for any writer to stay as far away from it as possible. It’s sui generis and is both the first word and the last. No writer can match, much less surpass, Joyce in this kind of writing. Best to admire it and its author from a gentle distance.

Here is Jim Norton’s reading of the piece taken from the complete audio book sold by Audible.com. Joyce takes on a new dimension when his words are read by an Irishman. Vigorously recommended

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One Response to James Joyce’s Pean to Water

  1. Operafilly says:

    Bet his wife had to fix the broken pipes.

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