Re-Joycing in Our Jim
BY J. C.
There has been so much re-joycing going on, since the major works of James Joyce entered the public domain on January 1, that it seems almost permissible to use that irritating coinage. A recent James Joyce Quarterly offered news of a Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake. New Chinese characters will be required, Congrong Dai wrote, “each component indicating one of the possible meanings that Joyce put into his portmanteau words”. A Polish Wake is also in the works.
From the O’Brien Press in Dublin comes an edition of Dubliners with photographs interleaved in the text – infra dig, surely – and a preface recasting Our Jim as just one of us: “rich and poor, old and young, men and women . . . Dubliners is interested in all”.
An actual revision of one of Joyce’s works, unthinkable only a few months ago, has been undertaken by the small French publisher La Nerthe of Toulon, which has issued a bilingual edition of Chamber Music with the thirty-four poems arranged in what is claimed to be Joyce’s preferred sequence.
The first edition of Chamber Music (1907) followed a running order determined by the author’s brother, Stanislaus. According to Philippe Blanchon of La Nerthe, editor and translator of Musique de chambre, however, Joyce’s own arrangement “had a very precise intention”. This is more or less confirmed by the Faber Poems and Shorter Writings (1991), in which A. Walton Litz explains: “As the songs accumulated, Joyce made several tentative arrangements, the last and most important [dating] from 1905”.
Readers and scholars may test M Blanchon’s claim that the “original plan”, which he reimposed, “gives the poems a more coherent place in the Joycean corpus”. What used to be No I in the sequence, a three-stanza poem beginning
Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet
is now relegated to No II, whereas the top spot is taken by what was formerly XXI, the six-line verse that opens “He who hath glory lost, nor hath / Found any soul to follow his”. The old No II – “The twilight turns from amethyst / To deep and deeper blue” – slips to IV. No III, “At that hour when all things have repose”, stays where it was, but twenty-five of the remaining poems are newly placed.
The attractive volume, priced at 12 euros, also contains Pomes Penyeach. The contents are laid out with the translations opposite the originals. M Blanchon has given the French a simple tone, “somewhere between Elizabethan song and Verlaine”. Here is the “Strings in the earth” stanza in his version:
Des cordes dans l’air et sur terre
Font une douce musique;
Des cordes au bord de la rivière
Où les saules se rejoignent.