Monday, May 4, 2015

First Lines Second Thoughts — Finnegan's Wake

photo © Mark Butkus 2014
A river runs through it...

First Lines Second Thoughts is an occcasional look at the first lines of well known literary works. On second thought, do these opening words stand alone as poetry? Today, we look at the opening lines of James Joyce's classic Finnegan's Wake. Published this day in 1939 after 17 years of writing and rewriting.

The first words are a sentence fragment which continues from the book's unfinished last line. This has the effect of making Finnegan's Wake a never-ending cycle.


riverrun,
past Eve and Adam's,
from swerve of shore
to bend of bay,
brings us by
a commodious vicus
of recirculation
back to Howth Castle
and Environs.


— James Joyce


James Joyce began working on Finnegans Wake shortly after the 1922 publication of Ulysses and in 1924 the novel began appearing in serialized form in European literary journals. The author himself admitted that the book — at the time regarded as baffling — "ends in the middle of a sentence and begins in the middle of the same sentence."

Oh yeah, the last line of Finnegan's Wake that leads into the first line of Finnegan's Wake is, "a way a lone a last a loved a long the" so that when strung together with the first words reads, "a way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

As for what it all means, that's subject to debate. Most agree that the scene that Joyce is describing is in Dublin, Ireland. The latinized commodious vicus however can be interpreted as a village, a vicious circle or even a toilet.