Sirens: Thoughts and Questions

1) Odysseus plugged the ears of his men so that they couldn't be tempted by the dangerous Sirens, and, even though he kept his own ears unplugged, he had himself tied to his ship's mast to protect himself. Note how Bloom reacts to the temptations of music at various places in the episode, including 11:703-4, 11:830-37; 11:969-71, 11:979-81, 11:1049-52, 11:1112-13, and 11:1194-95.

2) Joyce tried to make music out of words in this episode. His schema identifies the technique as "fuga per canonem," a technically exact fugue. Readers have often had trouble finding a precise fugue here, but note how words take on musical qualities when the three names Leopold, Simon, and Lionel (the character singing the aria from the opera Martha) merge at 11:752, how letters expand to make a trill at 11:809, and how letters disappear to suggest the elimination of musical notes at 11:1126 and 11:1271-72.

3) Note also the grand finale, as several musical "voices"--the noise from a tram, Robert Emmet's last words as Bloom reads them on a sign in a shop window, and Bloom's own body-- come together in a crescendo.

4) The end also contains yet another comment on patriotic prose. The words of Robert Emmet (who was a patriot executed by the English in 1803) are included intact in italics from lines 1284 to 1294. Look at how they change in context.

5) How would you account for the opening 63 lines? In what is probably an exaggerated story but an often repeated one, Stuart Gilbert wrote in 1930 that "so curious is the language of this episode that, when it was sent from Switzerland to England during the First World War, the Censor held it up, suspecting that it was written in some secret code" (James Joyce's "Ulysses," 1930, revised 1952, p. 242).

6) As 4:30 approaches, note how often Bloom thinks about the time and about Molly: 11:305, 11:352, 11:392, 11:912-14, 11:1066-69, plus many other places.

7) The songs that are sung, or their titles, are thematically relevant. Examples are "Goodbye Sweetheart Goodbye" (11:320-425), "All is lost now" (11:629), the aria from the opera Martha (11:665-751), "The Croppy Boy" (11:1021-1122).

8) Note the counterpoint between what Bloom says to Richie Goulding and what he writes to Martha Clifford at 11:888-94.