Lots of Puns in Finnegan's Wake
So if you thought it took a while to unpack the title, get a load of the opening two paragraphs.
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.
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passen-
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy
isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor
had topsawyer's rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse
to Laurens County's gorgios while they went doublin their mumper
all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to
tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a
kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all's fair in
vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a
peck of pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory
end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
Right…so prior to the present attempt, my enthusiasm for reading through the Wake would crumble after trying to make sense of this. Thank goodness for Burgess again. What messed me up most in this passage was the “nors” and “not yet” since there is no intitial negative statement you could add the “nor” onto! What I didn’t pick up on, having bad French, was the passencore. I got the English sense "pass over" or "passenger" but a speaker of French would notice the words pas encore , which mean “not yet.” So this big paragraph is really to say “in the beginning, before all this stuff happened” or perhaps even more simply “once upon a time.”
And the puns and arcane references keep coming. For example:
Sir Tristram, violer d’amores: There is the first earl of Howth (the castle referred to in the first sentence) whose full name is Sir Amory Tristram. There is a baroque instrument viola d’amore. And there is the mythic knight Tristram who by having an affair with his lord’s betrothed is a “violator of love” which I’m promised will be a theme of the book.
Pensiolate: the first meaning is peninsular war, which calls to mind Wellington vs. Napoleon. But there is also the solitary life of the writer who uses his pen in isolation. And there is Joyce’s personal connection with creative and phallic powers, which I guess is both a verbal and visual pun. And perhaps a co-opting of those who might claim the Wake is just Joyce jerking off.
Mishe mishe: irish for “I am I am”
Tauf: German for baptize
Thuartpeatrick: Ireland’s St. Patrick
Had a kidscad butteneded a bland old Isaac: one thinks naturally of Jacob fooling Isaac, but those familiar with 19th century Irish politics would recognize the reference to the great Irish leader Parnell's ousting out of leadership old Isaac Butt.
And so on and on. Next post: Is this worth it?