Fragrant Excerpt from Joyce’s “Ulysses”: 5, Lotus Eaters

Currently involved in a very slow reading group of the masterpiece of modern literature, James Joyce‘s Ulysses.

Early edition of Ulysses, photographed by Paul Herman
Paul Herman‘s photograph of one of the first editions of Ulysses.

This excerpt comes from Episode 5, The Lotus-Eaters, in which our hero Leopold Bloom (‘Poldy) is out of the house and upon the day, amidst errands. One is to get the mail from the post office (this has also just happened at home) where he receives a letter from Ms. Martha Clifford, who according to Stuart Gilbert (writer of James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study) was discovered through an advertisement for a typist ‘Poldy made (150).

So he reads the love note from Martha, part of a semi-romantic correspondence. Then:

The Excerpt Itself:

He tore the flower gravely from its pinhold smelt its almost no smell and placed it in his heart pocket. Language of flowers. They like it because no-one can hear. Or a poison bouquet to strike him down. Then, walking here and there a word. Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don’t please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha’s perfume.

Ulysses, 76

Channeling the diction of Joyce himself (imitation is the greatest form of flattery)

Tell you a story: though in late 40s waited so long to read this book. What if I hadn’t before death read it? And how old is old ‘Poldy?

Stephen Rea in the 2003 film of Ulysses, entitled "Bloom"
Stephen Rea as ‘Poldy in the 2003 film of Ulysses, entitled “Bloom

Waited because of this awe, this esteem in which I held the book. Stood proudly upon a pedestal where I could keep it. Though I had no sense of what this pedestal was and why it was to be there. But I knew from college days, perhaps even before that conversation I had about Don DeLillo’s Mao II.

Notes on the passage

  • I read the first sentence as an unpunctuated compound predicate (Strunk, White, in graves turning). But then the “language of flowers” that goes unheard. A smell that invokes a meaning? And yet, some of these mentioned do not have noticeable smells, right? Like anemone or cactus?
    More importantly, the smell cannot be expressed by the words. So the names of flowers stand for smells, which stand for … emotions?
  • A secret language.
  • The poison, which he comments upon its ability to end his struggle. And ‘Poldy is killing time before he must go to the funeral for Paddy Dignam. Dignam’s suffering has ended.
  • Martha wants to know what is Molly’s perfume …
  • Need to go read the corresponding section of The Odyssey, because that will clarify everything. [Sarcasm]
  • Is there such a thing as manflower?