Happy birthday James Joyce (February 2, 2022)

Today is the 140th birthday of James Joyce (1882-1941) and making this one extra special it is the centenary of the publication of Ulysses.

In honor of the occasion, here’s a poem I wrote late in the fall of 2020 and which appeared last spring in the final print issue of the much beloved James Joyce Literary Supplement 35, no. 1 (Spring 2021). It is very special to me and I hope you enjoy it.

James Joyce, February 2, 1882-January 13, 1941

A River Runs Back to its Beginning;

Or, Wake Again Finn

A non-reading of James Joyce, by Phillip E. Wegner

—For my students. 

Winter solstice, 

in dark times, 2020.

He rests. He has travelled



Hail and farewell.

Vanity of vanities.

We’re going downhill fast.

The leaves have all fallen,

The pages of my book drift from me.

Only one remains.

I’ll bear it on me to remind me of life!


So soft this morning hour,

Faintly falling.

Soft morning, city!


I said yes.

I will.


The River Liffey, Dublin, May 2004


“Carry me along, daddy,

Like you done through the toy fair.”

Who is that lankylooking galoot?

If I’d seen him coming for me now

Under billowing white sails

Like he was a Norseman,

Or Michael the Archangel,

I’d sink down at his feet,

humbly and silently,

As after a great fall,

Only to wake, still broken, alone.


Yes, the tides have changed.

It is time.

There’s where we first made love.

I put the rose in my hair

Like the Andalusian girls.

But you could not have a green rose.

But perhaps somewhere?

We pass through the grass

Without a sound.



Dawn breaks.

A call from afar,

Father calls.

Coming, father!

How long?

Have we gone so far already?


Here Comes Everybody,

They come from far and near.

The two of us then,

Us and them,

The end is here.

Time to begin.


Can you?

Wide-awake and laughing-like.

Take two.


But softly, remember me,

Until a thousand years have passed,

Until the end of time.

Your lips are the keys to my heart,

And they have been given to me.

Tell me the word, mother,

If you know now.

I will walk, I will talk;

I will walk and talk with thee.


Away I go,

A way I know,


At last,

A Lasting Peace,

A loved I loved,

A long time,

A long way,

Along the

Old father, old artificer

Stand me

Now and ever




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.

Finnegans Wake I.1, pg. 3


Finn, again! 

Finnegans Wake IV, pg. 628


Reading is first and foremost non-reading.

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, Ch. 1


He rests. He has travelled. 

Ulysses, “Ithaca,” pg. 606

Line 1:


tell me all about

Anna Livia!  I want to hear all

Finnegans Wake I.8, pg. 196

Verses 1-8: 

So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I’ll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff!  So soft morning this morning ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done  through the toy fair. If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he’d come from Arkangels, I sink I’d die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There’s where. First. We pass though the grass behush the bush to.  Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Til thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way  a lone a last a loved a long the

Finnegans Wake IV, pg. 628

Line 4:

According to Beckett, before leaving Paris Joyce had said—‘with something like satisfaction’— ‘We’re going downhill fast.’

  Gordon Bowker, James Joyce, Ch. 34

Line 10:

faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Dubliners, “The Dead,” pg. 194

Line 11:

Soft morning, city! 

Finnegans Wake IV, pg. 628

Lines 13-15: 

yes I said yes I will Yes

Ulysses, “Penelope,” pg. 644

Line 18:

Who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? 

Ulysses, “Hades,” pg. 90

Lines 30-31: 

I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used

                                                                                                Ulysses, Penelope, pg. 643

Lines 32-33:

But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.

                                                                                                A Portrait, Ch. I, pg. 9

Line 41:

—How long is Haines going to stay in this tower?

                                                                                                Ulysses, Telemachus, pg. 4

Line 43:

Here Comes Everybody. 

Finnegans Wake I.2, pg. 32

Line 50:

Can you work the second for yourself?

                                                                                                Ulysses, Nestor, pg. 23

Line 51:

 —Wide-awake and laughing-like to himself . . . .

Dubliners, “The Sisters,” pg. 9

Line 58-59:

Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.

                                                                                                Ulysses, Circe, pg. 474

Lines 60-61:

I will walk, I will talk;

I will walk and talk with thee. 

                                                                                                “The Keys of Heaven”

Line 71: 

                                                                                                Ulysses, “Ithaca,” pg. 607

Lines 73-75: 

Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ch. V, pg. 276

Line 77:


Finnegans Wake I.8, pg. 216

This work represents an experiment in reading, or what Pierre Bayard refers to as non-reading (hearing about, skimming, and forgetting), the closing lines of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In it, I combine a multi-dimensional translation of the lines (including what I believe may be one new discovery: “A gull. Gulls.” from the Albanian agull, “dawn, daybreak” or “semi-darkness, fog”) with a version of the poetic form of the cento, or collage poem, composed largely of lines drawn from a number of Joyce’s works.  I took a first stab at translating the passage in my fall 2014 undergraduate honors seminar on Joyce’s fiction and then returned to it in the fall of2020 for another honors seminar, substantially revising, nuancing, and expanding the translation, recasting it in poetic stanzas, and interspersing where I determined most appropriate some of the key lines, which we had discussed during the course of the semester, from Joyce’s other fiction. I then put together as a gift from my students a small chapbook, which included a printing in a facsimile font based on Joyce’s handwriting and the photo below I took during a summer 2017 visit to Athens, Greece.   My non-reading of Finnegans Wake needs to acknowledge the indispensable aid provided by Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake, Edmund Lloyd Epstein’s A Guide Through Finnegans Wake, and the annotated online Finnegans Wake. All of my non-reading of Joyce’s work owes a huge debt to my former colleague and the celebrated Joyce scholar, Brandy Kershner (1944-2020), honored in the JJLS‘s penultimate issue (34, no. 2) by his student, close friend, and another great Joyce scholar, Garry Leonard. 

Athens, Greece, July, 2017
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