Melbourne, 2019

Joyce

They came with their maps, neatly folded. Inside their creased memories were their connections to the famous Irish author through naming, through knowing and living. They’d walked his streets, stood on his corners, entered his chapels, and gazed at the river of a city he’d written about.

They’d lived a little of Grace, Two Gallants, A Painful Case and The Dead. While he was alive, the 15 stories of James Joyce’s Dubliners had caused upset. He’d dared to use real place names such as the North Wall, Rutland Square and Waterhouse’s clock. He’d dared to write about his religion. He’d dare to write about much more.

The class devoted to the great writer was a mixed bag with some, like me, not a convert, having heard many a tale about how difficult he was. But the stories were a different matter. And I was also keen to look at the moderns, the reinterpretations in Dubliners 100.

The great writer would have been impressed. He was the subject of all discussion, around which everything circled. The moderns who’d had a go at his work, who’d been invited to rewrite the collection were deemed successful in some instances, could pass in others and the rest, pale imitations of the great writer.

It is said by someone who did their research and actually counted them up, that Joyce used an astonishing 1700 musical references, give or take. Joycean scholars claim that he had an encyclopaedic knowledge and appreciation of music of all types.

The music for me was an afterthought, an interesting little aside. The words are what counted for me. And our tutor had the power to unpack the great writer’s words to this complete novice, someone who’d been challenged by page 1 of that big book, Ulysses. The short stories, however, were unfolding and revealing.

And then one day, while studying The Dead, the Joycean tutor played an accompanying recorded piece, Oh! Ye Dead sung in a voice, classical in its lilt and tone. And from somewhere amidst the map keepers, came a voice, pure in its sound, strong in its heart, singing forth:

And the fair, and the brave whom we loved on earth are gone,
But still thus ev’n in death,
So sweet the living breath
Of the fields and the flow’rs in our youth we wander’d o’er

And I realised then, that there was more to the map keepers, that there was more to a song and the music, and much more to James Joyce.

Stereo Story # 491

Annette Signorini lives a stone's throw from Newport Lakes (Victoria, Australia) and has contributed to Radio National's Earshot series Hot Summer Land. She has also collaborated with artist Debbie Harman-Qadri, writing poems based on artwork from the exhibition Abandoned Selves.