Goliardly discoveries in the First
Eight Pages of Finnegans Wake
First let it be said that for the sake of only one reference, that
being "Sir Tristram, violer d'amores," it was necessary to
consult four books, those being a French dictionary, Bulfinch's
Mythology, a compendium of stories concerning King Arthur and his
milieu and the Harvard Dictionary of Music.
In any case, violer d'amores: literally, violator of loves, not only
of other peoples' marital unions through the knightly (one may
surmise nightly) blandishment of his love-sword in the bedrooms of
sundry ladies, but also of the love King Mark had for him as a
nephew and champion of his cause, the latter because he was in love
with Mark's wife Isolde, Iseult, La Beale Isoud or whatever you want
to call her. This was said to be the result of a magic potion, but
in fact it's pretty clear that they were in love long before he
agreed to go to Ireland to fetch her for his uncle. Since the match
was Tristram's idea, it isn't hard to figure out what his ulterior
motives might have been. Chivalry was curious that way.
Violer, from violence, is also proper in its root form, and I quote:
"And there Sir Marhaus [or Moraunt, or whatever you want to
call him] fell down on his knees, the edge of Sir Tristram's sword
left in his brain-pan."
Then there's viola d'amore, an instrument of the 17th and 18th
centuries. It was a member of the viol family, distinguished from
the violin family by its sloping shoulders and sound holes shaped
like flaming swords. In its later incarnations it also tended to
have sympathetic strings, there for the sake of reverberation only
and not to be bowed. This pun is presumably a reference to the fact
that Tristram was renowned as a musician (the harp was actually his
axe, but the possible harp puns-harpie, Twyla Tharp-have to do with
women, not men, therefore would have been inadmissible). "
…on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight
his penisolate war." This is Tristram again, penisolate, using
his penis to desolate, and certainly also isolate, in the sense that
the "war" of Tristram was largely an internal war against
his better judgment; also possibly peninsulate, since he hailed from
Cornwall, which was I believe is located on the peninsula of
Brittany, across the English Channel from England proper, a
peninsula to be contrasted with the scraggy isthmus, just because of
the delicious penility of peninsulas (it had to be a deliberate joke
by the forces of continental formation that Manhattan and Brooklyn
outline the largest flaccid cock'n'balls the world has ever seen,
while San Francisco is undeniably erect).
And the so-called "Peninsular War" in which Napoleon (who
figures prominently in the museum below) tried to gain control of
British-controlled Portugal by disrupting Spain, ridiculously
referred to as a "peninsula," no doubt has some relevance
as well. One of Napoleon's schemes was to pit Charles IV of Spain
against his son Ferdinand, so perhaps that reminded Joyce of the
conflict between Tristram and his reputedly cowardly uncle Mark, the
King of Cornwall. Charles IV was said, like Mark, to be more
befuddled than competent. Why isn't Italy the peninsula? Too
obvious? Penisolate also in the sense that all wars are fought with
variations on the penis (take note, Mr. Bush) and this was
especially evident when they were fought with the penile utensils of
the spear and sword. This is the secret reason why women should be
denied access to the military. They just don't get it.
Knightly (courtly) love was also a war in some ways, undoubtedly
penisolate and one which Tristram fought to excess in Ireland, a war
of circumcession, say, or better a war of circumspection,
penistically speaking, lest one should tread where the syphilitic,
for example, has gone before. But I digress.
At the end of the section of Finnegans Wake known as "Tales
Told of Shem and Shaun" occurs the line: "In the name of
the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. Allmen."
In early pages of the work there is a description of the death of
Finnegan: "His howd feeled heavy, his hoddit did shake. (There
was a wall of course in erection) Dimb! He stottered from the
latter. Damb! He was dud." So stottering from the latter, on
the one hand, he fell from the ladder. On the other, he fell from
the latterly mentioned wall against which the ladder was presumably
leaning. And since at the end of Shem and Shaun God is the former
and Christ the latter, it seems that Christ is the ladder too,
without which poor Finnegan might still be with us. The blessed
ladder we may climb to heaven assuming we haven't already fallen off
of it, the drunken stotterer, trowel in hand.
And not at all leastly: "They laid him brawdawn alanglast bed.
With a bockalips of finisky fore his feet. And a barrowload of
guenesis hoer his head. Tee the tootal of the fluid hang the twoddle
of the fuddled, O!" Compare this last sentence with the
following, from Genesis 1:6 (Revised Standard Edition): "And
God said, 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and
let it separate the waters from the waters.'" On the other
hand, perhaps the fuddled is I and he should back off a little on
the fluid himself.
The early and compulsive references to Sir Tristram, musicien
extraordinaire and certainly a secular figure, facilitation of the
baptism of Sir Palamedes (or Palomides or, oh, never mind) the
Saracen notwithstanding, make it clear that Joyce was a secret
goliard. Or was it such a secret? A museum tour, toward the end of
the section of which the foregoing has been an extremely haphazard
and fragmented discussion. The guide is indicating paintings of
Wellington, celebrated defeater of Napoleon at Waterloo. I quote:
"This is the Willingdone on his same white harse. This is the
big Sraughter Willingdone, grand and magentic in his goldtin spurs
and his ironed dux and his quarterbrass woodyshoes and his magnate's
gharters and his bangkok's best and goliar's goloshes and his
pulluponeasyan wartrews. This is his big wide harse."
In the absence of any evidence at all that Wellington himself was a
goliard, we can only assume that he borrowed the boots from someone
who was. Might that not have been Joyce himself, in exile in France
a hundred years before he was born? We leave it to more informed
minds to decipher. In the meantime we sing and we tell our tales,
and we do what goliards do.