Eating Poetry (XXX) – “Every telling has a tailing”

by A. Jay Adler on February 11, 2012
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In 1929, James Joyce recorded this rendition of “Anna Livia Plurabelle,” from Finnegans Wake. It is one of only two recordings of Joyce reading from his work, after a a much more sonically primitive 1924 reading of an excerpt from Ulysses. This wonderful animation by savagecabbage offers subtitles to aide in deciphering Joyce’s luccious vocalization of an Irish washerwoman’s brogue. First among the challenges, of course, is the language itself, almost a new one, forged of endless portmanteau words, accent transliterations, homonym transpositions, and puns. As was so often the case in Joyce’s Paris years, Sylvia Beach of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company played an instrumental role in the recording. From Beach’s account:

Mr. Ogden boasted that he had the two biggest recording machines in the world at his Cambridge studio and told me to send Joyce over to him for a real recording. And Joyce went over to Cambridge for the recording of “Anna Livia Plurabelle.”

So I brought these two together, the man who was liberating and expanding the English language and the one who was condensing it to a vocabulary of five hundred words. Their experiments went in opposite directions, but that didn’t prevent them from finding each other’s ideas interesting. Joyce would have starved on five or six hundred words, but he was quite amused by the Basic English version of “Anna Livia Plurabelle” that Ogden published in the review Psyche. I thought Ogden’s “translation” deprived the work of all its beauty; but Mr. Ogden and Mr. Richards were the only persons I knew about whose interest in the English language equaled that of Joyce, and when the Black Sun Press published, the little volume Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, I suggested that C.K. Ogden be asked to do the preface.

How beautiful the “Anna Livia” recording is, and how amusing Joyce’s rendering of an Irish washerwoman’s brogue! This is a treasure we owe to C. K. Ogden and Basic English. Joyce, with his famous memory, must have known “Anna Livia” by heart. Nevertheless, he faltered at one place and, as in the Ulysses recording, they had to begin again.

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4 comments

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Merilyn Jackson February 11, 2012 at 7:56 am

Gee, and to think that to the cadence of Yankee Doodle Dandy, my hubs and I used to snuggle in bed and read from Finnegan’s Wake as foreplay!

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