Book IV – Finnegans Wake’s final book – contains only one chapter. It stands for the last of the four stages in Vico’s theory of history – the “ricorso.” The chapter read like the finale to a symphony, and also like an epilogue to a victorian novel, as well as one of those inimitable Joycean finishes that have no natural analogy at all. In my mind, Joyce’s best ending is the final section of “The Dead.” That story moves with breathtaking an unexpected pathos towards Gabriel Conroy’s realization about his wife’s past history, his own coming death, Ireland, religion and the world.
In a way, the closing of Finnegans Wake returns to the emotional register of “The Dead” (though this time from a feminine perspective) which is surprising, considering that whatever else its merits, Finnegans Wake has been, for my at least (unlike Dubliners) a largely unemotional experience. Not just because it’s complicated to read – Ulysses is too, after all, but there is a sort of humanity running across that entire book that is, more or less, absent from Finnegans Wake. So the ending was certainly surprising.
I’ll split this book into three sections – I – HCE’s radioed SOS to the world/history, II – the demise of Shaun, III – ALP’s final monologue.
I. “Calling all downs” (593)
This last chapter begins almost like the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – with a blast of major-key verbal fanfare, couched in the language of a sinking ship’s SOS:
Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas!
Calling all downs. Calling all downs to dayne. Array! Surrection. Eirewecker to the wohld bludyn world. O rally, O Rally, O rally! Phlenxty, O rally! To what lifelike thyne of the bird can be. Seek you somany matters. Haze sea east to Osseania. Here! Here! Tass, Patt, Staff, Woff, Havv, Bluvv, and Rutter. The smog is lofting…
The tone is both hopeful (“rally!”, “the smog is lofting”) and fearful (“surrection”). The “east” suggests the coming of day, but also the coming of the Mongolian hordes, and, ranging all the way back to the book’s second sentence: “Sir Tristam, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea” (3). Also the “dayne” suggests the returning uber-Northern mythical god of them all – Finn.
There’s a sense of Revelation hovering in the air as well, especially with the spiritual/surreal line that follows the chapter’s opening paragraph:
A hand from the cloud emerges, holding a chart expanded (593 – my emphasis).
This is a double HCE’ed sentence, and suggest that the end of days is at hand, here presented as an unrepentant deus ex machina. Here follow pages of HCE and Finnegan imagery and allusion, plus a lot of lists establishing a feeling of geographical and temporal universality. Many of the book’s other prominent character-motifs – Shem, Shaun, Kate, Issy – make appearances, but Finn/HCE dominate.
II. The end of Shem/Shaun
Book III was about the reign of Shaun, though towards the end, he was unmasked as a plagiarizing, inauthentic cookie-cutter leader. Now, he’s just another member of the public fleeing the impending flood, again suggesting to me James II after he was deposed (or at least, Neal Stephenson’s version of him in The Baroque Cycle). Now he’s Kevin, in a boat that’s looking for somewhere to land:
where amiddle of meeting waters of river Yssia and Essia river on this one of eithers lone navigable lake piously… diaconal servent of orders hibernian, midway across the subject lake surface to its supreem epicentric lake Ysle… holy Kevin hided till the third morn hour but to build a rubric pentitential honeybeehivehut in whose enclosure to live in fortitude” (605).
In other words – Kevin/Shaun has decided, in time-honored tradition, to “head for the hills.”
There’s one more reprise of the Shem/Shaun conflict theme, here as Muta and Juva (609), again bringing us all the way back to I.1 with Mutt and Jute (16-18). Here things come to an end as their theoretical significance is once more confusingly articulated:
Muta: So that when we shall have acquired unification we shall pass on to diversity and when we shall have passed on to diversity we shall have acquired the instinct to combat and when we shall have acquired the instinct of combat we shall pass back to the spirit of appeasement?
Juva: By the light of the bright reason which daysends to us from the high.
Muta: May I borrow that hordwanderbafle from you, old rubberskin?
Juva: Here it is an I hope it’s your wormingpen, Erinmonker!
That final “shoot” brings us back to Buckley and the Russian general, and also reminds of of one of Finnegans Wake’s central themes: violence, though seemingly less rational and effete than academic discourse, are actually one and the same. Shem (conniving intellectualism) and Shaun (aristocratic force) are yin and yang.
III. ALP’s Final Monologue
The Shem/Shaun talk subsides towards the book’s tenderest moment: ALP trying to wake the great Finnegan (or maybe HCE, or both). She sees the way is finally clear to reclaim her husband, and re-create the world:
Away! Rise up, man of the hooths, you have slept so long!
As archetypical as “ALP” is, she becomes a very real person in these closing pages. It is one of this final section’s great achievements that it’s able to present characters who were created AS ARCHETYPES and still conjure up sympathy for them while they remain symbolic.
One of the most touching lines, to me, comes a few lines later:
But there’s a great poet in you too (619).
ALP knows that in HCE re-arisen is all the creative force of humanity and the universe, and she wants so badly to see it re-emerge, setting aside the long years of the dower, Victorian/silver-age-Roman rule of Shaun.
Again, touchingly, she gets him dressed:
Here is your shirt, the day one, come back. The stock, your collar. Also your double brogues. A comforter as well. And here your iverol and everthelest your umbr. And stand up tall! Straight. I want to see you looking fine for me… You make me think of a wonderdecker I once. Or somebalt that sailder, the man megallant, with the bangled ears… (619-620).
The language of ALP sounds both like a loving wife and loving mother, tenderly dressing her husband/son for the world.
[irrelevant detail – here’s where “googling” is used – “One chap goggling the holyboy’s thingabib and this lad wetting his widdle” (620]
ALP’s talk also solidifies the time-transcending nature of the HCE/ALP bond – “what will be is. Is is. But let them… Yes. We’ve light enough. I won’t take our laddy’s lampern. For them four old windbags of Gustsofair to be blowing at” (620-621). Their relationship moves past the “four old windbags” – it is essentially irreducible to the terms of academic/historical dead language.
Now talk about “the Lord” starts – ALP/HCE are going to visit the lord above even them, a figure as yet unmentioned in the book:
We might call on the Old Lord, what do you say? … Remember to take off your white hat, ech? When we come in the presence. And say hoothoothoo, ithmuthisthy! His is house of laws. And I’ll drop my graciast kertssey too” (623).
ALP’s hopes are actually relatively modest for their re-incarnation:
Park and a pub for me. Only don’t start your students of Donachie’s yeards agoad again… You will always call me Leafiest, won’t you dowling? (624)
ALP wants the same middle-class “respectability” for which HCE pleaded at the end of III.3. They don’t want to be gods in any haughty sense, just to be left alone, and tend to their business and garden.
As the last quotation shows, though, gradually, ALP’s encouragement is exchanged for a somber, defeated tone – she knows HCE/Finn is bound to fall. It’s a tone that, for all this book’s grandiosity of form and obscurity of meaning, took me quite emotionally off-guard:
I wisht I had better glances to peer to you through this baylight’s growing. But you’re changing, acoolsha, you’re changing from me. I can feel. Or is it me is? I’m getting mixed. Brightening up and tightening down. Yes, you’re changing, sonhusband, and you’re turning, I can feel you, for a daughterwife from the hills again. Imlamaya. And she is coming. Swimming in my hindmoist. Diveltaking on me tail… (627)
Here at last ALP realizes that all her defending of HCE, thorough the whole book, as a misunderstood great man, whom she alone comprehends – that whole project of hers is cast as an inevitable failure. He, her “sonhusband” turns away from her, towards his “daughterwife.” His crime comes again, and she’s both on the receiving and the giving end of it. As ALP, she’s a hapless aged woman losing her husband, the one she’s worked so hard for, to a younger woman, but as Issy, she is that younger woman.
There’s a falling off towards the last few pages as ALP dies. Disallusioned at last, she struggles with letting this hope of hers pass away:
I thought you were all glittering with the noblest of carriage. You’re only a bumpkin. I thought you the great in all things, in guilt and in glory. You’re but a puny (627).
That’s confusing, because “I thought” is referring to her in younger times – as Issy, when she herself was the temptress that helped bring about the fall, but now she’s in the present – “you’re only a bumpkin.” At long last, on the other side of the Moebius strip, she sees he’s just a low, dirty old man, as attractive as he had been to her long ago.
She goes on to a noble death on her own terms, however:
Loonely in me loneness. For all their faults. I am passing out. O bitter ending! I’ll slip away before they’re up. They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me.
Then, what struck me as the saddest passage of them all, it’s the same that “brings us back” (3) to the start of the book:
And it’s old and old it’s sad and old it’s sad and wary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of hi, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens more. 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 this morning ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair. If I seen him bearing down on me down 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 through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememoree! Till thousandsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the
Joyce’s byline suggests an ending, but it’s also obvious that the book both ends and begins here: “A way a lone a last a loved a long the …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 .”
The fun of the childhood rhyme about Michael Finnegan, was that it ended with “begin again,” and then you sang the song again at a faster speed, over and over again until you got too annoying and your parents told you to be quiet. After I finished the book, I read the first few pages again, and in fact, their styles match up… the ricorso gives way naturally to the age of gods. But there’s no real way to “finish” this book. You can only put it down until next time.