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James Joyce at the Piano in Paris, 1939 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
CD #1 Songs
Artwork for CD #1 cover

James Joyce Quote
His harp...seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her master's hands. One hand played in the bass the melody of Silent, O Moyle, while the other hand careered in the treble after each group of notes.
James Joyce Unquote

[ Dubliners ]

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From CD #1:
Silent, O Moyle

Words by Thomas Moore, to the air "My Dear Eveleen";
musical arrangement by N. Clifford Page

Liner Notes

This Thomas Moore song from his volume of Irish Melodies figures in one of James Joyce's short stories and in Ulysses, as well as in Finnegans Wake.

"Two Gallants" (from Dubliners)

When first we meet the "gallant" pair of the title, Lenehan and Corley, they are out and about on the town, discussing the latter's upcoming assignation with his girl, "a slavey in a house on Baggot Street" (whom Corley is merely using, for both sex and money). Along the way they pass a street musician playing this song from Moore. Though listless, his performance is meant to appeal to the Irish sentiments of the small group of onlookers in order to coax money out of them.

    They walked along Nassau Street and then turned into Kildare Street. Not far from the porch of the club a harpist stood in the roadway, playing to a little ring of listeners. He plucked at the wires heedlessly, glancing quickly from time to time at the face of each newcomer and from time to time, wearily also, at the sky. His harp too, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees, seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her master's hands. One hand played in the bass the melody of Silent, O Moyle, while the other hand careered in the treble after each group of notes.

The unsung lyrics of this melody are the plaintive words of Lir's daughter, Fionnuala, transformed into a swan and cursed to wander for 900 years over certain lakes and rivers in Ireland until the "day-star" of Christianity comes to "warm our isle with peace and love." Weary of the hardships of her life, she begs for an end.

Lenehan, not quite as heartless as Corley (note the irony: cor = heart), resembles the mythical Fionnuala in that for him, too, experience "had embittered his heart against the world." Fionnuala is the child of royalty; and like her, Lenehan has an air of gentility, which he must disguise so as not to feel out of place in the "poor-looking" refreshment bar where he orders a plate of peas.

Once he takes his leave of Corley, his gaiety forsakes him and his face is described as looking "older." According to the legend, when the curse was finally lifted from Fionnuala and her swan-shape fell away, she stood revealed as ancient, withered, and close to death. Similarly, Lenehan's clothing and mannerisms express youth; however,

his figure fell into rotundity at the waist, his hair was scant and grey and his face, when the waves of expression had passed over it, had a ravaged look.

Thus, beneath his lighthearted exterior Lenehan is as cursed and anguished as the swan of legend.

In the story, the image of the semi-nude female figure carved on the front of the musician's harp, paired with Corley's caddish and mercenary treatment of women, emblematizes an Ireland prostituted, betrayed, benighted, and languishing still in a state of degradation. The implied words of the song simply capture that sentiment:

Yet still in her darkness doth Erin lie sleeping,
    Still doth the pure light its dawning delay.

Lenehan experiences a brief opportunity for grace when he admits to himself that his acquaintances are unworthy and then realizes that all he really wants out of life is a decent job, a home of his own, a warm fire, and a sympathetic mate. But that moment for redemption passes unfulfilled when Corley reveals to the "gaze of his disciple" the small gold coin he has cadged from the slavey. Lenehan's corruption is now complete.


National Library of Dublin

National Library, Dublin
Tindall, The Joyce Country

There is a brief reference to the "Song of Fionnuala" in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses. Gathering in the conversations of the other men with him in Dublin's National Library, Stephen Dedalus is acutely aware of his own sense of separation, of alienation. He does not belong to their national-commercial-aesthetic coterie. At the same time, his heart is still torn over the recent death of his mother. Exiled, alone, living in a world apart from theirs, his art unheard and unappreciated by them, Stephen has a fleeting thought that neatly sums up his feelings:

Cordelia. Cordoglio. Lir's loneliest daughter.

Cordelia, of course, is the spurned but faithful daughter of Shakespeare's King Lear. Cordoglio is an Italian word meaning "grief" or "anguish." Finally, in the last phrase, he identifies himself with Fionnuala, the daughter of the sea king, Lir. Though transformed into a swan and doomed to hardship and wandering far from her homeland, she was gifted with both human speech and the power of song.

Interestingly, the National Library, where this scene occurs, is situated on Kildare street — the same street where Lenehan and Corley in Dubliners heard the harpist playing "Silent, O Moyle."

This line illustrates in a nutshell less the originality than the genius and sheer efficiency of Joyce's stream-of-consciousness technique (or monologue intérieur, a method of narrative which was, as a matter of fact, first exploited by the French author M. Edouard Dujardin in his tale Les Lauriers Sont Coupés, published in 1887). The Bard has been the main topic of conversation in the library, which conjures up the first reference. The name of Shakespeare's character Cordelia suggests the similar-sounding word cordoglio; and it further elicits the allusion to Moore's song by tying together the linguistically related names of "Lear" and "Lir" as well as the parallels in their stories.

The sequence of references reveals with exquisite exactitude, and in a manner that pages of descriptive exposition could never succeed in doing, both Stephen's mood and his individual mode of thinking.

Finnegans Wake

There is at least one oblique reference to "Silent, O Moyle" in chapter III.3:

...and I wound around my swanchen's neckplace a school of shells of moyles marine to swing their saysangs in her silents...
[548:32-34; emphasis added]

The words "moyles" and "silents" in these lines are an obvious tip-off; in addition, "swanchen" suggests Schwänchen, which is the German word for "little swan."

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