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James Joyce at the Piano in Paris, 1939 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
CD #2 Song List
Artwork for CD #2 cover

James Joyce Quote
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James Joyce Unquote

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Shall I Wear a White Rose?

Music by Emily Bardsley Farmer;
words by H. Saville Clarke

Liner Notes


Most of Molly's repertoire dates from the 1880s and early 1890s, when she would have been a young singer. This piece, in a noticeably older style, is from the late 1860s or early 1870s and must have been one of Molly's first songs, as she knew it in Gibraltar.

Joyce was attracted to it for the scene it sets of a woman (Penelope/Molly) waiting for the return of her lover after a long voyage: "I must look my fairest when tomorrow's here; He will come to claim me! Shall I still be dear? I must look my brightest on that happy day, As his fancy drew me when so far away." In the recapitulation we have a glimpse of Ulysses/Poldy, as well: "I shall need no roses if his heart be true" — to me, at least, another indication the morning will bring reconciliation and a new start.

Add to this the song's dreamy heroine attempting to choose between white roses and red ones (traditional symbols of sacred and profane love) and it is clear why Joyce added it to Molly's music roll and used it in the most famous ending in literature —

Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

[CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]

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