James Joyce playing the guitar in Trieste, 1915 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems

James Joyce Quote
Ulysses not only contains a far greater number of musical allusions than any of its predecessors, but also illustrates the far more varied use Joyce made of music to develop the style, characterization, mood, structure, and themes of his novel.
James Joyce Unquote

[ Zack Bowen ]

Music in Ulysses


The numerous musical references scattered throughout Joyce's masterpiece play a strong central role in advancing the narrative and enhance both the effectiveness and the expressiveness of the stream-of-consciousness technique employed in the book. We come to know the characters in the book by their actions, words, thoughts, and memories; but it can be well argued that we come to understand them by their individual tastes in music and the melodies that flit through their minds in the course of the day.

A number of the songs mentioned or alluded to in the book have been recorded on the recently released CD, MORE Music from the Works of James Joyce, including:

Below is a sampling of additional song titles used by Joyce in Ulysses — and performed on Sunphone Records' first CD release — along with commentary on their importance to the action of the story:

Silent, O Moyle

There is a glancing reference to this Thomas Moore melody in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses. It figures much more prominently in the Dubliners short story, "Two Gallants."

Love's Old Sweet Song

This is one of the most frequently referred to and significant musical allusions throughout Ulysses. Molly Bloom will be singing this song on her concert tour with Blazes Boylan and, indeed, the afternoon liaison between her and Blazes is ostensibly for the purpose of rehearsing the music for that concert, including this song. Bloom learns that the song will be included in the concert tour early in the morning, and it serves throughout his day and the novel Ulysses both as a leitmotif of Molly's adultery and as the theme song of her potential reconciliation with Bloom.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]


This is a song Bloom buys for his daughter Milly when she is taking piano lessons. Known in English as "The Flower Song," it is tied to Bloom's pen name, Henry Flower, which he uses in his clandestine correspondence with Martha Clifford. It is one of a number of flower references throughout Ulysses.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

Seaside Girls

This cheerful ditty is perhaps the most frequently mentioned song in Ulysses. Milly's morning letter to Bloom erroneously refers to the song as having been written by Blazes Boylan, and Bloom associates the song with Boylan throughout much of the rest of the book. It becomes the motif of the universal temptress figures leading all men to their eventual destruction. Most of the subsequent references to the song in Ulysses are made by Bloom, who of course is never far from female temptation.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

My Girl's a Yorkshire Girl

This song is first associated (in the Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses) with Blazes Boylan, who steps to the catchy refrain as he marches down the street. We hear the song later played on the pianola in Bella Cohen's brothel during the Circe episode, where it is linked with Privates Carr and Compton, two British soldiers who eventually get into an altercation with an inebriated Stephen Dedalus.

The song features two young men discussing their girls; in the course of the conversation they find out that the respective girls share similar characteristics. Inevitably it turns out they are both talking of the same girl; and to make matters worse, the lads — who have decided to pay her a visit — are greeted at the door by her husband, who chases them off with his own rendition of the chorus of the song.

Obviously the song furthers the Odyssean theme of a universal temptress, suitors, and a husband who reclaims his right to her. In this way it is a direct parallel to the main dilemma of Ulysses.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

The Holy City

This song is first alluded to in Joyce's early abortive novel Stephen Hero, where Father Moran advises Stephen to learn the song. It assumes major significance, however, in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, where Bloom fantasizes about becoming the leader of a new celestial golden city, the "new Bloomusalem." As Bella Cohen's gramophone blares out the song, Bloom's great edifice is erected and we get a comic parody look at what the new city of Dublin would be like under Bloom as an all-supreme ruler.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

(or, Martha)

This is the title song from the Flotow opera Martha. In the Sirens episode of Ulysses, Bloom hears the song sung by Simon Dedalus in the Ormond Bar just as Bloom is at the low point of his day, the hour of Molly's assignation with Boylan. Bloom is in the process of writing a letter to Martha Clifford and, as Simon sings the words, each line is compared to an event in Bloom and Molly's history through Bloom's stream of conscious thought. Bloom then notes the coincidence between the song title and the name of his pen pal, Martha Clifford, which effectively means that all of Bloom's love life is somehow tied up with the words and music sung by his curious counterpart in fatherhood, Simon Dedalus. (The words on this recording are the words of Charles Jeffereys' English version, which Simon sings in Ulysses.)
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Prof. Zack Bowen]

The Bloom Is on the Rye

One aspect of Joyce's application of musical form to Ulysses is his use of repeated phrases to indicate particular characters or plot issues, a technique borrowed from the operas of Richard Wagner. This song serves as the musical signature or leitmotiv for Leopold Bloom throughout the Sirens episode, the most musical chapter of the novel.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Kevin McDermott]

The Low-back'd Car

Written and performed by Samuel Lover in his mid-19th-century one-man show, Irish Evenings, this song was old and beloved by Joyce's day. The principal appearance in Ulysses occurs right at the end of the Eumaeus chapter. The song's mixture of high language with low subject matter (and the arch, blink-and-you'll-miss-it double entendre of poll/pole) no doubt recommended it to Joyce as an apt recessional for the evening's festivities.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Kevin McDermott]

The Croppy Boy

One of the major musical themes running through Ulysses, this song gathers many large issues — Ireland's tortured political history, Roman Catholicism, divided loyalty, betrayal, and Christ-like self-sacrifice — into one bundle, ripe for Joyce's elaboration. The song dates to the rebellion of 1798; like their hoped-for French allies, the most ardent Irish revolutionaries wore their hair short (i.e., cropped ) in emulation of the virtuous republican Romans. Stephen Dedalus shares a similarity with the song's protagonist by failing to pray for his mother, even on her deathbed: this thought will come back to haunt him, literally, at the climax of the Circe chapter.
[from CD liner notes, contributed by Kevin McDermott]

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