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The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly -- James Joyce

Back in action after a week of guest poems...
(Poem #389) The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly
Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
By the butt of the Magazine Wall,
  (Chorus) Of the Magazine Wall,
           Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he's kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he'll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy
  (Chorus) To the jail of Mountjoy!
           Jail him and joy.

He was fafafather of all schemes for to bother us
Slow coaches and immaculate contraceptives for the populace,
Mare's milk for the sick, seven dry Sundays a week,
Openair love and religion's reform,
  (Chorus) And religious reform,
           Hideous in form.

Arrah, why, says you, couldn't he manage it?
I'll go bail, my fine dairyman darling,
Like the bumping bull of the Cassidys
All your butter is in your horns.
  (Chorus) His butter is in his horns.
           Butter his horns!

(Repeat) Hurrah there, Hosty, frosty Hosty, change that shirt
   on ye,
Rhyme the rann, the king of all ranns!

        Balbaccio, balbuccio!

We had chaw chaw chops, chairs, chewing gum, the chicken-pox
   and china chambers
Universally provided by this soffsoaping salesman.
Small wonder He'll Cheat E'erawan our local lads nicknamed him.
When Chimpden first took the floor
  (Chorus) With his bucketshop store
           Down Bargainweg, Lower.

So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous
But soon we'll bonfire all his trash, tricks and trumpery
And 'tis short till sheriff Clancy'll be winding up his unlimited
With the bailiff's bom at the door,
  (Chorus) Bimbam at the door.
           Then he'll bum no more.

Sweet bad luck on the waves washed to our island
The hooker of that hammerfast viking
And Gall's curse on the day when Eblana bay
Saw his black and tan man-o'-war.
  (Chorus) Saw his man-o'-war
           On the harbour bar.

Where from? roars Poolbeg. Cookingha'pence, he bawls
   Donnez-moi scampitle, wick an wipin'fampiny
Fingal Mac Oscar Onesine Bargearse Boniface
Thok's min gammelhole Norveegickers moniker
Og as ay are at gammelhore Norveegickers cod.
  (Chorus) A Norwegian camel old cod.
           He is, begod.

Lift it, Hosty, lift it, ye devil, ye! up with the rann,
   the rhyming rann!

It was during some fresh water garden pumping
Or, according to the Nursing Mirror, while admiring the monkeys
That our heavyweight heathen Humpharey
Made bold a maid to woo
  (Chorus) Woohoo, what'll she doo!
           The general lost her maidenloo!

He ought to blush for himself, the old hayheaded philosopher,
For to go and shove himself that way on top of her.
Begob, he's the crux of the catalogue
Of our antediluvial zoo,
  (Chorus) Messrs Billing and Coo.
           Noah's larks, good as noo.

He was joulting by Wellinton's monument
Our rotorious hippopopotamuns
When some bugger let down the backtrap of the omnibus
And he caught his death of fusiliers,
  (Chorus) With his rent in his rears.
           Give him six years.

'Tis sore pity for his innocent poor children
But look out for his missus legitimate!
When that frew gets a grip of old Earwicker
Won't there be earwigs on the green?
  (Chorus) Big earwigs on the green,
           The largest ever you seen.

   Suffoclose! Shikespower! Seudodanto! Anonymoses!

Then we'll have a free trade Gael's band and mass meeting
For to sod him the brave son of Scandiknavery.
And we'll bury him down in Oxmanstown
Along with the devil and the Danes,
  (Chorus) With the deaf and dumb Danes,
           And all their remains.

And not all the king's men nor his horses
Will resurrect his corpus
For there's no true spell in Connacht or hell
  (bis) That's able to raise a Cain.
-- James Joyce
No, this is not an April Fool's prank; it's an actual poem. I'm not sure I
understand it (in fact, I'm sure I _don't_ understand it), but I do enjoy it for
its wordplay and humour and (there's no other phrase for it) low linguistic


Here's an explanation of sorts:

... from the books of verse produced by Joyce, Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach,
it is impossible to take the novelist very seriously as a poet, but The Ballad
of Persse O'Reilly is in a different class. It is written in the language of
Finnegan's Wake, which is a kind of 'Babylonish Dialect' - a phrase used by Dr
Johnson is speaking of Milton's language in Paradise Lost. Mr Eliot has pointed
out the parallel between the blind and musically gifted Milton and the blind and
musically gifted Joyce. Joyce's blindness or near-blindness forced him away from
the visual to the musical and emotional associations of words, and his
linguistic erudition supplied another element for the construction of the
language of Finnegan's Wake...

... Finnegan's Wake - 'a compound of fable, symphony and nightmare' (Campbell
and Robinson) - is an allegory on many planes of 'the fall and resurrection of
mankind. The 'hero' is H. C. Earwicker, a Dublin tavern-keeper in Chapelizod,
whose universal quality is indicated by the names Here Comes Everybody and
Haveth Childers Everywhere. He is a candidate in a local election, but he loses
his reputation as a result of some never quite defined impropriety in Phoenix
Park, and suffers from the guilt of it ever afterwards. In another context of
meaning Phoenix Park is the Garden of Eden and the impropriety is Original Sin.
Three down-and-outs, Peter Cloran, O'Mara and Hosty, 'an ill-starred
beachbusker', pick up the rumour of Earwicker's Fall, and Hosty lampoons him in
the 'rann', 'The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly'. Note that perce-oreille = earwig.

        -- Kenneth Allott, The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse.


To get an idea of the sheer intellectual density (pun half-intended) of
Finnegan's Wake, you might want to read this essay on Joyce's use of the
classics: [broken link]

There's a (extensively hyperlinked) glossary of words used in FW (or at least,
the first four chapters thereof) at [broken link]

8 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Larry Hammick said...

Greetings to all life-forms in cyberspace,
It seems to me that Joyce is trying to parody the vituperative
hate-ballads that he had listened to in Ireland.
Larry Hammick

xx said...

Finnegans Wake does not have an apostrophe, previous posters please

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