Notes on Finnegans Wake

James Joyce reading Page 213 of Finnegans Wake:

Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a tailing and that’s the he and the she of it.  Look, look, the dusk is growing. My branches lofty are taking root.  And my cold cher’s gone ashley.  Fielhur? Filou! What age is at?  Its saon is late.  ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh.  When will they reassemble it?  O, my back, my back, my bach!  I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains.  Pingpong!  There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez!  And Concepta de Send-us-pray!  Pang!  Wring out the clothes!  Wring in the dew!  Godavari, vert the showers!  And grant thaya grace!  Aman.  Will we spread them here now?  Ay, we will.  Flip!  Spread on your bank and I’ll spread mine on mine.  Flep!  It’s what I’m doing.  Spread!  It’s churning chill.  Der went is rising.  I’ll lay a few stones on the hostel sheets.  A man and his bride embraced between them.  Else I’d have sprinkled and folded them only.  And I’ll tie my butcher’s apron here.  It’s suety yet.  The strollers will pass it by.  Six shifts, ten kerchiefs, nine to hold to the fire and this for the code, the convent napkins twelve, one baby’s shawl.  Good mother Jossiph knows, she said.  Whose had?  Mutter snores?  Deataceas!  Wharnow are alle her childer, say?  In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them farther?  Allalivial, allalluvial!  Some here, more no more, more again lost alla stranger.  I’ve heard tell that same brooch of the Shannons was married into a family in Spain.  And all the Dunders de Dunnes in Markland’s Vineland beyond Brendan’s herring pool takes number nine in yangsee’s hats.  And one of Biddy’s beads went bobbling till she rounded up lost histereve with a marigold and a cobbler’s candle in a side strain of a main drain of a manzinahurries off Bachelor’s Walk.  But all that’s left to the last of the Meaghers in the loup of the years prefixed and between is one kneebuckle and two hooks in the front.  Do you tell me that now?  I do in troth.  Orara por Orbe and poor Las Animas!  Ussa, Ulla, we’re umbas all!  Mezha, didn’t you hear it a deluge of times, ufer and ufer, respund to spond?  You deed, you deed!  I need, I need!  It’s that irrawaddyng I’ve stoke in my aars.  It all but husheth the lethest zswound.  Oronoko!  What’s your trouble?  Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue riding the high horse there forehengist?  Father of Otters, it is himself!  Yonne there!  Isset that?  On Fallareen Common?  You’re thinking of Astley’s Amiptheayter where the bobby restrained you making sugarstuck pouts to the ghostwhite horse of the Peppers.  Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper. It’s well I know your sort of slop.  Flap!  Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.  Lord help you, Maria, full of grease, the load is with me!  Your prayers, I sonht zo!  Madammangut!  Were you lifting your elbow, tell us, glazy cheeks, in Conway’s Carrigacurra canteen?  Was I what, hobbledyhips?  Flop!  Your rere gait’s creakorhueman bitts your butts disagrees.  Amn’t I up since the damp dawn, marthared mary allacook, with Corrigan’s pulse and varicoarse veins, my pramaxle smashed, Alice Jane in decline and my oneeyed mongrel twice run over, soaking and bleaching boiler rags, and sweating cold, a widow like me, for to deck my tennis champion son, the laundryman with the lavandier flannerls?  You won your limpopo limp from the husky hussars when Collars and Cuffs was heir to the town and your slur gave the stink to Carlow.  Holy Scamander, I sar it again!  Near the golden falls.  Icis on us!  Seints of light!  Zezere!  Subdue your noise, you hamble creature! What is it but a blackburry growth on the dwyergray ass them four old coldgers owns.  Are you meanem Tarpey and Lyons and Gregory?  I meyne now, thank all, the four of them, and the roar of them, that draves that stray in the mist and old Johnny MacDougal along with them.  Is that the Poolbeg flasher beyant, pharphar, or a fireboat coasting nyar the Kishtna or a glow I behold within a hedge or my Garry come back from the Indies?  Wait till the honeying of the lune, love!  Die eve, little eve, die!  We see that wonder in your eye.  We’ll meet again, we’ll part once more.  The spot I’ll seek if the hour you’ll find.  My chart shines high where the blue milk’s upset.  Forgivemequick, I’m going!  Bubye!  And you, pluck your watch, forgetmenot.  Your evenlode.  So save to jurna’s end!  My sights are swimming thicker on me by the shadows to this place.  I sow home slowly now by own way, moyvalley way.  Towy I too, rathmine.

Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia, trinkettoes!  And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills.  Gammer and gaffer we’re all their gangsters.  Hadn’t he seven dams to wive him?  And every dam had her seven crutches.  And every crutch had its seven hues.  And each hue had a differing cry.  Sudds for me and supper for you and the doctor’s bill for Joe John.  Befor!  Bifur!  He married his markets, cheap by foul, I know, like any Etrurian Catholic Heathen, in their plinky lemony creamy birnies and their turkiss indienne mauves.  But at milkidmass who was the spouse?  Then all that was was fair.  Tys Elvenland!  Teems of times and happy returns.  The seim anew.  Ordovico or viricordo.  Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle’s to be.  Northmen’s thing made southfolk’s place but howmulty plurators made eachone in person?  Latin me that, my trinity scholard, out of eure sanscreed into oure eryan.  Hircus Civis Eblanensis!  He had buckgoat paps on him, soft ones for orphans.  Ho, Lord!  Twins of his bosom.  Lord save us!  And ho!  Hey?  What all men?  Hot?  His tittering daughters of.  Whawk?

Can’t hear with the waters of.  The chittering waters of.  Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk.  Ho!  Are you not gone ahome?  What Thom Malone?  Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. Ho, talk save us!  My foos won’t moos.  I feel as old as yonder elm.  A tale told of Shaun or Shem?  All Livia’s daughtersons.  Dark hawks hear us.  Night!  Night!  My ho head halls.  I feel as heavy as yonder stone.  Tell me of John or Shaun?  Who were Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of?  Night now!  Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm!   Night night!  Telmetale of stem or stone.  Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of.  Night!

Book I: Page 4-5

Okay, this entry takes us to the top of Page 5.  I’m going to stop each of these installments at the end of a paragraph so that I can keep track.


oystrygods: Do you prefer oysters or snails?  Yeah, I remember Spartacus too. And the general feeling of love luv LOVE from the first page continues on.  Except that Ostrogoths were a Germanic tribe that caused the end of the Roman Empire (and the end of this book, which we still haven’t shaken the tail of).  Does this account for all the Germanic coinages on the first page?  That this book is its own Roman Empire? 

Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax!: Some good stuff from Finnegans Web on the subject. Apparently, “Brekkekkex koax koax” is the refrain of the titular frogs in Aristophones’s The Frogs. Our man Joyce is clearly swinging for the fences.

Baddelaries: Yeah, I thought it was Baudelaire too.  But a “badelaire” is a type of sword.

Malachus Micgranes: An anagram of Charlegmagne? Or is Joyce having a laugh with us while we’re getting migraines trying to see what he’s up to?  Malachus is also a type of sword.  So perhaps it’s simply swordplay, with the references leading down a rabbit hole.

Verdons: Another sword.Arm

camibalistics: Cum and balls. Well, of course.  This is Joyce.  And this is swordplay.

Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head: This sounds like some Irish answer to the KKK.

I must confess that I don’t really understand all the clamor in the first paragraph, and don’t especially care for the paragraph at all until we get to the glorious “Arms apeal with larms, appalling,” where “peal” matches “[a]larms.”  And I start to see that this is an ongoing continuation of the love vs. war thing from the first page.  I also like “What chance cuddleys,” which asks what chance a cuddly has or, alternatively, considers cuddleys to be chance possibilities amidst all this confusion.

chance cuddleys: A variation perhaps on “chance medley,” which I understand appears later in the book.

cashels:  Cashel is an Irish town with serious Catholic history.

tegotetabsolvers: Yes, it sounds like an anagram of “teetotalers.” But Finnegans Web points out that this may be a reference to the Latin confessional “Ego te absolve” (“I absolve you”).

fanespanned most high heaven: There is the suggestion that this is a corruption.

Iseut?: Tristan and Iseult?

where askes lay: Incidentally, in Norse mythology, Askr was the first man.  But it’s also ME for “ashes.”  Again, I’m not certain if we’re even at the beginning of the book yet.  Unless there are several beginnings and countless cycles of death.

pharce for the nunce: Going to go on a limb (seeing as how we had “pen/isolate” on the first page and a good deal of trees in this para). Joyce is being quite cocky here (and not just with the swordplay).  This may also be a clever way of Joyce knowing that the majority of his readers giving up at around this point, possibly declaring this tale as a “pharce” (Pharos — one of seven wonders of the world?).  So the cycle of life replacing death and things dying at the beginning is akin to readers who will carry on and those who will not.

phoenish: Any number of possibilities here (although we can strike out “phoning it in” from the list). Phoneme, phony, phoenix (especially after “rise you must”).

Bygmester Finnegan:  Aside from “big mister,” “bygmester” is Danish for “master builder.”  And didn’t we just have a mathmaster at the top of the page?  A glorious theme of construction after ashes!

maurer: German for bricklayer.  Also possible: Maurer’s dot.

joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy: Oh, Jim, you wacky studmuffin!  Loads of books from the Bible that cannot compete with the vastness of your fine enterprise!  Or is it our man Finnegan laying bricks?  (Laying bricks? Dropping a deuce?)

sternely struxk: Lawrence Sterne again. Wondering if “struxk” is some strange hybrid of “Struck” and River Styx.  That would get us back to riverrun, yes?  We get that sandwiching again with “watsch,” signifying “wash” and “watch.” And we get it again later with “eviparated” (suggesting “evaporated” and “parted” and possibly “oviparous” or something).

guenneses: If I had to guess, between this and the “Jhem or Shen” Joyce/Finnegan had exquisite taste in drink.

pentschanjeuchy: Okay, I’m getting better at this (that is, I’m figuring this stuff out without looking at Finnegans Web all the time!).  Or maybe I’m just used to the sandwiched words, drunkenly crammed into each other.  Here, “penchant for juice” runs into “Pentateuch” (the first five books of the OT). 

man of hod: Clearly “man of god,” but a hod is used to carry bricks.

Toper’s Thorp: A Joyce invention.  Toper is an alcoholic.  Throp is a hamlet.  I’m not sure if this is Dublin (doublin) or the commodius vicus. But it will be interesting to determine where Finnegan lives.  Did anybody ever refer to any part of Dublin as Toper’s Thorp? 

Soangso: The Yangtze?  What river is this?  Or does Finnegan toil quite drunk so that location doesn’t matter?  “So and so” indeed!

I’m not even going to try to unrustle the stuff about little filthy Annie (“liddle phifie Annie”) in large part because the language stands out quite well without being understood.  I will say that Finnegan’s sandwiched drunken words feel more intuitive to me than some of the possible referential traps I’ve been wrestling with in this paragraph.

balbulous: Another good one.  “Bibulous” and Babel, I caught. But Finnegans Web has a neat reference here to A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man: Balbus as a Roman who built a wall. 

Haroun Childeric Eggeberth: Aha!  This is the HCE that everyone has been talking about!  Haroun Childeric — see Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  Is this where Scott Adams grabbed “Eggbert” from?

caligulate: I love this verb!  I’m so using it somewhere.

malltitude: Perhaps the most explicit conjoining. Malt and multiude.

neatlight of the liquor: So we had the Jamison’s arclight.  Is liquor really the only way to negotiate this book?  To lay bricks?  I’m willing to perform some modest experiments along these lines for future installments of this Tumblr.

waalworth: Is this Walworth or Woolworth?  I’m thinking the latter, given that we’re talking “a skyerscape” later on.

erigenating: Signifying “originating” and “Erigena” (born in Ireland).  Nice, Joyce.  Wait, what’s this?  An anagram of “eigenartig” (Ger: strange) as well?


celescalating: sandwich of “celeskating” (ice skating) and “escalating” — also the “himals” are the Himalayas?

hierarchitectitiptitoploftical: Loads of words crammed into here (hierarchy, architectual, tiptop) — the ultimate sandwich, you might say.  “Toplofitical” is haughty, incidentally.

larrons o’toolers: Ref to St. Laurence O’Toole?  “Larron” is French for thief.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that we’re now officially building rather than dying.  I believe Finnegans Wake has finally reached its beginning!  I’m now curious just how much Joyce studied changing urban landscapes outside his home turf!

Page by Page from Now On

So based on the first entry, I greatly underestimated how much reference Joyce could cram onto one page.  I think the best method to tackle Finnegans Wake is to simply take each page one at a time.  Accordingly, I’m going to make each Tumblr post that of a separate page and hope for the best.  This has been quite fun so far!

Book I: Page 3


First off, on November 15, 1926, Joyce wrote a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver explaining some of the meaning contained on the first page (in the first draft, that is). I only discovered this letter after I had plucked some of the meanings here.  But I offer this in the interest of transparency.

vicus: A “vicus” is commonly a civilian settlement close to a military or mining operation (one that is largely unplanned). Does Howth Castle and Environs — in close proximity to Howth — serve as a vicus?  Or maybe Joyce is suggesting, through this recursive loop originating from the end of the book, that the reading experience of Finnegans Wake is akin to living in a vicus.  We’re not necessarily going to occupy the settlement that Grand Master Jimmy is in, but at least we can come close.

violer d’amores:  A very nice pun from Joyce connoting both the instrument (“viola d’amores”) and raping one’s loves.  Apparently, the first draft of Finnegans Wake listed “viola d’amores” instead.  So it’s reassuring to know that Joyce didn’t always have the double meaning in mind (or did he?). 

fr’over: from over and connoting “froth over” in sex and sea.

passencore: One of many delightful puns on the first page (“penisolate” and “doublin” to follow!) that takes us away from mysterious Sir Tristram (Shandy?). (My 21st century brain things “mumblecore” here.)  Finnegans Web, however, tells us that it is “pas encore,” or passing again.  This truncated word also connotes “passenger,” which may suggest a vicarious (vicus?) reading experience.

wielderfight:  So we’ve had “passencore” from the French.  And now it’s "wielderfecthen" (fight again) from the German.  Also Tennyson reference.  And, of course, “wield or fight.”  In other words, rather than fight again, shouldn’t we simply use the glorious tool (the book, that is) before us?

penisolate:  Well, before I checked Finnegans Web, I was predictably concerned with getting “peninsular” and “penis” and feeling somewhat proud of this.  Then I was humbled by the “pen/isolate” discovery which I had overlooked.  And what is writing but masturbation? Okay, Joyce, I sympathize.  Even though there’s 627 more pages to go.

themselse: Re: Weaver letter, “another Dublin 5000 inhabitants.”

Laurens County’s gorgios:  So a gorgio is a word used by a Gypsy used to describe a non-Gypsy. Laurens County, however, is in the United States (specifically Georgia).  And wouldn’t you know it?  There’s actually a Dublin in Georgia!  So two Dublins!  A double Dublin!  And when Joyce describes the gorgios “doublin their mumper,” we have some marvelous double meanings here.  (“Gorgios” = “Georgias” and “doublin” = “Dublin”).

mumper: Alright, Joyce, no need to get personal.  A “mumper” is a begging impostor. But who is the impostor here?  Ireland or America?  If we’re doublebacking on the beginning of FW from the end, maybe we all are!

mishe mishe: me Irish? My response: miam miam!

tauftauf: Finnegans Web offers a wealth of possibilities.  “taufen” means “to baptize” in German.  Tau tau is “Tris-tram” in Greek?  The sound of a train? 

venissoon after: Very soon after, venison after (dear me, is that what we’re having for dinner?), Venice soon after (Are we taking a trip to Italy?).

kidscad buttended a bland old issac: Notes on “kidscad” from Finnegans Web (kid, fish, younger brother — Dublin, Georgia?), gunned down a bland old laughter?

all’s fair in vanessy, were: I love this play on “all’s fair in love and war,” especially since it comes after “wielderfight.”  (Also, I understand there may be a Vanessa in the book.  We’ve had “venissoon” and “vanessy” in this paragraph.)

sosie sesthers: twin sisters; more doubles!

nathanjoe: Near anagram for Jonathan. Campbell (alas, I found him!) says “twone nathanjoe” is a reference to Jonathan Swift. 

Rot a peck of pa’s malt: In my head, I thought “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”  Especially after the twone nathanjoe

Jhem or Shen: Jamison, of course.  But if this great whiskey is “brewed by arclight and rory end” (rear end?), is there no way that our good man Tristram can do so?  Or is Jamison merely the illusory brew that one might perceive by the light of the curve (regginbrow/rainbow later in the sentence!), if one has the cash (the gold at the end of the rainbow?)?

rory: Loads of applicable defs from Finnegans Web. The Shaw letter again applies.  Rory is red, roridus (Latin) for dewy.  Personally, I think the “Rory O’Connor” idea’s a lark. 

regginbrow: A fun fusion of English and German (“regenbogen”), basically rainbow.

ringsome: More English/German. Ger. “ringsum” around.  The greatest stretch from Finnegans Web: “Rings um” are the first two words of Theodor Mommsen’s History of Rome

More theories on the “rory end to the regginbrow” stuff: the seventh clause in the seventh paragraph.  We’ve also been primed for this with “violer d’amores,” which is, of course, a seven-stringed instrument.  There’s also the suggestion at Finnegans Web that “aquaface” is the natural end of the book, which is spiraling at us from the beginning.  This certainly matches the rainbow motif.  But dammit where’s our pot of gold? 

bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk:  Now this fabulously long word does indeed have a purpose, as helpfully outlined by Finnegans Web. It depicts thunder in numerous languages.  If you want to pronounce this successfully, here’s a guide.

oldparr:  Old Tom Parr, alleged to have 152 years, matching (of course) the alleged long life span of early humans in Genesis.  I like how Joyce suggests that “christian minstrelry” (gloriously without caps!) has been relying on Old Parr for the Adam & Eve legend. 

retaled/entailed: Joyce uses “retaled” instead of “related,” continuing with the Jonathan anagram seen above.  “Entailed” suggests again that we are the end of the tale rather than the beginning. But it is “tale” of some sort always, just as we are chasing the “tail” of the tale.

great fall of the offwall: Well, given that we are given “humptyhillhead” and “humself prumptly” later, this is clearly a reference to Humpty Dumpty.

unquiring: Choir/quire? Are we even reading the right section (quire) of the book?  I’ll take this as an intuitive method of misleading the reader.  Especially the whole “one well to the west.” What is west of us? The blank page? Or the end of Ulysses?

pftjschute: Search me. I get that this is the fall of Finnegan.  But why this word?

devlinsfirst: I thought for some reason of deviled eggs when I read this. But Devlins here could very well be Dublins.

Also, we’ve been introduced to a guy named Finnegan who is about to suffer a “great fall.” 


This Tumblr is a supplement to The Modern Library Reading Challenge, my ambitious effort to read the top 100 works of fiction of the 20th century (as decided by a group of mostly white guys).  As part of the Challenge, I am obliged to read James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. On the very morning that I am writing this introduction (August 7, 2011), the last essay that I have written is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (#90) and the last book that I have read is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (#88).  Because Joyce’s massive and complicated book, nestled at #77, is coming up fast, and because I do not wish to be felled by a baroque masterpiece, I have been forced to develop a reading strategy to (a) fit the book into the Modern Library Reading Challenge essays that will ensure that there isn’t too much of a delay between entries, (b) contend with the bountiful booty of language and references contained within the book, and (c) offer some public display of my progress for others who may be tackling this book and are feeling somewhat alone.

So I have decided to read Finnegans Wake in ten page installments, dutifully annotating along the way and reproducing said annotations on this Tumblr.  Since Finnegans Wake is about 630 pages long, I figure that 63 installments (perhaps carried out over the course of approximately 100 days) should permit me enough time to slowly read Joyce’s magnum opus while reading the ten novels in between The Call of the Wild and Finnegans Wake

I realize that this is more than a bit insane.  It is quite possible that I will go mad.  It is quite possible that this Tumblr will be helpful for others who are reading Joyce.  I do plan on linking to any other Joyce resources I find as I make my way through the book. This Tumblr should not be confused with a scholarly or authoritative resource.  This is merely one guy trying to make something out of Joyce.  It will likely steer into some highly subjective waters and it will quite possibly be populist and jocular in nature. 

The version of Finnegans Wake I will be using is the Penguin version with the green strip on the cover and the gold lettering.  ISBN 0 14 00.6286 6.  My approach here will be to use the page numbers from this version.  So if you wish to follow along, that’s the edition you should get.

My strategy will be to look at Finnegans Wake largely through its language — reconciling obscurant words, neologisms, and other references with what I can find in the books I have around here and whatever exists online.  Perhaps haphazardly, I have decided to refrain from using Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson’s A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake.  The reasoning behind this is because I want to find my own journey through the river. 

I also recognize that I will be very wrong many times in what I dredge up.  And I’m fine with this.  Because I feel at times that the best reading experiences and forms of discovery come from being wrong. 

Most importantly, I am maintaining this Tumblr to ensure that the experience of reading Finnegans Wake stays fun for me (and perhaps a few others).  In contending with the first page, I have been delighted by Joyce’s ridiculously long word for thunder, as well as his many puns.  This is a book that doesn’t have to kill you, so long as you understand that you’ll need to slow down your reading and that you’re not going to pick up every reference or meaning.  I am most excited to see what I uncover during this process!