Jun. 16, 2003

An Argument

by Thomas Moore

MONDAY, 16 JUNE 2003
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Poem: "An Argument," by Thomas Moore from A Book of Love Poetry (Oxford University Press).

An Argument

I've oft been told by learned friars,
That wishing and the crime are one,
And Heaven punishes desires
As much as if the deed were done.

If wishing damns us, you and I
Are damned to all our heart's content;
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment!

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates, born in Millersport, New York (1938). She's known for novels and short stories in which people's lives are torn apart by violence. She's the author of books such as Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990) and We Were the Mulvaneys (1996). The book that had the most profound influence on her life and her writing was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She read it when she was about ten years old, and loved how Alice was calm and rational when facing nightmarish situations. She said that Alice's calmness made a strong impression, and ever since she has tried to write about nightmares and bizarre things in a coherent, calm way.

Today is Bloomsday, celebrating James Joyce's novel Ulysses, which takes place on June 16th, 1904. Today in Dublin, people will celebrate the book by reading passages aloud, visiting all the places mentioned in the book, and eating the favorite foods of the character Leopold Bloom, such as kidneys and other innards of beasts. Joyce chose June 16th, 1904 for his novel because on that day he went on his first date with the love of his life, Nora Barnacle. A few days before, he had seen a tall beautiful woman with long red hair walking on Nassau Street. He stopped and talked to her, and they got together on the evening of June 16th. They walked out on the wide fields by the banks of the River Dodder as the sun was setting, and Joyce fell in love with her. The following October, just a few months after they'd met, they left Ireland together. She came from western Ireland, which most Dubliners considered the backward part of the country. Some people thought she wasn't smart enough for him, but Joyce loved her unrefined ways. He often wrote down things she said. She once said of a rundown apartment, "That place wasn't fit to wash a rat in." They lived like nomads in Rome, Zurich, Trieste, and Paris. He started writing Ulysses when he was thirty-six years old. It took him seven years to finish. He wanted to describe Dublin as accurately as he could. He wrote letters to friends asking for a list of shop names, street awnings, the number of steps leading down to 7 Eccles Street, and how long it took to walk from one part of the city to another. He used rhyming dictionaries, maps of Dublin, street directories, and Golberts "Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland." For the final "Molly Bloom" section of the book, he borrowed Nora's unpunctuated writing style and quoted from many of her letters. By the time he finished, his eyesight was so poor that he had to write in different colored inks to see what he had written. The book ends with Molly's soliloquy: "O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and 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."

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