It’s a while since I last read the ‘Nighttown’ episode of Ulysses, but it’s where I opened the book when I took it off the shelf this evening, and I kept on reading. Suddenly I came on something oddly familiar from a different context.
It’s at the point in the fantasy when Edward the Seventh
‘levitates over heaps of slain in the garb and with the halo of Joking Jesus, a white jujube in his phosphorescent face’.
My methods are new and are causing surprise.
To make the blind see I throw dust in their eyes.
Now where had I come across something like that before? In The Rock, of course, the play that shows so much about how Eliot thought about the Great War. When the Blackshirts enter towards the end of the first act, they chant in well-drilled unison:
We come as a boon and a blessing to all,
Though we’d rather appear in the Albert Hall.
Our methods are new in the land of the free.
We make the deaf hear and we make the blind see.
I’d identified the first couplet of this as referencing an advertisement ubiquitous in the twenties:
We come as a boon and a blessing to men,
The Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley pen.
But I had not realised that the second pair of lines was also a pastiche of something.
Those two Edward the Seventh lines turn out to be part of a 1904 poem by Oliver StJohn Gogarty, “The Song of the Cheerful (but slightly Sarcastic) Jesus”, some other verses of which are sung by Buck Mulligan early in Ulysses:
- I’m the queerest young fellow that ever was heard.
- My mother’s a Jew; my father’s a Bird
- With Joseph the Joiner I cannot agree
- So ‘Here’s to Disciples and Calvary.’
- If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine,
- He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine
- But have to drink water and wish it were plain
- That I make when the wine becomes water again.
- My methods are new and are causing surprise:
- To make the blind see I throw dust in their eyes
- To signify merely there must be a cod
- If the Commons will enter the Kingdom of God
- Now you know I don’t swim and you know I don’t skate
- I came down to the ferry one day and was late.
- So I walked on the water and all cried, in faith!
- For a Jewman it’s better than having to bathe.
- Whenever I enter in triumph and pass
- You will find that my triumph is due to an ass
- (And public support is a grand sinecure
- When you once get the public to pity the poor.)
- Then give up your cabin and ask them for bread
- And they’ll give you a stone habitation instead
- With fine grounds to walk in and raincoat to wear
- And the Sheep will be naked before you’ll go bare.
- The more men are wretched the more you will rule
- But thunder out ‘Sinner’ to each bloody fool;
- For the Kingdom of God (that’s within you) begins
- When you once make a fellow acknowledge he sins.
- Rebellion anticipates timely by ‘Hope,’
- And stories of Judas and Peter the Pope
- And you’ll find that you’ll never be left in the lurch
- By children of Sorrows and Mother the Church
- Goodbye, now, goodbye, you are sure to be fed
- You will come on My Grave when I rise from the Dead
- What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly
- And Olivet’s breezy—Goodbye now Goodbye.
Is Eliot’s version a deliberate reference to Gogarty? Is he stirring his ideal reader’s memory of this breezy bit of blasphemy to underline the fact that the Blackshirts are offering a second-rate substitute for religion, and are therefore themselves blasphemous? Or maybe he didn’t know Gogarty’s poem, but knew the lines from Ulysses?
Or, once he had started with the ‘boon and a blessing rhythm’, did a memory of Gogarty’s poem just come unbidden to help him out? You can probably never tell with T.S. Eliot.