I play lightly, softly singing, John Dowland’s languid song.
In this canto, Joyce sings and plays love songs in the Popper home until dawn approaches. Delaying the walk home, he ends the evening singing John Dowland’s “Loath to Depart.” The tune is Elizabethian and written for the lute. Presumably, the Maestro would accompany himself on a guitar, substituting this instrument for the stringed lute. This song is reminiscent of those that decorate Shakespeare’s plays. Those were days when the gamesmanship of romantic wooing replaced medieval courtly love. Here you can listen to Dowland’s tune and lyrics.
Dowland was also a practitioner of gamesmanship. Another Irish fellow, the composer frequently found himself on the continent, often a visitor to Italy. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, accused him of being a “damned Papist,” but believed he would remain loyal for a crown if not to the Crown. Similarly, Joyce would remain faithful to Nora unless a more desirable lover was under his spell. He remained circumspect. Songs of romantic love could weave a snare suggesting but not proclaiming his intentions to Amalia.
Joyce mixed his minstraling with wine and devotion. Once on his way home and alone, his courtly facade disappeared. His path is lit by puddles that reflect shame (“the scum that mantles the cesspool of the court of slobbering James.”).
One of the great enJOYCEments of reading the words of James Aloysius is that any allusion you find is likely to have a second cutting edge, even a third. In this canto, he offers: “Here are wines all ambered, dying failings of sweet airs, the proud pavan, kind gentlewomen wooing from their balconies with sucking mouths,….” Pavan is a cordial made from fermented muscat, both sweet and acidic. The grape presents itself to the imbiber disguised as orange blossom (like an English tutor who might have baser intentions).
The Pavane is also a courtly dance introduced in Venice at the height of that city’s economic and artistic influence. The name of the processional is said to come from the word for a strutting peacock. Trade shifted with the discovery of sea routes to Asia. Venice lost its prestige, power, and wealth. By the 18th Century, debauchery became the prominent feature of Venetian society, personified by its most famous citizen since Marco Polo introduced Venitian prosperity. That other Venetian was also called Giacomo, Cassanova. Finally, Joyce takes advantage of an ironic allusion. PAVANA is another name for a principal Hindu deity, Vayu. As “Pavana” he is the Purifier.
Pomander balls were used by pedestrians afoot in Medieval streets, filthy and foul-smelling to mask putridity. In this canto, a corrupting agent made of grape masquerades as orange blossom. A stench in the street wafts on an unhealthy breeze. These are the discordant notes of Joyce’s romantic love and hidden intentions for Amalia Popper.
don ward September 1, 2020