…happy words on her tongue, happy laughter. A bird twittering after storm, happy that its little foolish life has fluttered out of reach of the clutching fingers of an epileptic lord….
Joy springs from the absence of fear or pain, according to Epicurus. Applying his theory would explain Amalia’s post-op giddiness. Joyce compares her survival to a songbird’s soaring and singing in a celebration of life. His use of this image invites comparison to the more complex use of avian flight and song in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”
The memory of pain retreats effortlessly and immediately. The vacuum created fills with euphoria. Keats says: “One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.” The Lethe is the underworld’s river of forgetfulness. Having bathed in the Lethe, memories of the past wash away before reincarnation. Short-lived pain memory explains how, despite childbirth’s agony, families with more than one child DO exist.
Keats’ poem also calls up images of death in a world where the nightingale and all nature is immortal. There are always “beeches green,” the color of summer, and imbued with “greenness,” meaning still immature and still perfecting until experience betrays perfection.
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; Where but to think is to be full of sorrow And leaden-eyed despairs, Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Amalia, marked by the surgeon’s blade, is now imperfect. She has known pain, and since her condition was “grave,” we presume she faced mortality. Will vulnerability and imperfection make her less desirable for Joyce or more? Keats might find her appeal greater. He might even feel a sense of urgency since she is now in decline and might escape his grasp. For the poet, there is little doubt. He says: “…for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful Death,/” Signorina Popper is no longer an object of art, but is now like the human artist deafened by the clicking sweep hand on the clock of mortality. Joyce, by contrast, showed no interest in making Amalia Popper immortal through this art. The prose poem, Giacomo Joyce, was never groomed for publication.
Finally, there is Keat’s reference to the Old Testament story of Ruth. Ruth became the model of biblical fidelity because she remained with his family on her husband’s death rather than return to her father’s tent. Ultimately she remarries into the same extended family. Throughout Giacomo Joyce, the Maestro has plied his cunning in secret attempts to woo Amalia while under the watchful eye of Leopoldo Popper and Trieste’s Jewish community. He would have been pleased to have his nightingale fly her father’s tent and alight among foreigners.
don ward September 17, 2020