Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 22, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (1939), (2014 Folio Edition) by James Joyce #18 Chapter 17

Here we are at chapter 17, the last chapter!  But I am not going to claim that I have ‘finished’ Finnegans Wake, because I have only scratched its surface.  Just as my first reading of Ulysses was a mere suspicion of its riches, so too with FW.  Will I want to read it again?  Not for a while!

But then, I didn’t want to re-read Ulysses either, the first time I read it…

So, what happens in the last chapter?

Well, it’s not any easier to make sense of it.

Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Calling all downs. Calling all downs to dayne. Array! Surrection. Eireweeker to the wohld bludyn world. O rally, O rally, O rally! Phlenxty, O rally! To what lifelike thyne of the bird can be. Seek you somany matters. Haze sea east to Osseania. Here! Here! Tass, Patt, Staff, Woff, Haw, Bluvv and Rutter. The smog is lofting. And already the olduman’s olduman has godden up on othertimes to litanate the bonnamours. Sonne feine, somme feehn avaunt! Guld modning, have yous viewsed Piers’ aube? Thane yaars agon we have used yoors up since when we have fused now orther. Calling all daynes. Calling all daynes to dawn. (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle edition, p. 593).

Perhaps after 600-odd pages I should have recognised Sandhyas! as Sanctus and Surrection as resurrection? Sandhyas is apparently Sanskrit, says Campbell, and Joyce is punning on the Sanctus of the MassReading FW really is still very chastening…

While Tindall warns me to be alert for signs and symbols of a Viconian divine age – saints, a druid, Easter, the Phoenix, the sun rising over Stonehenge and at last, a mystical union with our Father, he says this chapter is another ricorso – to stir things up before we go back to the first page to begin again. But his explanation of what is going on in this complex chapter confuses me more than ever so I turn to Campbell’s neat synopsis at the beginning of his Skeleton Key.  He tells me that Angelic voices herald the day, that sleepers awake in a triumph of wakefulness over deep mythological dream, and that although there is enlightenment, … things are not essentially changed, only refreshed.  

The morning paper and ALP’s letter in the mail will tell you all the news of the night just past (pp.615-19). The woman, during the morning sleep, has felt her husband turn away from her.  Time has passed them both; their hopes are now in their children.  HCE is the broken shell of Humpty Dumpty, ALP the life-soiled last race of the river as it passes back to sea.  The mighty sweep of her longing for release from the pressing shores and for reunion with the boundless ocean swells into a magnificent monologue (pp. 619-28).  Anna Liffey returns to the vast triton-father; at which moment the eyes open, the dream breaks, and the cycle is ready to begin anew.  (Campbell, p.22)

When I turn to Campbell’s detailed chapter analysis I find a summary that finally clarifies the whole idea of the book.

The cycle of a life has run its course.  The hero in his soul’s anguish dreamed of a future that would be gloriously mastered by his John o’Dreams son, but beheld the vision disintegrate and dissolve.  In the end all reduced itself to a dowdy, unpromising present.  The man and woman had reached the end of their fruitfulness.  Love was no longer what it had once promised. (p.337)

So the burdens of the future shift from father to son, a lumpish chip off the old block, and HCE will just become the comic old-timer Finnegan.   In  fact Kevin/Shaun was born to step into his father’s shoes:

In Book II we saw the old man beginning to crack; in Book IV we shall see the instrument (Shaun) who is pulverising him.  Books I and III represent HCE’s visions, under pressure of past and future. (p.338)

Yes, Shaun gets to be top dog, and will (as part of the cyclic plan of FW) eventually generate his own dreams of past and future…

Yes, but what actually happens? Well, it’s a montage again…

There’s an introduction, the life of Saint Kevin of Glendalough, a secular debate between Muta and Juva (huh, who are they?), then a further debate between St Patrick and a druid, with a philosophical interlude which leads into that letter that kept recurring in previous chapters.  It turns out to be from HCE’s wife ALP, i.e. Anna Lavinia Plurabelle. And it all finishes up with a monologue, Joyce pleasingly giving the last word to a woman, as he did in Ulysses.  (Only ALP says nothing so simple as a Yes.)

Would I know any of this without my guides Tindall and Campbell?  No, not a hope.  This chapter is really difficult.

Noisy friarbird (Photo credit: Brett Donald, Wikipedia

Instead, I get side-tracked by thus faraclacks the friarbird which probably has nothing to do with anything. Campbell thinks this references an Australian friarbird, but I think a phoenix is a better fit for a chapter about resurrection and a child renascenent.  (After all, without Google, how would Joyce ever have heard of our drab little bird?)

And I get thoroughly irritated by the debates.  Muta and Juva’s script just seems to be pub argy-bargy, but St Patrick and the druid are a different order of difficulty.  Just as well Joyce saved these sections in Chinese pidgin and Japanese pidgin till this last chapter, or I might very well have abandoned ship.  Failed by my usual strategy of reading the text out loud – I can’t tell which is which, or what any of it means.

Tunc. Bymeby, bullocky vampas tappany bobs topside joss pidgin fella Balkelly, archdruid of islish chinchinjoss in the his heptachromatic sevenhued septicoloured roranyellgreenlindigan mantle finish he show along the his mister guest Patholic with alb belongahim the whose throat hum with of sametime all the his cassock groaner fellas of greysfriaryfamily he fast all time what time all him monkafellas with Same Patholic, quoniam, speeching, yeh not speeching noh man liberty is, he drink up words, scilicet, tomorrow till recover will not, all too many much illusiones through photoprismic velamina of hueful panepiphanal world spectacurum of Lord Joss, the of which zoantholitic furniture, from mineral through vegetal to animal, not appear to full up together fallen man than under but one photoreflection of the several iridals gradationes of solar light, that one which that part of it (furnit of heupanepi world) had shown itself (part of fur of huepanwor) unable to absorbere, whereas for numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom of Entis-Onton he savvy inside true inwardness of reality, the Ding hvad in idself id est, all objects (of panepiwor) allside showed themselves in trues coloribus resplendent with sextuple gloria of light actually retained, untisintus, inside them (obs of epiwo). (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition p. 611).

Sanskrit, pidgin Chinese and Japanese?? Perhaps my patience is faltering at the last… I think Tindall is irritated too:

Matters of the East, both Near and Far, crowd this chapter.  Egypt, India, China, Japan are here, along with their creeds and languages: Moslemism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, Sanskrit, pidgin English, and Nippon English.  Here to serve no occult purpose, these oriental matters are here to assist the sun, which, after all, rises in the East.  Complex no doubt, Joyce was almost never deep.  (When oriental matters detained [D.H.] Lawrence, they served an occult purpose; for Lawrence was deep and almost always simple.)  Nor was Joyce transcendental.  The hand emerging from a cloud with a chart (593.19), serving no high purpose, is the hand of a gargoyle or a decoration on time’s map.  (Tindall, p. 307)

I think I could read this chapter ten times and still not make much sense of it, which is, alas, a rather sour note to end on.

I wonder if I might have found the going less hard if I’d also used Finnegans Wake (Oxford World’s Classics)According to the OWC website, this edition has a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline of the ‘plot’ and

the Introduction by Finn Fordham anchors the work in conventional novelistic terms of plot and characters, identifying themes, discussing the work’s origins and composition, its linguistic playfulness and humour, and suggesting a range of ways into the book.

Next time, eh?


A Reader’s Guide to “Finnegans Wake” by William York Tindall, Syracuse University Press, 1969; and

A Skeleton Key to “Finnegan’s Wake”: James Joyce’s Masterwork Revealed, by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, Collected Works Edition, New World Library, 2005

Finnegans Wake (Modern Classics) read by Jim Norton with Marcella Riordan, Naxos AudioBooks 2009

Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics), introduction by Seamus Deane, Penguin, 2015.  (I’m using the Kindle edition ASIN B00XX0H95S, just to make quoting easier because typing the text is such a provocation to AutoCorrect).)



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  10. I facetiously suggested you read Ulysses next in my comment on your final FW post, before I read this one & saw you’ve already done so. Maybe Dubliners, then, one of my favourites.


    • I’ve read them all! I started with Portrait, went back to Dubliners, then Ulysses (four times) and then FW, with a reprise of Dubliners in between. But it is a long time since I read Portrait, so I’ll probably revisit that soon.


  11. Oh congratulations! I don’t remember how I felt when I finished – it was so very confused at the end. And it took me about 9 months going at my rate of a couple pages a day – I read it like a meditation and only comprehended glimmers and flashes. – I also have read all Joyce wrote and I love Dubliners.


  12. I’ve no idea what Joyce was doing in Oceania (“Haze sea east to Osseania”) but if he’d known about the Australian Labor Party there would no doubt been another layer of ALP puns.

    Apart from thanking you for all the work you have done getting through this, I think we should also thank you for identifying and to a large extent reviewing the various works of reference.


    • Oh yes, ALP! I never thought of that!


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