Ce curieux et émouvant petit ouvrage a été écrit par Joyce à Trieste, alors qu'il allait commencer Ulysse et venait de terminer Portrait de l'artiste adolescent. Le héros porte le nom de Joyce et raconte l'histoire de ses amours avec l'une de ses étudiantes d'anglais, une jeune patricienne juive, très belle, qu'il aperçoit de loin à l'opéra. L'idylle se développe dans une écriture soignée, précieuse, à travers des petits tableaux, des réflexions, pour se terminer en pleine hallucination.
Who? A pale face surrounded by heavy odorous furs. Her movements are shy and nervous. She uses quizzing-glasses.
Yes: a brief syllable. A brief laugh. A brief beat of the eyelids.
Cobweb handwriting, traced long and fine with quiet disdain and resignation: a young person of quality.
I launch forth on an easy wave of tepid speech: Swedenborg, the pseudo-Areopagite, Miguel de Molinos, Joachim Abbas. The wave is spent. Her classmate, retwisting her twisted body, purrs in boneless Viennese Italian: Che coltura! The long eyelids beat and lift: a burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris.
High heels clack hollow on the resonant stone stairs. Wintry air in the castle, gibbeted coats of mail, rude iron sconces over the windings of the winding turret stairs. Tapping clacking heels, a high and hollow noise. There is one below would speak with your ladyship.
She never blows her nose. A form of speech: the lesser for the greater.
Rounded and ripened: rounded by the lathe of intermarriage and ripened in the forcing-house of the seclusion of her race.
A ricefield near Vercelli under creamy summer haze. the wings of her drooping hat shadow her false smile. Shadows streak her falsely smiling face, smitten by the hot creamy light, grey wheyhued shadows under the jawbones, streaks of eggyolk yellow on the moistened brow, rancid yellow humour lurking within the softened pulp of the eyes.
A flower given by her to my daughter. Frail gift, frail giver, frail blue-veined child.
Padua far beyond the sea. The silent middle age, night, darkness of history sleep in the Piazza delle Erbe under the moon. The city sleeps. Under the arches in the dark streets near the river the whores' eyes spy out for fornicators. Cinque servizi per cinque franchi. A dark wave of sense, again and again and again.
- Mine eyes fail in darkness, mine eyes fail,
Mine eyes fail in darkness, love.
Again. No more. Dark love, dark longing. No more. Darkness.
Twilight. Crossin the piazza. grey eve lowering on wide sagegreen pasturelands, sheddin silently dusk and dew. She follows her mother with ungainly grace, the mare leading her filly foal. Grey twilight moulds softly the slim and shapely haunches, the meek supple tendonous neck, the fine-boned skull. Eve, peace, the dusk of wonder....... Hillo! Ostler! Hilloho!
Papa and the girls sliding downhill, astride of a toboggan: the Grand Turk and his harem. Tightly capped and jacketted, boots laced in deft crisscross over the flesh-warmed tongue, the short skirt taut from the round nobs of the knees. A white flash: a flake, a snowflake:
- And when she next doth ride abroad
May I be there to see!
I rush out of the tobacco-shop and call her name. She turns and halts to hear my jumbled words of lessons, hours, lessons, hours: and slowly her pale cheeks are flushed with a kindling opal light. Nay, nay, be not afraid!
Mia padre: she does the simplest acts with distinction. Unde derivatur? Mia figlia ha una grandissima ammirazione per il suo maestro inglese. The old man's face, handsome, flushed, with strongly Jewish features and long white whiskers, turns towards me as we walk down the hill together. O! Perfectly said: courtesy, benevolence, curiosity, trust, suspicion, naturalness, helplessness of age, confidence, frankness, urbanity, sincerity, warning, pathos, compassion: a perfect blend. Iganatius Loyola, make haste to help me!
This heart is sore and sad. Crossed in love?
Long lewdly leering lips: dark-blooded molluscs
Moving mists on the hill as I look upward from night and mud. Hanging mists over the damp trees. A light in the upper room. She is dressing to go to the play. There are ghosts in the mirror..... Candles! Candles!
A gentle creature. At midnight, after music, all the way up the via San Michele, these words were spoken softly. Easy now, Jamesy! Did you never walk the streets of Dublin at night sobbing another name?
Corpses of Jews lie about me rotting in the mould of their holy field. Here is the tomb of her people, black stone, silence without hope..... Pimply Meissel brought me here. He is beyond those trees standing with covered head at the grave of his suicide wife, wondering how the woman hwo slept in his bed has come to this end..... The tomb of her people and hers: black stone, silence without hope: and all is ready. Do not die!
She raises her arms in an effort to hook at the nape of her neck a gown of black veiling. She cannot: no, she cannot. She moves backwards towards me mutely. I raise my arms to help her: her arms fall. I hold the websoft edges of her gown and drawing them out to hook them I see through the opening of the black veil her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift. It slips its ribbons of moorings at her shoulders and falls slowly: a lithe smooth naked body shimmering with silvery scales. It slips slowly over the slender buttocks of smooth polished silver and over their furrow, a tarnished silver shadow.... Fingers, cold and calm and moving.... A touch, a touch.
Small witless helpless and thin breath. But bend and hear: a voice. A sparrow under the wheels of Juggernaut, shaking shaker of the earth. Please, mister God, big mister God! Goodbye, big world!....... Aber das ist eine Schweinerei!
Great bows on her slim bronze shoes: spurs of a pampered fowl.
The lady goes apace, apace, apace..... Pure air on the upland road. Trieste is waking rawly: raw sunlight over its huddled browntiled roofs, testudoform; a multitude of prostrate bugs awwait a national deliverance. Belluomo rises from the bed of his wife's lover's wife: the busy housewife is astir, sloe-eyed, a saucer of acetic acid in her hand..... Pure air and silence on the upland road and hoofs. A girl on horseback. Hedda! Hedda Gabler!
The sellers offer on their altars the first fruits: green-flecked lemons, jewelled cherries, shameful peaches with torn leaves. The carriage passes through the lane of canvas stalls, its wheel-spokes spinning in the glare. Make way! Her father and his son sit in the carriage. Owlish wisdom stares from their eyes brooding upon the lore of their Summa contra Gentiles
She thinks the Italian gentlemen were right to haul Ettore Albini, the critic of the Secolo, from the stalls because he did not stand up when the band played the Royal March. She heard that at supper. Ay. They love their country when they are quite sure which country it is.
She listens: virgin most prudent.
A skirt caught back by her sudden moving knee; a white lace edging of an underskirt lifted unduly; a legstretched web of stocking. Si pol?
I play lightly, softly singing, John Dowland's languid song. Loth to depart: I too am loth to go. That age is here and now. Here, opening from the darkness of desire, are eyes that dim the breaking East, their shimmer the shimmer of the scum that mantles the cesspool of the court of slobbering James. Here are wines all ambered, dying fallings of sweet airs, the proud pavan, kind gentlewomen wooing from their balconies, with sucking mouths, the pox-fouled wenches and young wives that, gaily yielding to their ravishers , clip and clip again.
In the raw veiled spring morning faint odours float of morning Paris: aniseed, damp sawdust, hot dough of bread: and as I cross the Pont Saint Michel the steelblue waking waters chill my heart. They creep and lap about the island whereon men have lived since the stone age..... Tawny gloom in the vast gargoyled church. It is cold as on that morning: quia frigus erat. Upon the steps of the far high altar, naked as the body of the Lord, the ministers lie prostrate in weak prayer. The voice of an unseen reader rises, intoning the lesson from Hosea. Haec dicit Dominus: in tribulatione sua mane consurgent ad me. Venite et revertamur ad Dominum.... She stand beside me, pale and chill, clothed with the shadows of the sindark nave, her thin elbow at my arm. Her flesh recalls the thrill of that raw mist-veiled morning, hurrying torches, cruel eyes. Her soul is sorrowful, trembles and would weep. Weep not for me, O daughter of Jerusalem!
I expound Shakespeare to docile Trieste: Hamlet, quoth I, who is most courteous to gentle and simple is rude only to Polonius. Perhaps, an embittered idealist, he can see in the parents of his beloved only grotesque attempts on the part of nature to produce her image........... Marked you that?
She walks before me along the corridor and as she walks a dark coil of her hair slowly uncoils and falls. Slowly uncoiling, falling hair. She does not know and walks before me simple and proud. So did she walk by Dante in simple pride and so, stainless of blood and voilation, the daughter of Cenci, Beatrice to her death:
- ....... Tie
My girdle for me and bind up this hair
In any simple knot.
The housemaid tells me that they had to take her away at once to the hospital, poveretta, that she suffered so much, so much, poveretta, that it is very grave...... I walk away from her empty house. I feel that I am about to cry. Ah, no! It will not be like that, in a moment, without a word, without a look. No, no! Surely hell's luck will not fail me!
Operated. The surgeon's knife has probed in her entrails and withdrawn, leaving the raw jagged gash of its passage on her belly. I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope. O cruel wound! Libidinous God!
Once more in her chair by the window, happy words on her tongue, happy laughter. A bird twittering after storm, happy that its little foolish life has fluttered out of the clutching fingers of an epileptic lord and giver of life, twittering happily, twittering and chirping happily.
She says that, had The portrait of the Artist been frank only for frankness' sake, she would have asked shy I had given it to her to read. O you would, would you? A lady of letters.
She stands black-robed at the telephone. Little timid laughs, little cries, timid runs of speech suddenly broken.... Parlerò colla mamma.... Come! choock, choock! come! The black pullet is frightened: little runs suddenly broken, little timid cries: it is crying for its mamma, the portly hen.
Loggione. The sodden walls ooze a steamy damp. A symphony of smells fuses the mass of huddled human forms: sour reek of armpits, nozzled oranges, melting breast ointments, mastick water, the breath of suppers of sulphurous garlic, foul phosphorescent farts, opoponax, the frank sweat of marriageable and married womankind, the soapy stink of men...... All night I have watched her, all night I shall see her: braided and pinnacled hair and olive oval face and calm soft eyes. A green fillet upon her hair and about her body a green-broidered gown: the hue of the illusion of the vegetable glass of nature and of lush grass, the hair of graves.
My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire.
Those quiet cold fingers have touched the pages, foul and fair, on which my shame shall glow for ever. Quiet and cold and pure fingers, have they never erred?
Her body has no smell: an odourless flower.
On the stairs. A cold frail hand: shyness, silence: dark langour-flooded eyes: weariness.
Whirling wreaths of grey vapour upon the heath. Her face, how grey and grave! Dank matted hair. Her lips press softly, her sighing breath comes through. Kissed.
My voice, dying in the echoes of its words, dies like the wisdom-wearied voice of the Eternal calling on Abraham through echoing hills. She leans back against the pillowed wall: odalisque-featured in the luxurious obscurity. Her eyes have drunk my thoughts: and into the moist warm yielding welcoming darkness of her womanhood my soul, itself disssolving, has streamed and poured and flooded a liquid and abundant seed...... Take her now who will!....
As I come out of Ralli's house I come upon her suddenly as we both are giving alms to a blind beggar. She answers my sudden greeting by turning and averting her black basilisk eyes. E col suo vedere attosca l'uomo quando lo vede. I thank you for the word, messer brunetto.
They spread under my feet carpets for the son of man. They await my passing. She stands in the yellow shadow of the hall, a plaid cloak shielding from chills her sinking shoulders: and as I halt in wonder and look about me she greets me wintrily and passes up the staircase darting at me for an instant out of her sluggish sidelong eyes a jet of liquorish venom.
A soft crumpled peagreen cover drapes the lounge. A narrow Parisian room. The hairdresser lay here but now. I kissed her stocking and the hem of her rustblack dusty skirt. It is the other. She. Gogarty came yesterday to be introduced. Ulysses is the reason. Symbol of the intellectual conscience.... Ireland then? And the husband? Pacing the corridor in list shoes or playing chess against himself. Why are we left here? The hairdresser lay here but now, clutching my head between her knobby knees.... Intellectual symbol of my race. Listen? The plunging gloom has fallen. Listen!
- I am not convinced that such activities of the mind or body can be called unhealthy -
She speaks. A weak voice from beyond the cold stars. Voice of wisdom. Say on! O, say again, making me wise! This voice I never heard.
She coils towards me along the crumpled lounge. I cannot move or speak. Coiling approach of starborn flesh. Adultery of wisdom. No. I will go. I will.
- Jim, love! -
Soft sucking lips kiss my left armpit: a coiling kiss on myriad veins. I burn! I crumple like a burning leaf! From my right armpit a fang of flame leaps out. A starry snake has kissed me: a cold nightsnake. I am lost!
- Nora! -
Jan Pieters Sweelink. The quaint name of the old Dutch musician makes all beauty seem quaint and far. I hear his variations for the clavichord on an old air: Youth has an end. In the vague mist of old sounds a faint point of light appears: the speech of the soul is about to be heard. Youth has an end: the end is here. It will never be. You know that well. What then? Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?
'Because otherwise I could not see you.'
Sliding-space-ages-foliage of stars-and waning heaven-stilness-and stilness deeper-stilness of annihilation-and her voice.
Non hunc sed Barabbam!
Unreadiness. A bare apartment. Torbid daylight. A long black piano: coffin of music. Poised on its edge a woman's hat, red-flowered, and umbrella, furled. Her arms: casque, gules, and blunt spear on a field, sable.
Envoy: Love me, love my umbrella.