From charlesreid1


  • Often considered one of the most difficult chapters
  • It requires some care and some time and some consideration.
  • Good for times when your brain just needs something to gnaw on, like a dog with a rag.
  • It is important to hear this chapter read aloud.
  • Seriously. It's absolutely essential to listen to this chapter spoken aloud.
  • Let's start.

Gilbert Schema

Scene: The Hospital

Organ: 10 PM

Organ: Womb

Color: White

Symbol: Mothers

Art: Medicine

Technic: Embryonic development

Summary of Chapter

Let's start with what's happening.

  • In Chapter 5, Lotus Eaters, Mr. Bloom met Mrs. Breen in the street, and asked her about Phillip Beaufoy. However, she mis-heard him and thought he said Mina Purefoy, so she mentions Mina has been in labor for three days.
  • Mr. Bloom is following up to see how Mina is doing, and when he sees Stephen there, he decides to stay.
  • It's ironic that this tiny mistake directs the course of the remainder of the novel, 5 chapters, and leads to the meetup of the two heroes of the novel - without Mrs. Breen's mistake, we would not have any reason to expect our two heroes to meet, except briefly and in passing, as in Chapter 6 (Hades) and Chapter 9 (Scylla and Charybdis).
  • The chapter brings up some pretty heady topics: the formation of life, sexual intercourse, the process of birth, and the mystery of pregnancy.
  • The chapter also represents the first chance that Stephen and Leopold get to have a substantive conversation.
  • The continued recurrence of Lenehan makes me think of a quote from Joyce about Dubliners, in response to a publisher's request to cut certain stories. The story "Two Gallants," which features Lenehan, was extremely important to him. It's now clear that Dubliners was just the beginning of his master plan for Ulysses, and possibly even Finnegan's Wake, while he was still searching for a publisher for Dubliners.

Important Events

Chapter 14 includes many important developments, ties together many narrative threads, and explains the progress the novel will take in the next few chapters.

For example, buried near the end of the chapter, in just a few short pages, we see reference after reference to prior chapters:

O no, Vincent, Lenehan said, laying a hand on the shoulder near him, have no fear. He could not leave his mother an orphan. The young man's face grew dark. All could see how hard it was for him to be reminded of his promise and of his recent loss. He would have withdrawn from the feast had not the noise of voices allayed the smart.

- p. 415

He told them of the race. The flag fell and, huuh, off, scamper, the mare ran out freshly with O. Madden up. She was leading the field: all hearts were beating. Even Phyllis could not contain herself. She waved her scarf and cried: Huzzah! Sceptre wins! But in the straight on the run home when all were in close order the dark horse Throwaway drew level, reached, outstripped her. All was lost now. Phyllis was silent: her eyes were sad anemones.

- p. 415

And in your ear, my friend, you will not think who met us as we left the field. Conmee himself! He was walking by the hedge, reading, I think a brevier book with, I doubt not, a witty letter in it from Glycera or Chloe to keep the page.

- p. 416

A reference to the death of Stephen's mother, first mentioned in Chapter 1, Telemachus; a story that references Father Conmee's walk in Ulysses/Wandering Rocks (Chapter 10); the result of the horse race that is the subject of so many characters' speculations throughout the day (notably, Ulysses/Lotus Eaters Chapter 5, and Ulysses/Lestrygonians Chapter 8).

Throughout Ulysses, the two narrative threads have followed Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, and several times, these characters have just brushed past one another. The first time is in Ulysses/Hades Chapter 6, when Bloom spots Stephen from the carriage. There are more encounters in Ulysses/Aeolus Chapter 7, and Ulysses/Scylla and Cherybdis Chapter 9, but the characters never have a proper meeting or a talk during any of these encounters.

Thus, Ulysses/Oxen of the Sun Chapter 14 represents the first time these two characters have a substantive encounter.

(Ironically, the passage where it happens seems relatively anticlimactic: the fact that Stephen is present when Bloom arrives at the hospital is buried halfway into a paragraph listing the various persons at the hospital.)


Ironically, while this chapter is considered the most difficult, it begins with an outline of its structure.

Deshil Holles Eamus Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus.

Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit.

Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa!

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 383

The opening is divided into three paragraphs of three sentences, each consisting of three parts. The paragraphs represent the three trimesters of pregnancy, each consisting of three months, which can be further divided into months, as the paragraphs are divided into sentences. Those can be divided into weeks, just as each of the three repeated sentences are divided into three component pieces.

The trimesters begin with a senseless onomatopoeia - and the opening "Deshil Holles Eamus" is something you would expect to see in Ulysses/Sirens (Chapter 11), heavy in onomatopoeia. The gestation of an infant begins in chaos, the assembly of life, from a single cell into a complex organism.

The next trimester is grammatically sensible, but primitive-sounding, like an incantation. The woman delivering the baby is Mrs. Mina Purefoy, who came up in Ulysses/Lestrygonians (Chapter 8), by accident, when Mr. Bloom is asking Mrs. Breen about Phillip Beaufoy and she mis-hears him. The doctor who is delivering the baby is Dr. Andrew J. Horne, referenced by the Horhorne of the second part of this opening chant.

The last trimester, still senseless, sounds more like street slang, or like a chant at a sports game.

This drops the reader several hints: first, the structure of the chapter, which is divided into trimesters, months, and weeks, or a 3 x 3 x 3 structure. Joyce is also exploring the idea of a language forming the way a fetus forms. Unlike Ulysses/Cyclops (Chapter 12), which takes a grand tour through just about every imaginable style of English writing, Oxen of the Sun (Chapter 14) doesn't cover the same ground or use the same style of switching from slang to Chaucer to sports journalism between paragraphs. It is denser and thicker, becoming sensible only as it progresses, and only with repeated readings.

The writing in this chapter is like thick soup, compared to the water/beer of prior chapters.

The notes below will identify where those transitions occur - or seem to, anyway.

Summary, Explanation, Notes

Part 1: Deshil Holles Eamus

We covered the structure of the chapter, hinted at by the opening lines.

"Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa" is the cry that a midwife uses when a male is born. It's chanted to create a rhythm for the baby's breathing.

What follows is anything but simple and structured - we get two enormous monstrosities of sentences, filled with several rare words and biblical references, combining for nearly a page in length. At that length, it would be hard to argue the sentences are ungrammatical, since each would have so many different possible ways of diagramming and interpreting the sentence. The sentences are about as sensible as antidisestablishmentarianism, but there must be some meaning buried deep in there.

Gifford tells us that this is in the style of medieval Latin prose of chronicles, and is a literal translation - not using normal syntax.

The syntax becomes a bit more sensible once we

The sentences shorten; the chapter transitions into strange sentences, not entirely sensible and yet still somewhat sensible, somehow. The sentences have a peculiar rhythm - as Gilbert puts it, the "monosyllabic tramp of lumpish assonance like the thudding of the hoofs of oxen." This, Gilbert tells us, is the sound of early Anglo-Saxon. It continues up to the section

Part 2: The man that was come in

Entering the party

In this section Bloom has arrived at the hospital and is asking after Nina Purefoy. When one of the nurses tells him that she has been in labor for three days, but is near the end, Bloom contemplates the mystery of childbirth. They are in a maternity ward in a hospital, a place that is full of symbols of life, death, sickness, healing, and resurrection.

Bloom encounters "a young knight yclept Dixon" - the same Dixon who is mentioned in Chapter 6, Hades, as the doctor who treated a wound of Bloom's a few weeks prior:

The Mater Misericordiae. Eccles street. My house down there. Big place. Ward for incurables there. Very encouraging. Our Lady's Hospice for the dying. Deadhouse handy underneath. Where old Mrs Riordan died. . . . Nice young student that was dressed that bite the bee gave me. He's gone over to the lying-in hospital they told me. From one extreme to the other.

- Hades

Dixon is also mentioned in Chapter 8, Lestrygonians, the same chapter in which Bloom hears of Nina Purefoy's state from Mrs. Breen, which makes him think of the hospital where Nina Purefoy is staying, and then makes him think of his visit to that hospital for a bee sting, and that makes him think of the doctor, Dixon, who works in that hospital and who dressed Bloom's bee sting:

Still I got to know that young Dixon who dressed that sting for me in the Mater and now he's in Holles street where Mrs Purefoy.

The setting is The Mater, or Mater Misericordiae, which is here called the "house of misericord":

And the traveller Leopold was couth to him sithen it had happed that they had had ado each with other in the house of misericord where this learningknight lay by cause the traveller Leopold came there to be healed for he was sore wounded in his breast by a spear wherewith a horrible and dreadful dragon was smitten him for which he did do make a salve of volatile salt and chrism as much as he might suffice.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 386

This is another reference to Dixon's healing of Bloom's injury (a bee bite - the "dreadful dragon" is a bee). (Note: Buck Mulligan mentions the Mater in Chapter 1: "pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissectingroom".) There is more of this translation of an everyday object into epic, fantastic terms.

Now Joyce hits us with some really archaic English, which we can (hopefully) detangle:

And he said now that he should go into that castle for to make merry with them that were there. And the traveller Leopold said that he should go otherwhither for he was a man of cautels and a subtile.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 386

The "cautels" echoes of Hamlet, when Laertes gives a speech to Ophelia warning her about Hamlet:

Perhaps he loves you now, / and now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch / the virtue of his will

- Hamlet

Cautel means craftiness, or skillfulness in deceit. Subtile - sounds like "subtle" - is an archaic form of "subtle." Thus, the sentence reads, "he should go otherwhither" - that is, Bloom is going to go and join the party, where several medical students are drinking, and just kinda see what's going on. (He's obviously not looking for free drinks!)

Also the lady was of his avis and repreved the learningknight though she trowed well that the traveller had said thing that was false for his subtility.

The lady (the nurse Bloom was talking to) is reproofing Dixon - probably scolding the party of medical students for being so rowdy and disorderly - and sees that Bloom, although he is going to go join the merriment, is not "one of them."

Thus continues the theme of Bloom as an outsider, a stranger, a wanderer - and recognized as such by those around him, each for different reasons. For example, his wife treats him as a stranger in an emotional sense - not entirely, she'll still take breakfast in bed from him and live with him, but she does cheat on him with Blazes Boylan (who also happens to be managing her upcoming multi-week traveling tour ). He's an outsider, and underhandedly treated as such, by those in the carriage ride in Hades (Chapter 6: Jack Powers, Simon Dedalus, and Martin Cunningham). References to The Wanderer are made in the carriage ride sequence of Hades.

Monty Python Tie-In

There's a segment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Tim the Sorcerer warns King Arthur and his band of a terrible, foul, man-eating beast, and they spy a little white rabbit that appears harmless and cute, until it pounces at their necks. Much like a bee, which is cute and fuzzy and curious, until it stings you, and becomes a "horrible and dreadful dragon" that smites you.

Resting Your Limbs

But the learningknight would not hear say nay nor do her mandement ne have him in aught contrarious to his list and he said how it was a marvellous castle. And the traveller Leopold went into the castle for to rest him for a space being sore of limb after many marches environing in divers lands and sometime venery.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 386

Ironically, this is precisely how your brain starts to feel at about this point in the novel - we need to let our traveller brain rest for a space. Just as Leopold has marched through many environs during the course of his day, so we, the readers, are sore of (mental) limb after following him on his long march, and need to give our brain a chance to rest for a space.

Fantastical Descriptions

We've already seen a funny description of a bee as a "horrible and dreadful dragon was smitten him". Next we see more fantastical descriptions of everyday objects.

First is a table, described as a board "upheld by four dwarfmen of that country but they durst not move for enchantment." Then the silverware: "And on this board were frightful swords and knives that are made in a great cavery by swinking demons out of white flames that they fix in the horns of buffalos and stags that there abound marvellously."

But it is perhaps a description of a tin of sardines that is the most fantastical:

And there was a vat of silver that was moved by craft to open in the which lay strange fishes withouten heads though misbelieving men nie that this be possible thing without they see it natheless they are so And these fishes lie in an oily water brought there from Portugal land because of the fatness that therein is like to the juices of the olive press.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 387

What I really like about this passage is the way that the fantastical interpretations seem so much like a child's - if you told a child that silverware was made "in a great cavern by swinking demons out of white flames," they would nod and ask where the caverns are located.

Bloom, whose carefully prescribed alcohol intake has been described both directly (Lestrygonians, Chapter 8) and by other characters (Cyclops, Chapter 12), joins the medical students and is immediately poured a beer, which he discreetly passes off to his neighbor, who does not complain about free beer. Has it been pointed out clearly enough yet that Bloom is an outsider?

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Joyce includes a moment where he breaks the fourth wall - just for seven words - with fantastic timing, and using a portmanteau. When Bloom enters the room where the medical students are drinking and telling boisterous jokes, he sees Lenehan:

And he was ware and saw a franklin that hight Lenehan on that side the table that was older than any of the tother and for that they both were knights virtuous in the one emprise and eke by cause that he was elder he spoke to him full gently. But, said he, or it be long too she will bring forth by God His bounty and have joy of her childing for she hath waited marvellous long. And the franklin that had drunken said, Expecting each moment to be her next.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 388

Buried amidst this dense, near-incomprehensible tract that must be pored over, sentence by sentence, to be interpreted, here's a tiny ejaculation of normal speech. In the midst of the superhuman effort required to write Chapter 14, Joyce briefly turns to the audience and gives them a wink, like a weight lifter who flashes a grin in the midst of powering through a record-breaking load above his head.

But wait - it gets better. The saying is a portmanteau of "Expecting each moment to be her last" - but this is a portmanteau that really makes you think. Who confuses "the next moment" with "the last moment"?

The Meeting of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom

Okay - finally - after FOREVER!!! - the two main characters are going to get a chance, not just to meet or say hi, but to sit down and talk it out and have some drinks, all the better because Stephen is already drunk. Except, ironically, this, the very first meeting between our two heroes, is completely anticlimactic - it's buried away in the middle of a paragraph. The book begins with "Now let us speak of that fellowship that was there to the intent to be drunken an they might." Then it lists out each person present, with a brief description, in the following order: Dixon, Lynch, Madden, Lenehan, Crotthers, Stephen, Costello.

Stephen comes second to last - as if the author has forgotten to mention him! Leopold is drawn to Stephen:

And sir Leopold sat with them for he bore fast friendship to sir Simon and to this his son young Stephen and for that his languor becalmed him there after longest wanderings inasmuch as they feasted him for that time in the honourablest manner.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 388

Part 3: For they were right witty scholars

So far, Bloom has walked into the room where the medical students are having a discussion and drinking session, but nothing has happened yet.

It's as if the movie finally arrived at the final climactic showdown, and each character has made their entrance onto the scene, and now the action slows the scene down with bullet time, and the cameras rove the room while the narrator examines the tin, and the table, and the people present, and the words spoken, and which particular gesture was made, and who sat where, and what their responsibilities were.

And then, Joyce finally stops bullet time, presses play, and lets the scene play out:

And they said farther she should live because in the beginning they said the woman should bring forth in pain and wherefore they that were of this imagination affirmed how young Madden had said truth for he had conscience to let her die.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 389

Lenehan was prompt each when to pour them ale so that at the least way mirth might not lack.

- Oxen of the Sun, p. 389

Part 4: To be short this passage was scarce

The "To bed, to bed" here is a reference to of Lady Macbeth's lines from the scene where she is washing her hands while sleepwalking:

that is in their Maid's Tragedy that was writ for a like twining of lovers: To bed, to bed, was the burden of it to be played with accompanable concent upon the virginals.

The following passage is quite a mounthful and is precisely why this chapter needs to be heard (read with the ears) - reading with the eyes doesn't do the chapter justice:

An exquisite dulcet epithalame of most mollificative suadency for juveniles amatory whom the odoriferous flambeaus of the paranymphs have escorted to the quadrupedal proscenium of connubial communion.

The entire chapter drifts in and out of different writing styles throughout history. Here Joyce has slipped into a kind of Biblical babble, with a reference back to the image of Stephen's mother (mouthful of ashes) from Chapter 1, Ulysses/Telemachus:

Look forth now, my people, upon the land of behest, even from Horeb and from Nebo and from Pisgah and from the Horns of Hatten unto a land flowing with milk and money. But thou hast suckled me with a bitter milk: my moon and my sun thou hast quenched for ever. And thou hast left me alone for ever in the dark ways of my bitterness: and with a kiss of ashes hast thou kissed my mouth.

There's another Shakespere reference (to Hamlet this time) fast on the heels of the Lady Macbeth reference above, all referencing back to the discussion of Shakespeare in the library in Chapter 9 Ulysses/Scylla and Cherybdis (and many more tongue-twisting phrases):

This tenebrosity of the interior, he proceeded to say, hath not been illumined by the wit of the septuagint nor so much as mentioned for the Orient from on high which brake hell's gates visited a darkness that was foraneous. Assuefaction minorates atrocities (as Tully saith of his darling Stoics) and Hamlet his father showeth the prince no blister of combustion.

Also note, this entire section so far has composed a single paragraph that ends here:

... nor to what processes we shall thereby be ushered nor whether to Tophet or to Edenville in the like way is all hidden when we would backward see from what region of remoteness the whatness of our whoness hath fetched his whenceness.

Nice wordplay at the end there. This paragraph, like the two opening linguistic hairballs, is long and rambling, much like the stream of consciousness sections in Chapter 5 Ulysses/Lotus Eaters, but couched in more formal Biblical language.

This passage is further proof this chapter is 100% better when heard read aloud:

Behold the mansion reared by dedal Jack,

See the malt stored in many a refluent sack,

In the proud cirque of Jackjohn's bivouac.

A black crack of noise in the street here, alack, bawled, back. Loud on left Thor thundered: in anger awful the hammerhurler. Came now the storm that hist his heart. And Master Lynch bade him have a care to flout and witwanton as the god self was angered for his hellprate and paganry. And he that had erst challenged to be so doughty waxed pale as they might all mark and shrank together and his pitch that was before so haught uplift was now of a sudden quite plucked down and his heart shook within the cage of his breast as he tasted the rumour of that storm.

Count the number of alliterations Joyce manages to pack into a single paragraph!!!

A black crack of noise in the street here, alack, bawled, back. Loud on left Thor thundered: in anger awful the hammerhurler. Came now the storm that hist his heart. And Master Lynch bade him have a care to flout and witwanton as the god self was angered for his hellprate and paganry. And he that had erst challenged to be so doughty waxed pale as they might all mark and shrank together and his pitch that was before so haught uplift was now of a sudden quite plucked down and his heart shook within the cage of his breast as he tasted the rumour of that storm. Then did some mock and some jeer and Punch Costello fell hard again to his yale which Master Lenehan vowed he would do after and he was indeed but a word and a blow on any the least colour. But the braggart boaster cried that an old Nobodaddy was in his cups it was muchwhat indifferent and he would not lag behind his lead. But this was only to dye his desperation as cowed he crouched in Horne's hall. He drank indeed at one draught to pluck up a heart of any grace for it thundered long rumblingly over all the heavens so that Master Madden, being godly certain whiles, knocked him on his ribs upon that crack of doom and Master Bloom, at the braggart's side spoke to him calming words to slumber his great fear, advertising how it was no other thing but a hubbub noise that he heard, the discharge of fluid from the thunderhead, look you, having taken place, and all of the order of a natural phenomenon.

Part 5: But was young Boasthard

In this passage, we get a callback to Chapter 12, Ulysses/Cyclops, when The Citizen is making fun of Leopold Bloom. The phrase used here, "phenomenon," is used by the citizen to make fun of Bloom.

It's also a callback to Chapter 5, Ulysses/Lotus Eaters, when Bloom is thinking about the force of gravity, 32 feet per second per second, and he ponders what "per second per second" means. Natural phenomena also make appearances in Chapter 16, Ulysses/Ithaca, which is a kind of litany of enumerations, itemizations, lists, inventories, as well as procedural, objective descriptions of actions described as though they were scientific methodologies.

Heard he then in that clap the voice of the god Bringforth or, what Calmer said, a hubbub of Phenomenon? Heard? Why, he could not but hear unless he had plugged up the tube Understanding (which he had not done). For through that tube he saw that he was in the land of Phenomenon where he must for a certain one day die as he was like the rest too a passing show. And would he not accept to die like the rest and pass away? By no means would he and make more shows according as men do with wives which Phenomenon has commanded them to do by the book Law.

This passage kind of sums up how this chapter goes - the long, rambling narrative occasionally stops and forms eddies and focuses on these weird narratives and suddenly as you're listening to it being read aloud you go "huh???":

that is the land of promise which behoves to the king Delightful and shall be for ever where there is no death and no birth neither wiving nor mothering at which all shall come as many as believe on it? Yes, Pious had told him of that land and Chaste had pointed him to the way but the reason was that in the way he fell in with a certain whore of an eyepleasing exterior whose name, she said, is Bird-in-the-Hand and she beguiled him wrongways from the true path by her flatteries that she said to him as, Ho, you pretty man, turn aside hither and I will show you a brave place, and she lay at him so flatteringly that she had him in her grot which is named Two-in-the-Bush or, by some learned, Carnal Concupiscence.

The land of no birth and no death, no wiving and no mothering? A land that piety and chastity know the way to? That sounds extremely unpleasant.

There's a drastic change in style starting at this paragraph that sounds more conversational to the ear:

So Thursday sixteenth June Patk. Dignam laid in clay of an apoplexy and after hard drought, please God, rained, a bargeman coming in by water a fifty mile or thereabout with turf saying the seed won't sprout, fields athirst, very sadcoloured and stunk mightily, the quags and tofts too

Part 6: With this came up Lenehan


Part 7: Our worthy acquaintance

Part 8: Here the listener

Part 9: Accordingly he broke his mind

Part 10 But Malachias tale began

Part 11 The voices that blend and fuse

Part 12 However as a matter of fact

Part 13 Meanwhile the skill and patience

Part 14 Mark this farther and remember

Part 15 Hurroo


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