Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The "martiallawsey marses” and “Pompery” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1939)

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), a man is woken by loud sounds that remind him "of the martiallawsey marses of foreign musikants' instrumongs or the overthrewer to the third last days of Pompery" (64.13-15). The layers of meaning in "martiallawsey marses" include "martial law", "La Marseillaise" as a march,  and the Roman god of war (and planet), "Mars" — which are all perhaps "lousy", too. The equally layered "Pompery" also turns to ancient Rome with the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD — but it also includes not only "Popery" and "Pomp and Circumstance", but the French "pomper", "to pump", whose slang meanings include "getting very drunk" and "giving a blow job". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 May 2023)

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