Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rise and Shine: The Dawn Prayers of Book IV (Part 1)

"Pu Nuseht, lord of risings"

In our local Finnegans Wake Reading Group here in Austin, the month of April introduced us to a new chapter in the text. Right after the spring equinox sprung forth Austin's lush verdant landscape into abundant green blooming, we kicked off the 17th and final chapter of Finnegans Wake, the sole chapter making up Book IV starting on page 593. (Note: this is actually our seventh chapter since the start of the reading group in 2012 since we are approaching the text in the non-linear chapter sequence described here.)

The chapter brings dawn, sunrise, and renewal to the long dark night of the Wake. The earliest rays of dawn sunlight creeping over the horizon spring this corner of the world to life; the sleeping Irish pub owner Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is summoned for resurrection.

It's the awakening of all the Finnegans.

I've always considered this my favorite chapter for its ample use of Eastern mythological themes (Sanskrit features heavily in the opening, as we'll see) and because this chapter of sacred invocations and prayers to the rising sun is among the richest, most dense and rewarding sections of the entire book. It's one of the last parts Joyce wrote in the Wake's 17-year compositional odyssey and all the themes of the book seem to be distilled here.

Normally in our reading group we study two pages per meeting. Because of this chapter's densely packed collection of riches and the awe-inspiring poetic nature of its main theme (dawn and renewal), we are tackling this section at a pace of one page per meeting. So far, after two meetings we've unearthed a great deal of treasures---mostly related to the renewing fires of the sun---but in my follow-up research into the pages I've uncovered lots more.

That being the case, I'd like to examine some of the themes present in these first two pages of Book IV here. There is a ton to unpack, so bear with me.