1927: Work in Progress

Jameson's - 1940's

On May 20, 1927, James Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver about what should happen if he were unable to complete Finnegans Wake. Another writer, Joyce said, should take it up and finish it; he had the person in mind:

As regards that book itself and its future completion I have asked Miss Beach [Sylvia Beach, the American expatriate who had published Ulysses] to get into closer relations with James Stephens. I started reading one of his last books yesterday, Deirdre, I thought he wrote The Return of the Hero which I liked. His Charwoman’s Daughter is now out in French. He is a poet and Dublin born. Of course he would never take a fraction of the time or pains I take but so much the better for him and me and possibly for the book itself. If he consented to maintain three or four points which I consider essential and I showed him the threads he could finish the design. JJ and S (the colloquial Irish for John Jameson and Son’s Dublin whisky) would be a nice lettering under the title. It would be a great load off my mind.

The two had met once or twice, but were not close; indeed, it’s unclear how familiar they were with each other’s work. Nevertheless, they met in 1929; Joyce spent a week explaining the work to Stephens, who then indeed promised to complete it if Joyce could not.

Here is one of Stephens’s poems:

The Coolun

Come with me, under my coat,
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Or wine if it be thy will;
And we will talk until
Talk is a trouble, too,
Out on the side of the hill,
And nothing is left to do,
But an eye to look into an eye
And a hand in a hand to slip,
And a sigh to answer a sigh,
And a lip to find out a lip:
What if the night be black
And the air on the mountain chill,
Where the goat lies down in her track
And all but the fern is still!
Stay with me, under my coat,
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat
Out on the side of the hill.

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