An anatomy of Gray’s Eulogy
U 6.939-41: Or a woman’s with her saucepan. I cooked good Irish stew. Eulogy in a country churchyard it ought to be that poem of whose is it Wordsworth or Thomas Campbell.
By the third Bloom episode of Ulysses the reader may have developed an unfounded feeling of superiority about the main character’s education. Bloom is often not quite right about facts and sometimes he is blatantly wrong, but our eagerness to correct is a conditioned reflex that can easily lead to misconceptions. Bloom’s mistakes almost always deserve the benefit of doubt. An attentive reader like Paul van Caspel1 would notice that “it ought to be” in the quotation above leaves little doubt that Bloom is fully aware of the original title of Gray’s poem, and Bloom’s preceding musings about inscriptions of gravestones confirm that he is aware of the laudatory quality of many of them. He also realises his uncertainty about the author of the poem, and having quoted him earlier in the chapter ("row me o'er the ferry" at 6.447-8) Campbell is a near miss when fumbling for the right name.
There is yet another aspect that should be taken into consideration. Mistaking “elegy” for “eulogy” in the title of Gray’s celebrated poem, Elegy written in a country churchyard (1751) seems to have been a source of amusement from at least 1870:
Gray’s poem was much anthologised and was learnt by heart by generations of schoolchildren.2 Its popularity in the educational system perhaps helps to explain many of the contexts cited below:
Bloom’s little joke fits his character. Stephen, well versed in etymology, might have considered it beneath him.
van Caspel, Bloomers on the Liffey.
Eisegetical Readings of Ulysses (Baltimore, 1986) p. 97.
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