The Jeep-crux


U 16.1884: Und alle Schiffe brücken

The narrator of the Eumaeus episode alleges that this odd line – literally “And all ships bridge” –  is the end of a “ballad” by Johannes Jeep (1582-1644) that Stephen Dedalus sings (and translates extempore) to Leopold Bloom at about 1.00 a.m. on 17 June. As a look at its lyrics shows this is not the case:

   Even a cursory reading of its fairly straightforward four stanzas leaves no doubt that there is no possible context in the song as a whole, let alone in its final verse, where this line would not be anything but absurd. Jeep’s song, explicitly addressed to young men, warns them of the dangerous craftiness of the maidens’ that he compares to the mythological Sirens, “sweet murderers of men” (U 16.1813). The metaphorical possibility of seeing ships as moveable bridges is incomprehensible as the epigrammatic end to such an admonition.

Johannes Jeep, Studentengartlein (1614; frontispiece)
Wikimedia Commons

   The suggestion that the plural of the German word “Schiffbruch” (i.e. “Schiffbrüche” in an English speaker’s pronunciation) might have caused the linguistic wreck ignores the fact that this issue is already dealt with in the first stanza and is irrelevant to the rest of the song, which does not deal with mythological Sirens any longer.

   It need hardly be pointed out that there is not a shred of evidence to be found for a “textual variant” with bridging ships in the painstakingly researched 1958 edition of Jeep’s Studentengärtlein.

   Several attempts have been made over the years to solve this crux, but none so far has taken the text of Jeep’s original song into proper account. It is indeed the last line of the song, and it is only this last line, that has a striking similarity to what we find in Ulysses, both in vowel sound and in metre:

   As it is a strophic song the words of the closing line have been put underneath the tune as given for the first stanza in Gerber's edition of the Studentengärtlein.

   The assumption that Stephen did indeed reach the real end of the ballad is supported by the correlation of narrative time and reading time. The fairly long section of text interpolated between the two fragments of the song contains Bloom’s ideas about Stephen's possible career as the possessor of “a phenomenally beautiful tenor voice”. As two experienced singers have confirmed independently, it would take just about the same time – about three minutes - to sing the missing lines as it takes to read that interpolated section of text.

   Only the full text of Jeep’s song allows the reader to understand Stephen’s coded, but pointed, refusal to be tempted by the vocal and physical charms of Madame Bloom.

   The crux behind the Jeep-crux is finding the answer to the question of with whom the blunder originates: Stephen Dedalus, the singer, Leopold Bloom, the listener, or their creator James Joyce?

   Unfortunately, convincing arguments can be made for all three of them:

   Stephen Dedalus was still solidly drunk and giddy from exhaustion and a wild dance when he left Bella Cohen’s brothel only to be knocked out by a British soldier whose female companion he addressed. It seems highly unlikely that he so fully recuperated in the cabman’s shelter that he was able to recall the lyrics of four stanzas of a 17th-century German song without a blunder, let alone adequately translate them extempore to Bloom.

   When a little while before Bloom mentions the (unfounded) rumour that Parnell’s mistress and then wife was Spanish it becomes obvious that Stephen is rather absentminded:

– The king of Spain’s daughter, Stephen answered, adding something or other rather muddled about farewell and adieu to you Spanish onions and the first land called the Deadman and from Ramhead to Scilly was so and so many. (U 16.1414-17)

   Stephen misremembers an anonymous ballad “Spanish Ladies” (“Farewell and adieu to you Spanish ladies …”) and mixes up its litany of famous landmarks for sailors. Thus, he strangely anticipates his failure to finish Jeep's song properly. The various veiled references to Molly as destructive siren towards the end of the Eumaeus episode are an important further link between these two song references.

   Bloom’s attempts at conversation with Stephen in the cabman’s shelter show a number of examples of amusing misunderstandings on his part usually brought about by Stephen’s capricious, monologue-like contributions to the conversation. In most of these cases Bloom pretends to understand fully, but he doesn’t.

   Are we to assume then that “Und alle Schiffe brücken” is what Bloom thought he heard? It fits the picture that the narrator of Eumaeus tells us that Bloom was “boggled” (16.1814) by the song, whereas Bloom tells Stephen “he understood perfectly” (16.1818) once Stephen had translated. Considering that the gap between the introductory two lines of the song given at the beginning and its end or last line is filled with Bloom’s distracted musings, this seems to be a possibility. Although Bloom muses in the Hades episode that he might have taught German to his late son Rudy, there is nothing in the narrative or his interior monologue to suggest that Bloom knows more than the odd German word. He is certainly not applying his German to impress Stephen. The only German book in his library is Gustav Freytag’s then popular Soll und Haben, in all likelihood a relict of his father.

   But James Joyce himself? The crucial question here is how and where Joyce could have become familiar with the song “Dulcia dum loquitur” in the first place. According to the critical apparatus of the 1958 Wolfenbüttel edition by Rudolf Gerber there were no separate publications of it in existence. So, whoever brought Joyce into contact with it must have had access to the rare 17th century editions of the Studentengärtlein. There was no copy of the Studentengärtlein available in libraries in Ireland, or Switzerland for that matter. The British Library had acquired a copy from Berlin bookseller Albert Cohn in 1882, but it seems extremely unlikely that Joyce could have known about it, let alone consulted it. The same applies to the few German libraries which owned copies.

   Unless we regard the crux as an intentional portal of discovery, the most likely explanation of the confusing end to the ballad is that Joyce in fact never saw its music and lyrics, or did not have them any longer when he needed them, but remembered a rendition of the song he either heard in Trieste or Zurich. This assumption is strengthened by the contents of a letter Joyce wrote to his German translator Georg Goyert in 1939:

Sehr geehrter Herr Goyert: Vielmals habe [ich] Sie wegen des hochwohlgestorbenen Johannes Jeep ("Von der Sirenen Listigkeit, Thun die Poeten Dichten") ausgefragt. Er hat tatsächlich existiert, wie Sie sehen. Wenigstens so schreibt die Amerikanische "Encyclopaedia of Music" (Letters III, 448, 8 July 1939)

   Had Joyce seen, let alone been in possession of, Jeep’s song he would hardly have doubted the existence of its composer and found it worth his while to send confirmation to Goyert. In all likelihood the “Encyclopaedia of Music“ to which Joyce refers is one of many editions of John W. Moore’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Music, Elementary, Technical, Historical, Biographical, Vocal, and Instrumental (Boston 1854), which contains a brief biographical note on Johannes Jeep, but does not even mention his date of birth and death, let alone the two collections of songs from which “Dulcia dum loquitur” is taken.1 Ellmann’s editing of the letter is doubtful, as it is quite likely that Goyert, who kept sending lists of queries to Joyce while working on the German translation, had doubts about the German of “Und alle Schiffe brücken”. So Joyce might actually have wanted to say:

Vielmals habe[n] Sie wegen des hochwohlgestorbenen Johannes Jeep ("Von der Sirenen Listigkeit, Thun die Poeten Dichten") [an]gefragt.

   Either way neither Joyce nor Goyert obviously had the means to find out more about Johannes Jeep in the late 1920s, when Goyert was working on the first translation of Ulysses. This fact makes it seem rather doubtful that Joyce could have trusted even his most sophisticated and dedicated readers to find out that either Stephen or Bloom had made a blunder with that line. It seems far more plausible that Joyce was dimly aware that he was only “almosting” the precise wording of the final line, and, unable to verify the correct wording while finishing Ulysses, was satisfied it would do. Although instances where ships bridge [e.g. the deep] are not easy to find, the English verb “bridge” is not in the same category as a verbal stumbling block as the extremely rare German verb brücken. The compound überbrücken (to bridge over) would clearly take precedence.

   Joyce’s command of German is tricky to gauge. As a student he thought he was proficient enough bravely to attempt a translation of a drama by Gerhart Hauptmann that impressed him. Having spent more than three years in Zurich, from 1916-to 1919, he should have been aware at the time of writing the end of the Eumaeus episode that “Und alle Schiffe brücken” would have been an absurd way to end a ballad warning young men of the dangers of alluring young women. On the other hand German composer Philipp Jarnach, who lived in a flat next to Joyce’s when he settled down in Zurich, recalled in an interview for Ellmann’s biography that Joyce preferred to converse with him in French rather than German.

   Jarnach also deserves mention as a person who might have brought Joyce into contact with Jeep’s song, as he remembered later in life, when he was interviewed for Ellmann’s biography, that on one occasion Joyce wanted to know everything about sirens and even brought a list of all possible sirens with him. But it is also quite possible, as Erik Schneider of Trieste informed me, that it could have been Romeo Bartoli (1875-1936) who was Joyce’s voice teacher in Trieste from 1908-9,  a specialist in early and Renaissance music who had a group of madrigalists who performed regularly in Trieste. 

   An intriguing detail in this context is the vicinity of Jan Pieters Sweelinck and Jeep in Eumaeus. The fact that Sweelinck’s song is mentioned in Joyce’s Triestine manuscript Giacomo Joyce could be regarded as evidence that it was there that Joyce became familiar with these composers. Working on Eumaeus in 1921 (after the long-delayed arrival of his Circe and Eumaeus notes from Trieste in October 1920) Joyce obviously wanted to remind himself of Sweelinck and Jeep in this note for the episode:

Jans Pieters Sweelinck studied Venice, then
went Amsterdam in Shakespeare’s time
Variations: My youth has here an end
Johannes Jeep

   This might suggest that the version that Budgen read (probably during his August 1920 visit to Joyce in Paris) did not yet contain this crucial closing section of the episode. As long as the so-called “Eumeo” manuscript remains inaccessible (even its present owner is a secret closely guarded by Sotheby’s) there is no way of knowing.

   As Joyce lived in Paris at that time, we can be sure that he would have found it almost impossible to lay his hands on a copy of Jeep’s Studentengärtlein, part 2, had he had doubts about the authenticity of Stephen’s wording of the last line of the song – and had he known that this was where to find it.

   Perhaps the most persuasive explanation for the Jeep-crux in Ulysses is that Joyce in 1921, feverishly working to finish his novel in time, needed Jeep’s song on the one hand to present the ever-plotting Bloom’s spontaneous scheme of bringing the promising young tenor into contact with his wife and create an opening for himself as his impresario, and on the other hand to show Stephen’s sophisticated rebuff of it in the form of a warning to young men of the sirens’ craftiness.2 Though still word-perfect for the beginning of the song he had committed to his memory years earlier, “Von der Sirenen Listigkeit/Tun die Poeten dichten”, he faltered when it came to its closing line. Insinuating that the blame for the blunder rests with his worn-out characters in this tired episode, and boggling his readers not for the last time in his farraginous chronicle, he moved on with the closing episodes of his novel.

   But unless the missing correspondence with Georg Goyert about Jeep unexpectedly resurfaces, we will never know for sure.

Harald Beck

1 There is no documentary evidence to confirm Gifford’s suggestion that this title is taken from a Renaissance translation of the Odyssey.
2 A second rebuff, this time in a blunt and upsetting song, the ballad of Little Harry Hughes, is to follow soon in the Ithaca episode.

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