Tag Archives: Finnegans Wake

“In His Own Write” one degree of separation from “Finnegans Wake”

In His Own Write and later lyrics by John Lennon, and their relation to James Joyce and Finnegans Wake

When John Lennon’s first book came out in 1964 it was suggested that he was influenced by James Joyce for his use of wordplay and nonsensical storylines.  In truth, he did not read Joyce until he heard of the alleged influence, and then picked up a copy of Finnegans Wake and his reaction was “it’s GREAT and I dug it and I felt like—here’s an old friend!”  Richard Gerber, in his article about the connection between Joyce, Lennon, and Lewis Caroll, said  “…his subsequent experience of Joyce’s novel confirmed Lennon’s conviction that wordplay was a valuable way to augment meaning, and studying Joyce encouraged Lennon to continue experimenting with language in his own prose, as well as in his lyrics.”  The use of the word play with portmanteau words (combined syllables or words to form new words with compound meanings), misspelled words, word puns, and so forth, can be traced back to Lewis Carroll who used them in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.  Carroll’s works influenced Joyce to use his own portmanteau words and similar devices and both of them influenced Lennon to do the same in some of his lyrics e.g. “I am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,”  “Across the Universe,” “Come Together,” and others. Both Joyce and Lennon also used some of Carroll’s characters like Humpty Dumpty (The Eggman), and the Walrus.

As I experience them, “In His Own Write” contrasts with the later Lennon lyrics in that the story lines are bazaar but easy to get and the wordplay mostly enhances the meaning and the humor.  In later the songs, the  coherence of the lyrics dissolve into word music and images.  The alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and especially rhythm become more salient by obliterating the literal meaning of the overall lyric.   Consider the following examples from “I am the Walrus”

“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob”   


“Expert textpert choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you? (Ha ha ha! He he he! Ha ha ha!)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snied
I’m crying”

and from “Come Together”

“He bag production, he got walrus gumboot
He got Ono sideboard, he one spinal cracker
He got feet down below his knee
Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
Come together right now over me”

The later lyrics as with Finnegans Wake, or abstract art, circumvent some of the organizing features of more traditional forms to open up alternate pathways of expression.

For a detailed analysis of the connection between Lennon,Joyce, and Carroll,  see the article by Richard  Gerber: Goo Goo Goo Joob!:
The John Lennon/James Joyce Connection
Through Lewis Carroll’s “Looking-Glass”  at:


The following video contains an interview of John Lennon about In His Own Write in which he is asked if he was influenced by James Joyce.  The interview begins at 1:55

This following video is a brief performance by John Lennon of one of his stories from In His Own Write

Bill Sargeant


Quote from “Finnegans Wake”

Quote from Finnegans Wake

“For a nod to the nabir is better than wink to the wabsanti. Otherways wesways like that provost scoffing bedoueen the jebel and the jpysian sea.”

In my interpretation of these two sentences, they suggest the familiar aphorisms: “for a nod is as good as a wink,” meaning; a subtle innuendo is enough for a person to understand who is looking for something specific, e.g. illegal,  and “between the devil and the deep blue sea” meaning; between two comparable evils.  Decoding the Joycean words per http://www.finneganswake.com would be as follows: “nabir”=nadir (also neighbor), “wabsabti”=wormwood or absinthe+absent+zenith (or wabi=infected in Arabic+santi=saint in Italian), “Otherways”=otherwise, “wesways”=weswas (Arabic for whisperer which is an epithet of the devil)+we sway/he sways), “provost”=head of a school, “bedoueen”=Arab of the desert,”jebel”=hill in northern Africa, “jpysian”=Egyptian+gypsies. Putting it all together it is difficult for me to arrive at all but the fuzziest notion of what it is about, but it did strike me as humorous.

If you look up the above quote in “Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: The Curse of the Kabbalah”, by John P. Anderson, (and available online),
you will find a completely different take on the passage, with others most likely possible.  The obscurity of these two sentences is on par for the rest of the 628 pages and demonstrates both the problem in reading this book and the charm in it:  it is sufficiently obscure to resist a complete understanding of or consensus on its meaning.

Bill Sargeant

Guides to “Finnegans Wake”

Guides to Finnegans Wake 

Unlike anything else we’ve read at the Bernal book club, Finnegans Wake begs for some sort of guide to accompany the text.  There are quite a few books, articles, websites, and even organizations for this purpose.  Two online resources I found are a good place to start: an article by Allen B.  Ruch at http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/joyce_works_fw.html

and word by word analysis of the entire book at http://www.finwake.com/

The Ruch article gives an overview of what happens on the surface. He describes it taking place over one night and “about a family asleep in Dublin: an amiable but curiously guilty husband, his forgiving wife, their lovely daughter, and their two competitive sons. But the narrative does not concern itself with describing their tossing and turning and snoring and such: during the course of the night, the father dreams, and Finnegans Wake is the text of this dream. And not just any dream, for his dreams have dreams of their own, and these dreams encompass the whole of history, with all its races, religions, mythologies, and languages; all its loves and hates, enmities and affinities – all melting and flowing into each other, revealing the cyclical, unchanging nature of life.”

The article continues on with explanations about Joyce’s special language, structure, a theory of the plot (alternate theories exist), deeper meanings, and tips on reading it.  His advice is to take what you want out of it and enjoy it.  You can take an analytical approach and dig into the text with reference material or read it casually, skimming through the parts that don’t reveal themselves to you and find choice passages that resonate for you.  The article ends with three guide books which are recommended and several web links.

At finwake.com you can find the entire text with words of special interest underlined and linked to explanations.  These are words of Joyce’s own invention with compound allusions or words requiring explanation for some other reason.  There are 90 underlined words on the first page alone, so most readers will probably want to use this resource selectively.

Bill Sargeant