Tuesday, February 17, 2009

James Joyce et al.: "Rattle his bones"

Initial Publication of Ulysses
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I inquired about Neil Gaiman's borrowing of what he calls a "Traditional Nursery Rhyme":
Rattle his bones
Over the stones
It's only a pauper
Who nobody owns
Specifically, I wondered if it were truly a nursery rhyme, for it seems to 'ultimately' come from the refrain of Thomas Noel's 1841 poem, "The Pauper's Drive," published in Rymes and Roundelayes (pages 200-201):
Rattle his bones over the stones;
He's only a Pauper, whom nobody owns!
My cyber friend and fellow Milton enthusiast Eshuneutics commented:
An intriguing question . . . I have never heard of it as a nursery rhyme. It is a Northern Chartist song, known in my city of Leeds. (I guess its northern/Manchester connection encouraged The Smiths to plagiarise the refrain) It must have been a popular ditty since Joyce uses it in "Ulysses". And that suggests its origin is in music hall rather than nursery rhyme. If it was ever a nursery-rhyme, it would be in Peter Opie's collection, but I do not recall it from that. A puzzle.
Eshuneutics certainly knows a good deal about things literary and popular, and he sends me off in several directions. I had in fact noticed the Joyce connection yesterday but didn't have time to look into that. Gaiman has surely read Joyce's Ulysses and might have been thinking of that, but Joyce's use of the lines differs in being abbreviated:
The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.
This appears in Ulysses, Part II, "The Odyssey," Episode 6, "Hades," which describes the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, in a funeral carriage on his way to the funeral of Paddy Dignam, who died an undignified death in a drunken stupor, somewhat like Elpenor, a friend of the original Ulysses, Odysseus.

Here's a larger passage, which contains several allusions to the lines (which I've emboldened):
The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.

--In the midst of life, Martin Cunningham said.

--But the worst of all, Mr Power said, is the man who takes his own life.

Martin Cunningham drew out his watch briskly, coughed and put it back.

--The greatest disgrace to have in the family, Mr Power added.

--Temporary insanity, of course, Martin Cunningham said decisively. We must take a charitable view of it.

--They say a man who does it is a coward, Mr Dedalus said.

--It is not for us to judge, Martin Cunningham said.

Mr Bloom, about to speak, closed his lips again. Martin Cunningham's large eyes. Looking away now. Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent. Like Shakespeare's face. Always a good word to say. They have no mercy on that here or infanticide. Refuse christian burial. They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave. As if it wasn't broken already. Yet sometimes they repent too late. Found in the riverbed clutching rushes. He looked at me. And that awful drunkard of a wife of his. Setting up house for her time after time and then pawning the furniture on him every Saturday almost. Leading him the life of the damned. Wear the heart out of a stone, that. Monday morning. Start afresh. Shoulder to the wheel. Lord, she must have looked a sight that night Dedalus told me he was in there. Drunk about the place and capering with Martin's umbrella.


He looked away from me. He knows. Rattle his bones.

That afternoon of the inquest. The redlabelled bottle on the table. The room in the hotel with hunting pictures. Stuffy it was. Sunlight through the slats of the Venetian blind. The coroner's sunlit ears, big and hairy. Boots giving evidence. Thought he was asleep first. Then saw like yellow streaks on his face. Had slipped down to the foot of the bed. Verdict: overdose. Death by misadventure. The letter. For my son Leopold.

No more pain. Wake no more. Nobody owns.

The carriage rattled swiftly along Blessington street. Over the stones.
Zack Bowen discusses these allusions in Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry through Ulysses (1974) but doesn't mention Thomas Noel's poem of 1841. I've not read Bowen's book, and Google Books doesn't provide all of the pages, so I don't know if Bowen explains what song is meant, whether the Chartist mentioned by Eshuneutics or some other. But Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman, in Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses (1988), refer readers to Noel's poem, calling it a song but saying nothing of a Chartist song using the lines in question. Earlier even than Bowen, Weldon Thornton wrote in Allusions in Ulysses: An Annotated List (1968) of Noel's poem but also cites this as a song noted by Helen K. Johnson, in Our Familiar Songs (pp. 630-32), who cites Noel for the words but J.J. Hutchinson for the music, but again no reference to a Chartist song.

No one seems to be mentioning any nursery rhyme at all.

Perhaps Gaiman is merely toying with us and misleading the scholars. He probably didn't get these lines from Shelagh Delaney's 1960 play, The Lion in Love, which has:
So rattle her bones all over the stones, she's only a beggar-man whom nobody owns.
Nor from The Smiths' 1984 album (i.e., The Smiths), which has seemingly borrowed from Delaney, for the playwright's lines are echoed in the song "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle":
So rattle my bones all over the stones / I’m only a beggar-man whom nobody owns.
I have the information on Shelagh Delaney and on The Smiths from "Culture isn't linear," which has some interesting things to say about literary 'borrowings'.

Still, Gaiman's own borrowing differs from all of these, including the 'original' poem by Thomas Noel, who used the personal pronoun "He":
Rattle his bones over the stones;
He's only a Pauper, whom nobody owns!
Gaiman uses the less personal "It":
Rattle his bones
Over the stones
It's only a pauper
Who nobody owns
In doing so, he comes closer to a version cited by the psychiatrist Shobal Vail Clevenger on page 255 of Fun in a Doctor's Life: Being the Adventures of an American Don Quixote in Helping to Make the World Better (1909):
Rattle his bones over the stones,
It's only a pauper whom nobody owns.
The sole difference here is Gaiman's use of "who" rather than the more grammatical "whom." Clevenger is quoting something, or thinks that he is. Possibly, Clevenger gets it from the Reverend William Cochrane's Future Punishment; or Does Death End Probation? (1886), which differs from Clevenger's version only in punctuation:
Rattle his bones, over the stones,
It's only a pauper, whom nobody owns.
But this is about as far as I can take things . . . for now.

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At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps as far as you need.


At 5:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I probably went further than that already...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

No stone left unturned.

How and why did the poem cross the Atlantic? Am I right in believing that it began in the UK then crossed over to the USA? That crossing suggests that it was well-known and perhaps its political content (as a criticism of work and class) gave it the ticket. Nursery rhymes tend to be rooted in place.

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, the poem was published in Britain and seems to have become a song there (though I am not certain). The variants suggest more than one route to North America. Yet, it seems to be better known in Britain than in the States.

But are nursery rhymes rooted in place? Most of the ones that I learned as a child were obviously British -- as I came to discover over the years.

Regardless of that, this seems to be no nursery rhyme.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:29 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi - realise I'm a bit late to the party, but Googled this today, as I was aware first of the rhyme by way of The Smiths, then surprised to stumble upon it in Ulysses in about the same year as I heard The Smiths record (1989), and tomorrow, I'm publishing a blog post from Dublin using the phrase, tying it to other elements of my life and memoir. So thank you for this spirited and thorough analysis. See how words as old as sin grip me like a glove. Cheers, Bill Pearse

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Pearse. If you search my blog, you'll find more on this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"rattle his bones over the stones" also appears in Thomas Wolfe's "Look homeward, angel"

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Anon!

Jeffery Hodges

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