Quotes From the “Greatest Book in the English Language” (Ulysses)

JoyceThis year I’ve been reading more fiction. So I figured why not read the book that’s considered by many to be the greatest book ever written in the english language? It’s a notoriously difficult book, but a celebrated one nonetheless. I’m talking about the masterpiece of James Joyce: Ulysses. (Amazon link)

Loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses give the account of a single day in Dublin, Ireland: June 16th, 1904. It follows the life of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom. But the story takes a back seat in this book, putting the beautifully creative, hilariously odd, and truly genius prose to the fore. This book is a literary masterpiece that implements many unique writing techniques, many of which Joyce invented (such as “stream of consciousness”).

It is a book of music, color, life, vitality. It’s is a literary yes to the mundaneness of every day life. And I truly enjoyed it. Though will admit that it is incredibly difficult! 1 But don’t let that hinder your from picking this book up and enjoying it. It’s less a book to be understood and more a book to savor, like a symphony, for the beautiful masterpiece it is.

Here then are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. Some are here because they’re genius, some because they’re funny, and others because they are just so beautifully written I couldn’t help but share them (though much of the book is this way). Enjoy! 2

“From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”

This could very well be an aptly applied summary of the entire book! P. 515

“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes… Shut your eyes and see.”

These lines sent me straight to the dictionary. But I’ll save you the time. Stephen Dedalus is monologuing in his mind about the inescapable limitations of perception. P. 37

“Piper! Mr Best piped. Is Piper back? Peter Piper pecked a peck of pick of peck of pickles pepper.”

A great example which shows how much Joyce just loved playing with his words. It’s a very clever, funny sentence, and thousands more like it are found all over this crazy book. P. 191

“Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long on the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality.”

30 pages into the book when I read this absurd sentence I knew I was in for a book like no other. But I absolutely love this word. It’s silly, and hilarious if you get the pun. It is a jab at the Catholic church (one of the many throughout the book). It plays on the word consubstantiation and transubstantiation, which are beliefs that have to do with the communion elements in church. It also helps when you break it down: con-trans-magnific-and-jew-bang-tantality. There is a not-so-subtle pun in there about the virgin Mary too, and the collision (bang) of the Divine and the human in the incarnation. A bit blasphemous? Yes. Clever and fascinating to read? Absolutely yes. P. 38

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.”

Another passage that sums up the book quite well. Joyce spends 700 pages telling of a single day! It is undoubtably the longest day in literature. P. 213

“She smilesmirked supercilious (wept! aren’t men?), but, lightward gliding, mild she smiled on Boylan.”

This comes from my favorite episode, called Sirens. Joyce wanted this chapter to read like music sounds, so he uses words to create a ringing in your head as you read them. This is just one of many great examples. P. 266

“Bloom looped, unlooped, noded, disnoded.

Bloom. Flood of warm jimjam lickitup secretness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow, invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her. Tup. Pores to dilate dilating. Tup. The joy the feel the warm the. Tup. To pour o’er sluices pouring grushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrop. Now! Language of love.”

Another example from the musical chapter, Sirens. P. 274

“Drops. Rain. Diddle iddle addle addle oddle oddle. Hiss. Now. Maybe now. Before.

One rapped on a door, one tapped with a knock, did he knock Paul de Kock, with a loud proud knocker, with a cock carracarracarra cock. Cockcock.”

As you can tell, more from the music chapter. You can almost hear the rain dropping and the man knocking at the door. P. 282

“They believe in rod, the scourger almighty, creator of hell upon earth and in Jacky Tar, the son of a gun, who was conceived of unholy boast, born of the fighting navy, suffered under rump and dozen, was scarified, flayed and curried, yelled like bloody hell, the third day he arose again from the bed, steered into haven, sitteth on his beamend till further orders whence he shall come to drudge for a living and be paid.”

This could be my favorite quote. It’s a brilliant play on the Nicene Creed. It sounds very similar to how the creed sounds, while using words similar enough but different enough from it. This is all while telling a funny story about Jacky Tar the navy man. For example see how “rump and dozen” sounds similar to Pontius Pilate. Very clever! P. 329

“Who made those allegations? says Alf.

I, says Joe. I’m the alligator.”

I couldn’t tell you why, but this quote had me laughing aloud for several minutes. It’s just one of the many little puns that Joyce has packed into this book. P. 337

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

Thought provoking quote. P. 377

“Bloom panting stops on the fringe of the noisy quarreling knot, a lot not knowing a jot what hi! hi! row and wrangle round the whowhat brawlaltogether.”

I like how vividly this sentence shows action. A chase scene is taking place and we are placed in the center of the chaos. P. 587

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”

What a gorgeous way to describe the night sky on a summer day. P. 698

“And Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Perhaps the most famous quote, Molloy’s stunning monologue to end this fantastically beautiful book. This comes after a 50 page long, completely unpunctuated look into the mind of Molly. This final word is left to the wife of Leopold Bloom. It is here that the final Yes is given to life, vitality, beauty, and love. This book truly is a life affirming book. It is a human book. P. 783

I hope you’ve enjoyed these quotes! Perhaps they’ll inspire you to pick up this challenging yet beautiful book for yourself!

Have you read Ulysses? If so what are your favorite quotes?

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  1. I used two guides as I read the book: one from Sparknotes, and another from Goodreads. It also helped a lot to have the audio book read by Jim Norton
  2. All page numbers are from the “Modern Library” edition.

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