Today is Bloom’s Day, or Blooms’ Day if you want to commemorate Molly as well as Poldy—fitting, as we’re posting about a song Kate Bush wrote that was intended to incorporate lines taken directly from Molly Bloom’s “soliloquy” at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a chapter that occurs after June 16th, somewhere in the wee hours of June 17th. But I’m one who believes “a day” (for a person) lasts from rising to sleeping, no matter how far into the next day it may be before that happens. As it happens, Molly remains awake (she was awakened by her husband’s return and wasn’t awake all night) until the cock crows for dawn.
Kate Bush was denied use of the words from Ulysses back in the late Eighties when she recorded “The Sensual World” for her album of that name, released in 1989. She substituted references to the scene Molly is recalling—as well as some flights of her own, including her lover “rescuing” something if it should fall between her breasts. Mention of Molly’s breasts features prominently in Ulysses, prominent as the appendages themselves no doubt are. But Kate’s lyric on the original release isn’t too coherent. Not that you mind, what with that sultry vocal and those Irish pipes creating that hypnotic sound. The chorus, “stepping out of the page into the sensual world,” seemed to be all about a woman’s sexual awakening, one of those Paolo and Francesca moments as in Dante—“and that day we read no more.” They found something more involving to do.
In 2011 Kate Bush released a new version of the song, retitled “Flower of the Mountain”—a line from Ulysses—and incorporating the passages she initially wanted to use. I don’t know if it’s a better song than “The Sensual World” because, for one thing, Kate’s voice has deepened and lost some of that pixie-ish elasticity that made her songs so immediately recognizable. There’s much more liveliness in the original, and the lyrics present the speaker as something of a cock-tease: “And his spark took life in my hand” followed by “I said, mmh yes, but not yet.” Ouch. And Kate also has her girl thinking about Machiavellian girls which might make us think of a certain chanteuse's evocation of “material girls.” Yep, this chick is weighing all the options.
Molly, of course, is very cunning and very canny all through her long monologue, but the passages Kate incorporates are all about the very sensual feeling of deep kisses and recognizing, in a certain man’s longing and hunger for her own body, just how exciting that body can be. So that “Stepping out of the page into the sensual world” is still about a moment of awakening, but, with the use of such readily identifiable text, the song also seems to allude to the kind of stirring that might occur when reading racy lit and deciding to go off and get some o’ that. Of course, the legal decree that declared Ulysses was not obscene for U.S. purposes—12 years after the book was initially published—held that the book would not stir sexual desire and salacious thoughts. That’s as may be, but if Molly’s comments don’t stir you a little—either to recall some great sensual moments of your own or to make you make a note of seeking out the same at some not so remote juncture—then I wonder about you, frankly.
Anyway, the latter-day Kate has a deeper voice and maybe that suits this material even better than her voice in 1989 would have. She’s more appreciably a woman looking back on all that palpitating heart business and she still manages some great phrasing in bits like “so he could feel my breasts all perfume”—listen to how she sounds a bit intoxicated by that perfume herself, and I really like the pause before it to make an internal rhyme: “drew him down to me / so he / could feel . . .” And her final “yes I said yes I will Yes” is shorn of all that coy “not yet” stuff. In the book, Molly is remembering when she surrendered for the first time, “under the Moorish wall” in Gibraltar, and also the moment when she accepted the marriage proposal of her husband (of 16 years) in a field on Howth outside Dublin. So, no, she’s not refusing either event and is rather merging them as two landmark moments in her erotic life. Moments when she realizes her power to make a man do something for her and to her.
Kate begins with the Howth head recollection (which her husband has rapturously recalled earlier on June 16, 1904, the day the book is set on) of “I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth”—these two are sharing not just saliva but saliva in foodstuffs. And it was a leap year which, by the tradition, means that a woman can propose to a man. Instead she preps the memory of the seedcake with “I got him to propose to me,” so we know she didn’t actually have to pop the question herself. And the long kiss makes her lose her breath and then the compliment that sticks with her and is the title of Kate’s song: “he said I was a flower of the mountain.”
Next Kate takes us to the bit where Molly remembers Mulvey, her first real beau who gave her her first real kiss, “and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another.” Well, somebody’s got to be first, doesn’t he? (I like in the video, at this part, as the woman swings around the man’s body while their lips are glued. Nice trick.)
Then Molly quickly segues into the proposal—“and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes” and her answer is to pull him down to her breasts “all perfume” to feel “his heart was going like mad”—one of those great little Joycean touches—leading to the big Yes to it all. To sex and marriage and 16 years of suffering the life together with what pleasures there may be in that there sensual world. (The video blows that entirely, giving us the typical male superior bit with the female passive when what Joyce intends is that we see her put her arms around him and draw him down. It’s the body and breasts as offertory, a surrender, yes, but also a willful directing of his attention to her breasts and not in a maternal way, though of course that's there too. All that “earth mother” stuff. Fortunately such is not in Molly’s mind nor in Kate’s delivery.) She’s flowering and, indeed, given her married name, she’s blooming. Yes.