Category Archives: Bloomsday

Flower of the Mountain

It was on the 6th of December, 1933, that Federal Judge John M. Woolsey of the Southern District of New York ruled that the novel Ulysses by James Joyce was not only not obscene, but also a work of literary merit. He had spent the month prior reading the book, which had been banned in the United States since the time it was first published in 1922 on account of it potentially causing American readers to harbor “impure and lustful thoughts.” In 1934, thanks to Judge Woolsey’s ruling, Random House could finally publish the book and sell it in this country.

Ulysses follows the adventures of Leopold Bloom over the course of a single day, June 16, 1904, through Dublin. Joyce chose the date with intention: It was the day he first went out with Nora Barnacle, the woman he would spend his life with. You might celebrate Bloomsday with a reading of Ulysses. You might stop at the apothecary to purchase a bar of lemon soap. Certainly there will be stops to be made at pubs, and ale is known to play a big part in a good Bloomsday celebration.

James Joyce was first aware of people celebrating Bloomsday in 1924, just two years after the publication of Ulysses. In 1954, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the events in the book, a more formal pilgrimage through Dublin was organized. Nowadays, you are likely to find Bloomsday enthusiasts around the globe, dressed in Edwardian garb and quoting James Joyce each 16th of June. How wonderful is that?

But if all that is above and beyond your means today, here are a couple of simple suggestions. You can read some Joyce, of course. I’ve yet to read Ulysses but I do love Joyce’s short story collection, Dubliners. Especially the final story of the book, “The Dead.” James Joyce bestowed many gifts upon us, and today is the perfect day to delve into them.

And then there is Kate Bush. She, too, has bestowed many gifts upon us. In 1989, Kate recorded a song called “The Sensual World,” based on the closing soliloquy by Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife, in Ulysses. She actually wanted to set the soliloquy to music, but at the time, the James Joyce estate refused her request. There was at some point, though, a change of heart, and in 2011, Kate was granted permission to remake the song according to her original vision. The newer version, recorded 22 years later, is familiar yet different, the fruit perhaps of a maturity of voice and vision. Both, I think, are beautiful, and today the words are on my lips, as they have been since the month began. With these things––the songs, the stories, the ale and lemon soap––Bloomsday will come and go through this sensual world. Love calls us to the things of it, like the season’s first sumptuous apricots and peaches, the ocean’s first lapping at our ankles. June is filled with days like this––Bloomsday, Midsummer––that make these things manifest.


The Sensual World, 1989

Flower of the Mountain, 2011


The Sensual World, or Your June Book of Days

Once again from the Better Late Than Never Department, here is our monthly gift to you: Your printable Convivio Book of Days calendar, this one for June. It was a hectic close to May and it’s been a hectic start to June, and since there’s not much happening at the start of the month, I figured all right then, we would ease into this month’s calendar. In fact, the first red letter day of the month isn’t until the 13th, when we celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

Now my grandmother, Assunta, she would have been celebrating St. Anthony in her way from the start of the month. St. Anthony was her guy, and Grandma would offer thirteen days of novenas in his honor beginning on the First of June. She would sit there in her upright beach chair in front of the statue of St. Anthony, the one that Dad painted by hand, and mumble her prayers, prayers she would read from books sent to her by the children at the orphanage in Padua named for St. Anthony, the one she supported for years with gifts. They were good friends, in a way, my grandma and St. Anthony, but this is how we Italians are, talking to the saints that guide us, as if they are right there in the room with us.

My mom remembers as a girl coming in from outside on warm June days just like this and wandering through the house, wondering, “Where’s my mother?” and there she would be, with Mamam, the neighbor, the one who delivered my mom soon after the doctor had left the house because he didn’t think the baby would be coming any time soon. She was like a second mother to my mom, Mamam was, and she and Grandma would be in the house, these June days, reading and reciting before the statue of St. Anthony, saying their novena. Grandma would read the prayers out loud in Italian, and Mamam, who didn’t know how to read, would say the response. She’d catch a glimpse of my mom, little girl that she was at the time, and wave her in. “Come on, Millie, come pray with us.” Just what a little girl wants to do on a warm June day. But she was seen, and now she was stuck there. It was too late to turn away. And so my Mom would sit there, too, with Grandma and Mamam, saying “Pray for us” in Italian after each petition to St. Anthony. There was no turning away from the old friend.

This would go on each day through to St. Anthony’s Day on the 13th. I imagine not many people do this anymore. For me, a little boy watching my Grandma sit and pray on her beach chair by the statue in the yard, it was always a Grandma thing, something that all the grandmothers I knew did. Then again, all the grandmothers I knew as a child were Italian. I remember the first time I met the grandmother of another boy I knew, a grandmother who was tall and who spoke proper English. I was a little taken aback. It was just plain weird. Like the time in 1970 when my grandparents went back to Italy and came home again with photographs in color. Color? Italy, to me at 6-years old, was sepia-toned.

But I digress. Back to the calendar. June is the month of Old Midsummer, of William Shakespeare and his Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is, as well, the month of Bloomsday and Juneteenth, all days that have some literary connection. It was Ralph Ellison who titled a novel Juneteenth, a name taken from the obscure June holiday that commemorates the formal and official end of slavery in Texas, and Bloomsday is of course based on the work of James Joyce, who wrote about the day’s adventures through Dublin of a character named Leopold Bloom in his novel Ulysses, and now, each 16th of June, people all over the world call down his memory. If there is a cover star of sorts on this month’s calendar, it would be Kate Bush, who recorded a song in 1989 titled “The Sensual World,” a song that is steeped, too, in James Joyce’s Ulysses and in Bloomsday, based as it is on the closing passage of the book, a soliloquy by Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife.

So many words on our lips––prayers and plays, novels and soliloquies–– in a month of beauty. With June we welcome summer by the almanac. We embrace the gentle time of year, the sensual world. Go, enjoy it.



James_Joyce_by_Alex_Ehrenzweig, _1915

English majors, rejoice! Or, re-Joyce… for it is Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the James Joyce novel Ulysses, a large book whose narrative covers but one day: June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland. Each 16th of June, folks all over the world (but especially in Dublin) follow the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the main character in Ulysses. Bloomsday has become a journey and a literary celebration (and some cause for drinking, but this is nothing new amongst bookish types).

Joyce chose the date with purpose. June 16 was the date he first went out with the love of his life, Nora Barnacle. (Perhaps he was enthralled as much with the name Nora Barnacle as with the woman herself; what a lovely name, no?) Nora eventually became his wife.

But on his June 16, Leopold Bloom walked through Dublin, making his rounds… and each year, folks dress in Edwardian garb and follow his route, stopping at the same stops, making the same purchases, reliving the character’s journey through the city. Outside of Dublin, Bloomsday is more a day to remember and honor the great author who wrote the book, so don’t be surprised to see the visage of James Joyce today, especially if you are near a tavern or a bookstore. It could be his ghost, but more likely it is one of my kind, English majors, no doubt awkward and painfully shy, slipping behind the mask of someone we hope to emulate.


Image: James Joyce by Alex Ehrenzweig. Photographic print, 1915 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Source: Beinecke Library, Yale University.