As others see us
“As he and others see me”: seeing himself in
the mirror held up by Mulligan, Stephen recalls two well-known
lines of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96). Burns
wrote, "O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as
ithers see us!" The thoughts that follow in Telemachus
("Who chose this face for me? This dogsbody to rid of
vermin") make clear that Stephen knows the whole
poem and is thinking about its message: objective
representation threatens subjective self-satisfaction, and the
body humbles the mind. Bloom knows the poem too, and thinks
about its crucial line in similar ways.
Read MoreBurns' lines come from a poem titled On a Louse: On seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church, and they cannot be properly appreciated without contemplating the scene that is vividly set out in the poem's opening stanzas:
Such a sight was all too common in turn-of-the-century Dublin. Stephen will think later in this episode of his mother picking lice off her children and squishing them between her fingernails. The image recalls a similar event in A Portrait, and also another moment in that book in which Stephen snatches a louse from his neck and rolls it between his fingers. On the latter occasion, the thought of being louse-infested makes him doubt the value of his exquisite intelligence.
Ha! Whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly,
I canna say but ye strut rarely
Owre gauze and lace,
Tho' faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her—
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
Burns pursues similar thoughts about how the body's
infirmities can humble the mind's pretensions. The image of an
ugly, creeping, blasted louse crawling over a respectable and
presumably self-pleased lady leads him to his moral at the end
of the poem:
O wad some Power the giftie gie usPeople are liberated, Burns asserts, by their ability to see themselves objectively—i.e., as objects, from the outside—because the reality of our existence never quite measures up to our flattering self-conceptions. Shortly after Stephen thinks of Burns while looking at himself in the mirror, Mulligan alludes to an Oscar Wilde saying about mirrors that has similar implications of unflattering self-knowledge.
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!
In Lestrygonians, Bloom recalls Burns’ famous line
as he watches men “wolfing gobfuls of sloppy food”:
“Am I like that? See ourselves as others see us. Hungry
man is an angry man.” Shortly later he associates it with a
similar line from Hamlet, thinking, "Look on
this picture then on that." At this moment in act 3
scene 4, Hamlet forces his mother to look at portraits of her
first and second husbands. Just as Hamlet forces Gertrude to
behold Claudius' ugliness and think about herself ("O Hamlet,
speak no more: / Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul; /
And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not
leave their tinct"), Bloom beholds ugliness and wonders about
He is still thinking along such lines in Nausicaa.
When an unknown “nobleman” passes by on the beach after
supper, Bloom imagines following him to observe what he is
like: “Walk after him now make him awkward like those
newsboys me today. Still you learn something. See ourselves
as others see us. So long as women don’t mock what matter?”