Joking Jesus

Joking Jesus

In Brief

What Stephen calls "The ballad of joking Jesus" is an only slightly retouched excerpt of a poem by Oliver Gogarty called The Song of the Cheerful (but slightly sarcastic) Jesus. The original is brilliantly comical but uneven. Joyce's small revisions are improvements.

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Gogarty had a genius for scabrous, outrageous verse. He wrote Jesus after Joyce had moved out of the tower and sent it to him for Christmas 1904. Ellmann speculates that his gift was meant as a peace offering after their fall break-up. Joyce reciprocated the sentiment, it would seem, when he took parts of this satirical poem and put them in Mulligan's mouth on the morning of June 16, forming the comical high point of Telemachus. Ellmann reproduces Gogarty's poem in its entirety (206).

In Telemachus, Mulligan recites stanzas 1, 2, and 9 of the poem’s nine quatrains, the last being somewhat revised from the original. Of these editorial choices, it may be said that Joyce represented Gogarty at his best. Stanzas 1, 2, and 9 are by far the funniest, and where 9 is uninspired (“Goodbye, now, goodbye, you are sure to be fed / You will come on My Grave when I rise from the dead”) Joyce did a creditable job of improving it (“Goodbye, now, goodbye. Write down all I said / And tell Tom, Dick and Harry I rose from the dead”). He also identified two good lines in stanza 3 and, rather than leave them out, found an occasion to use them later in the book. In Circe, King Edward VII appears “in the garb and with the halo of Joking Jesus” and speaks these lines verbatim: “My methods are new and are causing surprise. / To make the blind see I throw dust in their eyes.

Gogarty wrote more serious poems as well, publishing six books of verse in the course of his life. He gained some repute as a great poet when W. B. Yeats selected a large number of his lyrics for the Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935 (1936) and praised him in the introduction. Like many of his poems, both serious and outrageous, Jesus has moments of real brilliance but is uneven.

John Hunt 2011
"Why not look on the bright side of life?," a song in Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979).