Weave the wind

In Brief

Stephen's thought in Telemachus about heretic mockers, "The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind," itself weaves an unsatisfying web of intertextual echoes. Gifford cites similar but not identical sayings in Isaiah and John Webster’s The Devil’s Law Case, together asserting human impotence against the power of God or mortality.

Read More

In Nestor, Stephen seems to apply the phrase to himself. After pursuing some abstruse and ultimately frustrating Aristotelian speculations, he thinks, "Weave, weaver of the wind." Commenting on this passage, Thornton notes a similarity to language in Blake's Jerusalem, but confesses, "I feel however that there is some other more specific source for the weaving allusions which I have not found." Gifford notes that "In ancient Irish tradition weaving is connected with the art of prophecy"—a connection which hardly seems relevant either to Stephen's dismal, claustrophic thoughts about history or to his futile efforts to make theoretical sense of it. In still another part of Nestor, he thinks of Jesus' dark sayings being "woven and woven on the church's looms." Here too, the image seems to imply failure to grasp the truth.

An analogue more suited to Stephen's thoughts in both chapters can be found in T. S. Eliot’s Gerontion, whose speaker says, “Vacant shuttles / Weave the wind.” If there was borrowing, however, it seems more likely to have been practiced by Eliot, who was reading Ulysses in the years leading up to its publication, and who once wrote, "Bad poets borrow. Good poets steal." (Eliot began working on Gerontion in 1917, two years after Joyce substantially completed Telemachus, and he did not publish the poem until 1920. Joyce wrote out a fair copy manuscript of Telemachus in 1917, and it was printed in the Little Review in 1918.)

JH 2011
Source: threesheeps.blogspot.com.
T. S. Eliot.