None to me

In Brief

In the words that Stephen mouths as he imagines wandering Dublin in the 14th century, "I spoke to no-one: none to me," some commentators have heard echoes of an 18th century English folk song, The Miller of Dee. Each verse of this good-natured song, sung by a miller who is happy to live alone, concludes with the refrain, "I care for nobody, no, not I, / If nobody cares for me." The song accords with Stephen's resolution in the previous paragraph, "You will not be master of others or their slave," and to what he thinks in the following paragraph: "I want his life still to be his, mine to be mine."

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The song hails from the vicinity of Chester on the River Dee, in NW England near the Welsh border. It first appeared in print in Isaac Bickerstaffe's play, Love in a Village (1762), but unwritten folk versions had been sung long before that. There are many variants of the lyrics. Here are the ones sung by The City Waites in the accompanying recording:

There was a jolly miller once
Lived on the River Dee;
He work'd and sang from morn till night,
No lark more blithe than he.
And this the burden of his song
Forever used to be;
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
The reason why he was so blithe,
He once did thus unfold;
The bread I eat my hands have earn'd;
I covet no man's gold;
I do not fear next quarter-day;
In debt to none I be.
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
A coin or two I've in my purse,
To help a needy friend;
A little I can give the poor,
And still have some to spend.
Though I may fail, yet I rejoice,
Another's good hap to see.
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
So let us his example take,
And be from malice free;
Let every one his neighbour serve,
As served he'd like to be.
And merrily push the can about
And drink and sing with glee;
If nobody cares a doit for us,
Why not a doit care we.

The resemblance between the song's refrain and Stephen's sentence is admittedly approximate, but if Stephen is hearing the refrain as he walks on the beach, it suggests that he feels relatively comfortable in his alienated state, as someone who wishes others well but does not want to be entangled in their lives.

JH 2016