The songlike lines that Bloom spouts about his daughter,
O, Milly Bloom, you are my darling,
You are my lookingglass from night to morning.
I'd rather have you without a farthing
Than Katey Keogh with her ass and garden,
are in fact based on an Irish ballad, and it seems likely that he used to sing them to Milly as a child. But Joyce received similar lines on a Valentine's Day card, in a prank played by a childhood playmate's father. That context heightens the sense of triangulated desire created by Bloom thinking of the song as he reads Milly's letter about meeting a "young student."
In a book called Legends and Stories of Ireland (Philadelphia, 1835), Samuel Lover reproduces a song with a similar quatrain:
Oh Thady Brady you are my darlin,
You are my looking-glass from night till morning
I love you better without one fardin
Than Brian Gallagher wid house and garden.
When the Joyces lived in Bray, James frequently played with a neighbor girl of his age named Eileen, the daughter of the Protestant chemist James Vance. Ellmann notes that Eileen Vance was pretty, "and the two fathers often spoke half-seriously of uniting their first-born. Dante Conway warned James that if he played with Eileen he would certainly go to hell, and he duly informed Eileen of his destination but did not cease to merit it" (26). One Valentine's Day, the young Joyce received a card with the following lines, supposedly from Eileen but actually written by her father:
O Jimmie Joyce you are my darling
You are my looking glass from night till morning
I'd rather have you without one farthing
Than Harry Newall and his ass and garden.
"Harry Newall," Ellmann notes, "was an old and disquieting cripple who drove his cart around Bray, so the compliment was not so extravagant as it first appeared" (31). May Joyce possibly intercepted the card, but James did see it, and "Eileen, hearing of the trick that had been played on her, became shy with her playmate and for years blushed at the sound of his name. He in turn faithfully kept the verse in mind and put it into Ulysses" (31-32).
The circumstances in which Joyce became aware of the quatrain—a father involving himself in his young daughter's romantic life—chime very closely with the uses to which he put it in Calypso. Reading Milly's letter with its mention of Alec Bannon, Bloom has thought in the preceding paragraph of the teacup that Milly gave him as a "birthday gift. Only five she was then. No, wait: four." Like Vance posting a valentine for his daughter, he remembers "Putting pieces of folded brown paper in the letterbox for her." Papli's little "darling" is now of an age to choose other men—in the following paragraph Bloom thinks of "Sex breaking out" in her—but the song affirms his continuing role as her first lover. It is the first of several moments in Calypso when Bloom indulges the same kind of regretful erotic revery toward both wife and daughter.