Like a cod in a pot

Like a cod in a pot

In Brief

As Bloom walks from Sweny's pharmacy to the Turkish baths, he passes by the walls of the Trinity College campus and sees a "horseshoe poster over the gate of college park: cyclist doubled up like a cod in a pot. Damn bad ad." College Park is a playing field used for cricket matches in the southeastern corner of the campus. Bicycle races were held there, including a half-mile handicap on 16 June 1904 which the poster by the park's entrance is clearly advertising. The poster seems to be horseshoe-shaped, echoing the look of a rider wrapped around his bicycle like a big fish bent double in a cooking pot. The resulting sense of discomfort is intensified by allusion to the song Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye, in which a soldier's mangled body is similarly twisted.

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The song, an old one with many verses and many variations, is sung to the same tune as the much more hopeful American Civil War anthem When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Probably written in Ireland some time around 1800, it was popular in the UK in the 19th and early 20th centuries and lives on today in performances by the Clancy Brothers and the Dropkick Murphys. The verses are sung by a young Irish woman whose lover ran off to join the army after the birth of their child. Now he is back from Ceylon, horribly disfigured, and she welcomes his return in an Irish spirit of black gallows humor. One verse ends by remarking that "Like a cod, you're doubled up head and tail, / Och! Johnny, I hardly knew ye!" The next one is even harsher:

You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg,
      Hurroo! Hurroo!
You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg.
      Hurroo! Hurroo!
You're an eyeless, boneless, chickenless egg,
You'd have to be put in a bowl to beg.
Och! Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

Zack Bowen notes that the thought of the soldier's mutilated body being "put in a bowl to beg" (unquoted in the novel, and in the recording linked here he is merely put "with" a bowl) anticipates a scene that Bloom imagines in the chapter's final paragraph: "He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved." Bloom's image is far more comfortable. He returns to the womb, Bowen remarks, "not as the fetus bicycler but as the great seed bearer and the father of his race." Together the images of a cod in a pot and a body in a bathtub complete a long series of such images in Lotus Eaters: bowls, cups, pots, bags, jars, tubs, and church fonts. Unlike the cycling ad, most of them promise comfort and satisfaction.

JH 2022
Poster featuring Frank L. Kramer, an American cyclist who won 16 consecutive national championships from 1901 to 1916. Source: