Hoopsa boyaboy

Hoopsa boyaboy

In Brief

"Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!": this third verse in the chant that opens Oxen maps the Arval Brothers' "Triumphe!" onto the modern cry of a midwife bouncing a male baby into its new life.

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In James Joyce's Ulysses (1930), Stuart Gilbert writes that this "is the triumphant cry of the midwife as, elevating the new-born, she acclaims its sex" (277). Gifford adds that the midwife is apparently bouncing the baby "to stabilize its breathing." A newborn may need some help to start drawing its first breaths of air. Today doctors quickly suction the airway to remove any fluid, but a traditional method was to lift the child by its ankles and slap it on the buttocks, using gravity to dislodge the fluid. Whatever the method employed in Horne's hospital, Joyce's "hoopsa" does seem to take us to the endpoint of labor: a healthy, screaming child.

The progressive evolution of prose styles in Oxen of the Sun parallels the passage of time waiting for Mina Purefoy to give birth, and Joyce seems to have intended an analogy between the development of English prose and the development of a fetus. A 20 March 1920 letter to Frank Budgen says so, and the schemas which he gave to Linati and Gilbert identify the "technique" of this chapter as "embryonic development." How exactly one should understand the details of this analogy is a very uncertain business, but the narrative of the chapter does build to the delivery of Mrs. Purefoy's baby, and the chaotic, choppy, colloquial non-style of its final pages can plausibly be heard as resembling the cries of a newborn. Joyce predicts the end of his episode at its beginning, in the conclusion of the chant.

JH 2014
Photograph from Frederick Leboyer's Birth Without Violence (1977). Source: letsliveforever.net.