When Molly thinks that taking Stephen's semen in her mouth
wouldn't be so bad, "even if some of it went down," she
searches for equivalents: "what its only like gruel or the
dew." The first comparison seems apt enough, given
watery oatmeal's color and texture, but why would Molly think
of dew? It turns out that Joyce has made the association
between semen and dew twice before, in Nausicaa and Oxen
of the Sun, and arguably in A Portrait of the
Artist as well. In all of these passages the linkage
seems to be more intellectual than sensory: dew is refreshing
and life-giving, and it has an affinity with intangible
The poem that Stephen composes in part 5 of A Portrait comes
to him after one of those rapturous dreams that sometimes
happen just before waking: "Towards dawn he awoke. O what
sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet. Over his
limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed. He lay
still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint
sweet music. His mind was waking slowly to a tremulous morning
knowledge, a morning inspiration. A spirit filled him,
pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music.
But how faintly it was inbreathed, how passionlessly, as if
the seraphim themselves were breathing upon him! His soul was
waking slowly, fearing to awake wholly."
In Dublin's Joyce (1956), Hugh Kenner reads this
scene, counter-intuitively but plausibly, as the aftermath of
a wet dream (123). The prose speaks only of spiritual
realities: inspiration, radiance, "enchantment," "a dream or
vision," "the ecstasy of seraphic life." But one detail does
evoke sexuality, albeit wrapped in gauzy religious tissue: "O!
In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh.
Gabriel the seraph had come to the virgin's chamber." Stephen
is the virgin here (a budding poet, about to conceive), but
the analogy suggests a sexual dimension to his state of mind,
and his thoughts turn immediately afterward to eros. Poetry is
born in him when the "white flame" of inspiration deepens to
"a rose and ardent light" suggestive of the "strange wilful
heart" of a woman who has lured the angels down from heaven.
One of the tercets of the villanelle reads, "Your eyes have
set man's heart ablaze / And you have had your will of him.
/ Are you not weary of ardent ways?"
Christian mythology holds that the archangel Gabriel came
down from heaven to tell the Virgin Mary that she would be
impregnated by the Holy Spirit, symbolized in countless
paintings by a dove, and would bear the Son of God. In the
first chapter of Ulysses Mulligan makes a mockery of
this divine siring—"My mother's a jew, my father's a bird"—and in Proteus
Stephen recalls how the French satirist Léo Taxil too imagined
Mary being knocked up by a randy pigeon. But the dream passage
in A Portrait of the Artist applies the paradigm quite
chastely to the fusion of sexuality and spirituality
experienced by the writer of a love poem, and Stephen's image
of being "all dewy wet" carries over into the later novel.
Like the archangel of the Bible and the seraphim of the poem,
dew falls from the heavens, bringing new life to earth. Ulysses
maintains this metaphorical suggestion while making the
moisture explicitly sexual.
In Nausicaa Joyce maps the mounting sexual excitement
of Bloom and Gerty onto the fireworks display that both are
watching from Sandymount Strand. The moment of climax comes as
sparkling stars shoot from a Roman candle and fall from the
evening sky: "She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held
out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips
laid on her white brow, the cry of a young girl's love, a
little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung
through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind
blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a
sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed
out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and
ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden,
O so lovely! O, so soft, sweet, soft!" The evanscent celestial
radiance of A Portrait is here a physical phenomenon,
gushing from a phallic cylinder.
The following chapter, Oxen of the Sun, builds upon
this conflation of the spiritual and the sexual. With Mrs.
Purefoy's baby born, and the bars due to close soon, the young
men pour out of the hospital into night air livened by recent
rain: "The air without is impregnated with raindew moisture,
life essence celestial, glistering on Dublin stone
there under starshiny coelum. God's air, the Allfather's air,
scintillant circumambient cessile air. Breathe it deep into
thee. By heaven, Theodore Purefoy, thou hast done a doughty
deed and no botch! Thou art, I vow, the remarkablest
progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding most
farraginous chronicle. Astounding! In her lay a Godframed
Godgiven preformed possibility which thou hast fructified with
thy modicum of man's work. Cleave to her! Serve! Toil on,
labour like a very bandog and let scholarment and all
Malthusiasts go hang. Thou art all their daddies, Theodore.
Art drooping under thy load, bemoiled with butcher's bills at
home and ingots (not thine!) in the countinghouse? Head up! For
every newbegotten thou shalt gather thy homer of ripe wheat.
See, thy fleece is drenched."
The biblical bushels of nourishing grain that will compensate
Mr. Purefoy for his costly begetting (the omer, or
"sheaf," was an ancient Hebrew unit of dry measure) are
coupled, in these closing sentences, with the heaven-sent
moisture that makes plants grow. Dew specifically suggests
divine approval. In the book of Judges, Gideon says to his
God, "If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast
said, Behold I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and
if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all
the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel
by my hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up
early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and
wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water"
(6:36-38). In these verses dew signifies God's good will
toward his nation Israel. In Oxen, by extension, the
glistening night air proclaims the divine purpose that has
been fulfilled in the maternity hospital: bringing new life
into the world. The entire chapter has urged this linkage
between procreation and divine approval, and now the linkage
is concretized in the association of three fluids: the
"raindew moisture" that clings to Dubin's streets, the dew
that drenched Gideon's fleece, and the seed which Theodore
Purefoy sprinkled on his wife's womb.
In Joyce and Reality: The Empirical Strikes Back
(2004), John Gordon briefly remarks on the connection between
dew and semen in these four passages and notes one interesting
quasi-scientific belief that may have reinforced it in Joyce's
mind (26). Ithaca refers to "the continual
production of semen by distillation," using the same
word that it has earlier applied to dew: "saturation of air,
distillation of dew." This sounds reminiscent of early modern
humors theories inherited from Aristotle, Hippocrates, and
Galen. In Thicker Than Water: The Origins of Blood as
Symbol and Ritual (2014), Melissa Meyer writes of the
ancient theories that "All bodily fluids were distilled from
blood. Both sexes produced semen. Male sperm was refined from
blood, journeyed to the brain, and then flowed downward
through the spinal column, the kidneys, and testicles before
being ejaculated. Female semen was more like menstrual blood.
Heat was transformative. Men had enough heat to refine blood
into semen and then on to the supreme form, sperm" (59).
Whatever pseudoscience may be responsible for the notion that
semen is produced "by distillation," the effect is to suggest
that it is somehow purified, refined. If it is "pure as the
purest water, sweet as dew" (Stephen's words in A Portrait),
then Molly has nothing to fear from fellatio.