What does the first sentence of Finnegans Wake mean?
Riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
This sentence is the very first one of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. I am quite confused by its meaning, factual or figurative alike. Cry for help.
"Finnegan's Wake" is notoriously opaque. If English isn't your first language, I wouldn't recommend it. I certainly don't understand the vast majority of it. Here's my shot at translation:
The river runs past Adam and Eve's home, by the shore and around the back to Howth Castle and its surroundings.
I have no idea what a "commodius vicus of recirculation" is.
Finnegans Wake is an experimental novel full of puns which require some background knowledge and an exquisite sense of abstraction. That´s the reason why it´s extremely difficult to decipher the meaning behind these twisted words and sentences even if you happen to be a native speaker of English. It obviously isn´t a novel that I´d recommend you to read for fun. However, it could be fun if you like these kind of things. (Being a student of literature and linguistics, I had the chance of getting acquianted with this piece.)
Well, I´m not sure, but:
Riverrun: can be a noun and a verb phrase as well (riverrun vs. river run)
past: again either a noun (past) or the simple past form of the verb "pass" (passed, but pronounced exactly as "past"
Adam and Eve: that´s a church in Dublin (I´m not sure if Joyce is referring to it), on the other hand, legend has it that they are our ancestors, thus:
Either: passed Adam and Eve´s Church
Or: Adam and Eve´s past
from swerve of shore to bend of bay: it´s sort of self-explanatory I reckon
a commodius vicus of recirculation: I can´t quite put my finger on that particular expression. I assume that "vicious circle" is implied here, among several other possible connotations. Besides, "vicus" could be a(n oblique) reference to Giambattista Vico, who was known of his circular view of history. (~ back to Adam and Eve, basically) "Commodius" might refer to "commodious". "commodius vicus" has the same short form as "curriculum vitae" that is CV, so it might refer to the course of life or history.
I´m not sure I get the meaning right, that´s just my interpretation.
Bill, the river Liffey weaves past Adam and Eve's church and eventually, after taking a round about route, passes Howth castle (or thereabouts). Is that good enough for you?
It makes much better sense to me. Indeed, I am hesitant to read such a novel, as Liz said. I appreciate your help, Josh Lalonde, Liz, Mysteryman!
As Robert Anton Wilson pointed out in "The Illuminatus Papers", the speaker in FW is obsessed with exctretory functions, so I'd call it obvious that "commodius" is amont other things, a pun on "commode," meaning toilet. also, the water in a commode moves in a circular fashion....
As for "vicus":
In the history of the Roman empire, a vicus (pl. vici) was an ad hoc provincial civilian settlement that sprang up close to and because of a nearby official Roman site, usually a military garrison or state-owned mining operation.
The vici differed from the planned civilian towns (civitates) that were laid out as official, local economic and administrative centres, the coloniæ which were settlements of retired troops, or the formal political entities created from existing settlements, the municipia.
"vicus" may also refer to Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). Vico believed in a theory of cyclical history. He believed that the world was coming to the end of the last of three ages, these being the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of humans. This opening also contributes to the effect of Joyce's novel as a whole, since it begins and ends with "riverrun" on the lips. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegans_Wake