Friday, 5 July 2013

Favourite snatches (9)

I don't much like dogs and their doggy ways. I'm not a dog person. Their owners often strike me as sociopaths, so I suppose I'm not a dog person person either. Here's a favourite snatch from Ulysses in which Joyce (who was very afraid of dogs) captures a particular canine called Tatters, running along the beach as seen by Stephen Dedalus. It's a wonderful piece of writing. Has any animal ever been better caught in prose?

A woman and a man. I see her skirties. Pinned up, I bet.

Their dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing on
all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made
off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a
lowskimming gull. The man's shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He
turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks. On a
field tenney a buck, trippant, proper, unattired. At the lacefringe of
the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His
snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented
towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking,
plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves.

Cocklepickers. They waded a little way in the water and, stooping,
soused their bags and, lifting them again, waded out. The dog yelped
running to them, reared up and pawed them, dropping on all fours, again
reared up at them with mute bearish fawning. Unheeded he kept by them as
they came towards the drier sand, a rag of wolf's tongue redpanting from
his jaws. His speckled body ambled ahead of them and then loped off at a
calf's gallop. The carcass lay on his path. He stopped, sniffed, stalked
round it, brother, nosing closer, went round it, sniffling rapidly like
a dog all over the dead dog's bedraggled fell. Dogskull, dogsniff, eyes
on the ground, moves to one great goal. Ah, poor dogsbody! Here lies
poor dogsbody's body.

--Tatters! Out of that, you mongrel!

The cry brought him skulking back to his master and a blunt bootless
kick sent him unscathed across a spit of sand, crouched in flight. He
slunk back in a curve. Doesn't see me. Along by the edge of the mole he
lolloped, dawdled, smelt a rock and from under a cocked hindleg pissed
against it. He trotted forward and, lifting again his hindleg, pissed
quick short at an unsmelt rock. The simple pleasures of the poor. His
hindpaws then scattered the sand: then his forepaws dabbled and delved.
Something he buried there, his grandmother. He rooted in the sand,
dabbling, delving and stopped to listen to the air, scraped up the sand
again with a fury of his claws, soon ceasing, a pard, a panther, got in
spousebreach, vulturing the dead.

© The Estate of James Joyce (although surely copyright has lapsed by now?)

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