2005-08-29

Horhorn, quickening, and wombfruit

Someone asked me the meaning of the following signature line that I use:

Deshil Holles eamus. Deshil Holles eamus. Deshil Holles eamus.
Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening, and wombfruit. (3x)
Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa!

saying: "It reads like the gibbering of a schizophrenic. Is it anything but?"

It is, indeed, anything but. The text is from the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, and consists of remarks that can be heard in and around Holles Street maternity hospital in Dublin. Deshil is Irish for "street", eamus is Latin for "let's go"; the speakers are medical students, who know enough Latin and Irish to fool around in both languages, even simultaneously.

The "Send us" line is the prayer of the expectant mothers. I do not know exactly what "Horhorn" means, but "quickening" is pregnancy, and "wombfruit" is a baby, with reference to the familiar prayer to Mary: "... and to the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." Indeed, the German version "Schick uns, du Heller, du Lichter, Horhorn, Leben und Leibesfrucht" leaves "Horhorn" untranslated. (3x) is just my way of saving space; the original repeats this line, like the others, three times.

As for the last line, it represents what someone (the midwife or obstetrician) is saying at the delivery of a male infant, perhaps a first child (they tend to linger a long time). The German version is straightforward: "Hopsa, ein Jungeinjung."

4 comments:

Sean said...

Hi John,

I'd always thought that Deshil was a variant of deasil meaning "to the right" and also meaning 'to the sun'.

Deis is modern Irish for "right" (direction) as in "fo dheis" = "to the right".

cheers,
Sean

Uche said...

Well, knock me widdershins, Sean. Two brilliant interpretations. So which is right? I guess I could check my student's guide to Ulysses, but what fun would that be?

John, thanks for reminding me of this bit from the book, which I'd filed away in long term memory. I just chanted it to Udoka and he loved it. Lori overheard me and, though she thought I'd gone screwy, said she really liked the sound of it. I told her I'd try it out on her in labor if we had another one. Her amusement ended.

Brings me to mind of another wonderful cantata choris from Joyce (POAAAAYM, in this case):

Stephanos Dedalos! Bous Stephanoumenos! Bous Stephaneforos!

Conrad H. Roth said...

Horhorne: the reduplicated "Horne", the name of Mina's doctor, and also of "horn", suggesting two horns: an ox, or the crescent moon, fertility symbol. "Hor" also = Horus, the bright one, light one? Or something like that. From what I remember.

Stephen Mulraney said...

In Modern Irish, 'deiseal' means 'rightwards' and thus 'clockwise', as in 'casadh ar deiseal' - 'to turn clockwise'. What's probably more relevant is that '(an) deisceart' means 'the south', 'ceart' being a suffix used with the word for 'the north' too.

I don't have any very useful references at hand, but a McBain's (Scots) Gaelic etymological dictionary tells me that "deiseil" means specifically "southward", < Early Ir. 'dessel' < 'deas' (right, south) & 'sel' (a while, space).

I'd suggest that they're saying 'let's go south to Holles (Street or Hospital)". I don't know that 'deshil' doesn't somehow mean 'street'; but I've never heard it, and it first struck me as something to do with the south/right words.