Words changing colour like crabs

From the Eumaeus episode of Ulysses by James Joyce:

Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee, listening to this synopsis of things in general, Stephen stared at nothing in particular. He could hear, of course, all kinds of words changing colour like those crabs about Ringsend in the morning, burrowing quickly into all colours of different sorts of the same sand where they had a home somewhere beneath or seemed to.

After the noncommittal vagueness of “things in general” and “nothing in particular”, I love how the image of local crabs, so suddenly specific, transports us (and Stephen) briefly out of the human domain across to the Dublin coast and the wordless creatures alive in the sand. It’s a strange and surprising analogy and one with a hint of synaesthesia.


8 Responses to Words changing colour like crabs

  1. Shaun Downey says:

    Such a wonderful turn of phrase!

  2. Stan says:

    It really is, Shaun. Ulysses is full of tiny treasures like this.

  3. ALiCe__M says:

    This is beautiful. The crabs conjure up such a vivid image!Thank you for sharing.
    I remember that Daniel Tammet described numbers with “personality”, textures and colours

  4. DG MARYOGA says:

    In “Proteus,” Stephen is walking along Sandymount Strand, and as he looks down the beach, he thinks, “These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here” (3.62)…
    Presumably,words for J.Joyce stop being flat and they become real gems. TU for giving me the chance to admire the multi-dimensional aspect of his writing style,once again.
    The hint of synaesthesia is so easily communicated in the excerpt you quoted here.

  5. Stan says:

    Alice: I thought so too. Glad you like it!

    DG: Welcome, and thanks for your comment. That’s a very poetic line from Proteus, conveying language’s mutability and suggesting too its fossilised, fragmented nature.

  6. Y.S. says:

    Nabokov called Ulysses one of the greatest 20th century works of literature, and he too was purportedly a synesthete. Maybe he saw something familiar to his own thoughts in Joyce’s language.

  7. […] Somehow Joyce’s vowel associations remind me of a passage in Ulysses where he talks about words changing colour like crabs in […]

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