And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins…

Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges

  • Patrick Kavanagh

Declan Kiberd notes that James Joyce believed that by recording the minutiae of a single day he could “release those elements of the marvellous latent in ordinary living, so that the familiar might astonish”. Everyday need not be average but “a process recorded as it is lived” – with spontaneity and openness to chance. Throughout the book, in public spaces, random, unexpected meetings occur. This openness to serendipity gives charm and novelty to everyday things. Ulysses is a counter-newspaper that captures more acutely the events of single day. Joyce avoided abstraction and sought to keep everything concrete.

A deep contemplative reading of the text can open us to new ways of experiencing the world. The aim is to release the marvellous from the ordinary so that it may astonish. A useful way to approach this is to take a few lines of text at a time, reading the words slowly, and ideally out loud, then noticing how it alters your perception. When you engage with the world again do you experience anything differently? Does any shift occur?

Stately, plump buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

– Intribo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

– Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful Jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains.

It can be helpful to write about what you notice arising within you in response to the text. Or perhaps to bring the same eye to your world right now, by simply writing a short paragraph about what you see around you, allowing yourself to bring a curious eye to your reality, paying attention to what is novel and being astonished by the marvellous in the ordinary.