Wakeipedia: An Extended Reading of Page 1 of Finnegans Wake

It’s time to use technology to rid ourselves of our inherent fear of Finnegans Wake. The first time you pick up Finnegans Wake, a fierce mix of feelings flow through your veins even as you read the first fragment starting with the word “riverrun.” Wait, fragment? How could a book possibly start with a fragment? Who allowed this! At this point, it doesn’t matter. Finnegans Wake exists whether or not your traditional self can handle it, and I’ve provided a couple of modern ways that could help you understand this modernist text. I’m in no way trying to impose a type of interpretation, but rather leaving you, the reader, to your own devices to try to figure out what’s going on here. The point is, anyone can pick up Finnegans Wake and with the right tools, understand it. Don’t worry, I’m as stumped as you are.

Read the First Page

Read the text to yourself, read it out loud, and read it with a friend. See what you can take away and understand what confuses you: everything. Finnegans Wake isn’t meant to be fully understood — it’s meant to be more of an experience than anything.

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. Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface. The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntro varrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

Visualize the First Page

By mapping out certain key points of the first page of the book, you’re able to slowly familiarize yourself with some of Dublin and more importantly, geolocation: a big part of Finnegans Wake. Remember to click on the markers for more information as you go through the slides.

Finnegans Wake Page 1, Mapped Out

Listen to the First Page

By listening to the first page, the reader can get an idea of how this jumble of words actually sounds. The point is, you’re not just supposed to view Finnegans Wake as a serious piece, but rather as a multifaceted piece that could even evoke a laugh or two.

Break Down the First Page

This book is heavy when it comes to referencing. The scholarship around Finnegans Wake wouldn’t exist without the tireless effort of readers constantly annotating and breaking down the intense references and codes in the book. Decryption is one of the largest parts of tackling Finnegans Wake. For your convenience, I’m listing the more common annotations that have been circulated.

  1. Riverrun – the course which a river shapes and follows through the landscape
  2. Eve and Adam’s – ‘Church of the Immaculate Conception
  3. Howth – promontory and peninsula on the northern side of Dublin bay
  4. Environs – surroundings, outskirts
  5. Tristram – Tristan und Isolde
  6. Viola d’amore – a sweet-toned tenor viol (Italian, literally ‘viol of love’)
  7. Armorica – name of the north-western part of Gaul, now called Bretagne or Brittany + North America.
  8. isthmus – a narrow portion of land, enclosed on each side by water, and connecting two larger bodies of land
  9. Topsawyer’s Rock – a rock formation on the Oconee river in Georgia, United States
  10. Oconee – river in Georgia. The city of Dublin in Laurens County, Georgia, USA, was built on the banks of Oconee because the Middle Georgia piedmont reminded Irish settlers of terrain in their native country
  11. Mumper – beggar, a begging impositor;
  12. Mishe = I am (Irish)
  13. Buttend – to use the butt end (e.g. of a gun) + butt (Colloquial)
  14. Thackery: Vanity Fair + all is fair in love and war (proverb) + Ecclesiastes 1.2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity”
  15. Sosie – double, twin esp. an identical twin
  16. Parr, Thomas, “Old Parr” (1483-1635), lived in the reigns of ten princes, got a girl with child when over a hundred
  17. minstrelsy – the singing and playing of a minstrel
  18. Pfui – an exclamation of contempt or disgust + chute (fr) – fall
  19. Tim Finnegan – the Dublin hod-carrier who fell drunk from his ladder and apparently died in the popular Irish-American street ballad from the 1850s Finnegan’s Wake.
  20. humpty – humped, hump-backed + Humpty Dumpty – A short, dumpy, hump-shouldered person.
  21. turnpike – The Dublin turnpike system was introduced in the reign of George II. An 1821 map shows 10 Dublin turnpikes, almost all located on the North Circular Road and South Cicrcular Road at the crossing of main roads.
  22. Liffey – river which flows through the centre of Dublin + ALP.


Word Cloud

What this visual provides, is a quick representation of what obvious themes exist in the first page of Finnegans Wake based on thematic weight.

Finnegans Who? 

At this point, you’ve now been given enough tools to get you started on formulating your own ideas about its meaning. The text contains a bit of malleability so I wouldn’t stress too much about whether or not your ideas are sane.

Extra: Feel the Thunder!




Note: annotations have been collected both from FinWake and Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake

For another great visual aid for Finnegans Wake, also check out Stephen Crowe’s Wake in Progress






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