Thursday, 30 August 2012
Lowry uses the words "Y'lang, y'lang" to describe the sound of a bell ringing in his short story 'Goya The Obscure'; "and the Canning Dock, the sinister bell of warning singing out its desolate nostalgic phrase, y'lang y'lang:, y'lang y'lang, - The voice of the chiming bell-buoy chiming and wallowing and rolling..." (Pg.278) and "A woman passed. Y'lang y'lang. 'Excuse me Miss, are you going anywhere?' " (Pg. 278). Lowry revives the words in his novel Ultramarine; "and the Canning Dock, the sinister bell of warning singing out its desolate nostalgic phrase, y'lang y'lang y'lang y'lang. ... tolling, enforcing his sad solitude. 'Ware Shoal! A woman passes. Y'lang y'lang. Norwegian liner aground in Mersey!" (Pg. 70). Lowry also uses the words in a letter to Gerald Noxon dated 1952; "Time for the train that "goes a long way," i. e., toward Port Moody and points east. . . y'lang, y'lang." (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg.)
Lowry would have been aware that Ylang-ylang was a tree found in Far East which is a one valued for its perfume and is considered to be an aphrodisiac. Lowry would have read a reference to a tree in Penang mentioned by J. Johnston Abraham's in his The Surgeon's Log - a book Lowry refers to in the short story 'Enter One In Sumptuous Armour'. (Psalms Pg. 231).
Lowry appears to be linking the tree's aphrodisiac qualities to its pronunciation sounding like a bell to develop a complex sexual allusion. The use of sexual allusions is a theme that runs throughout 'Goya The Obscure'. The bell is warning Joe Passalique of the dangers of having sex with a prostitute as he drifts around Liverpool - "A woman passed. Y'lang y'lang. 'Excuse me Miss, are you going anywhere?' " (Pg. 278).