James Joyce



The Art of Poetry

Birdthistle, Sheighle .Thesis M.A. 2003 James Joyce and the Construction of Self.

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….” (Joyce, 1992:3)

This is a quotation from the novel “ A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce and it is the fictionalised story of the life of the author. In his novel, Joyce presents an early sketch of himself in the persona of Stephen Dedalus, from early childhood through the various stages to manhood. This is a good place to begin.

With James Joyce it is good to start at the beginning…Baby tuckoo was the baby Stephen Dedalus and the narrator with the hairy face was his father, Simon Dedalus.

These opening lines of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” recount the life and genius that was Stephen Dedalus. As Baby tuckoo began to grow from infant to child, history would show that modern Ireland was in its infancy. History would also show how Stephen Dedalus became a renowned artist in the new era of modernity. While still a colony Ireland presented as the Caliban of Europe, the wild man, the Other. It would be difficult therefore for any young man to feel secure in a self that did not seem to conform to the notion of Irish youth as uncouth and uncultured. For someone of the sensitivity, candour and brilliance of James Joyce, it must have been a hell on earth as he struggled with the bondage of ignorance of things modern, that existed in Ireland.

Joyce was not just a great writer but also a great philosopher. His was a philosophy of the artist and his treatise is his work “ A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.

Artistic endeavour, artistic commitment is explained in normal language, a language that flows like a fountain in full force. Joyce used language like breath which is necessary, for both writer and reader but inhaled and exhaled in a unique rhythm.

The Ireland that Joyce was born into was still suffering from the effects of the great potato famines of 1845-1851that had ravaged the country and decreased the population through both death and emigration. This emigration had created another Ireland in Britain and across the Atlantic in America. The Irish in America were instrumental in founding the Fenian Brotherhood from which eventually grew the Irish Republican Army. The Fenian Brotherhood, like the United Irishmen, bound it’s members by oath to secrecy and loyalty to the Irish Republic and was condemned by the Catholic Church. This opposition by the Church was part religious, part political.

It was considered sinful to be a member of a secret society and to forcefully attempt to overthrow the establishment. ( O’ Heithir 2000:43). The Church had achieved power through Daniel O’ Connell and feared that secularisation would deprive it of its hold on the Irish population. When the Land League was formed in October 1879 the Fenians became involved and enjoyed support despite the Church’s opposition.

Parnell through his expert and shrewd work within and outside parliament fought for the recovery of the land for the Irish. The previously unknown tactic of boycotting came into being and was used to great advantage. The Second Land Act of 1881 returned the land to the tenants and ultimately a conservative body of people developed within Ireland. This Act gave tenants the right of free sale and introduced a way of settling disputes resulting from increased rent. Parnell was on the brink of achieving Home Rule when he fell from grace in the eyes of the establishment throughout Britain. The Catholic Church publicly denounced Parnell because of his extra-marital affair with Kitty O’ Shea and Gladstone turned against him when he refused to stand down from the leadership of the Irish Party. In 1891 Parnell died, and his death seemed to increase the bitterness. There then followed a period of stagnation and deterioration of political standards in Irish life and the chance of uniting the people of Ireland as a whole, was lost.

The young James Joyce was nine years old when Parnell died. He was privy to the conversations and discussions of his adult relatives and friends as they argued the rights and wrongdoings of their political and clerical leaders. Within, and outside his family circle he would have observed the docile observance of Rome Rule amongst many while others mourned the loss of personal integrity and commitment.

The Joyce family had a brief time of prosperity before their economic status changed utterly and they sank into poverty, exacerbated by the father’s abuse of alcohol. Against this backdrop James Joyce became the man and writer of distinction.

James Joyce, the man recognises and accepts that he is part of a community; but at the same time he feels isolated from that community. It will be his task to examine that sense of isolation and the way in which it affects his race. Ireland is a colony of Britain but Stephen looks to the future and a time when the people of Ireland will have a voice of their own. He wants to create that voice, uniquely suitable to a people, whose culture is trapped between two languages the Irish language, which is dormant and the English language, which is the language of the coloniser. Stephen wants to create a new rhetoric, a narrative that would invoke the spirit of an independent people, whether colonised or not.

Dublin is the named place in Joyce’s novel but it could be any city in the world. The story told and the problems that are encountered, are personal in this instance, but they are universal ones. Joyce uses the technique of interior dialogue to allow the reader access to the mind of the narrator. At the close of the novel the narrator changes from the third person to a first person account. The author has accomplished what he set out to do; Stephen is self-begotten as he welcomes life and the experience of reality. The technique used by Joyce in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” laid the foundation for his masterpiece, Ulysses.

James Joyce and the music of poetry.

Poetry was first an oral art, heard and listened to, before It became a written art. The music of poetry is its rhythm and rhyme and, of course its choice of form and subject matter.

The medium for a poem is the voice and each of us has a distinct personal voice with which to interpret the words of a poem. Poetry comes from the imagination and is presented in the language of the poet – transformed and honed and then voiced. The sound of the words, their placement and the voice of the reader all combine to make a poem. Think, and remember how clearly a piece of music can relay a vivid memory to the mind – physical emotion is activated and we can feel as though transported to another time and place.

When a poem is spoken aloud it has a similar power – it is always wise and necessary to read poetry, it is like food for the imagination, body and soul. When we recite the poem we have a potent piece of music with an imagined visibility – we can form pictures in the mind and present them aloud. Using these images we can recite a poem with feeling and understanding. Add to that, memorising the words enhances the experience. Reciting from memory excludes the interruption or intervention of having to read the poem from a book.

Reading poetry can be difficult and needs time and concentration and an understanding of the poem, in order to do it well. Memorising a poem helps to provide a better voicing. The poem finds its life its reality when shared between the speaker and the listener. The poem has its own identity and escapes ownership of the poet when it has a reader or a listener. The poem arrives as words placed together. When we read these words and read them aloud we form an understanding. The sounds and pauses are all directly involved in the meaning of the poem. Spoken or read aloud enables us to follow the music of the poem allows us to make a connection with the poem on an emotional level or intellectual level, or both. Listening, to another person reading enables a human connection and allows the words of the poem to sink into the consciousness

James Joyce. (1882-1941)

James Augustine[1] Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. The following poems are from one of his two collections of poetry.

The particular collection from which I have chosen, has been put to music by a number of composers.

In 1907, shortly after publishing a book of love poetry titled Chamber Music, Irish writer James Joyce penned a letter to his brother Stanislaus: “Some of the verses are pretty enough to be put to music. I hope someone will do so, someone that knows old English music such as I like.” A century later, a group of independent electronic, folk and rock musicians have done just that.

All 36 verses from Joyce’s book of poetry have been put to music by artists such as Peter Buck from R.E.M. and Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth. Producer James Nichols got the idea a few years ago while thumbing through Joyce’s poetry in a bookstore. He was so intrigued that he decided to find out more about the obscure collection of verses. He wasn’t the first:

Chamber Music

Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet ;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.

There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.

According to Ezra Pound ;
‘The quality and distinction of the poems in the first half of Mr Joyce’s Chamber Music … is due in part to their author’s strict musical training. We have here the lyric in some of its best traditions….’. In lyric poetry, the mood is musical and emotional. The writer of a lyric poem uses words that express his state of mind, his perceptions, or his feelings.

Pound goes on to note poem V111…Here, as in nearly every poem, the motif is so slight that the poem scarcely exists until one thinks of it as set to music; and the is so delicate that out of twenty readers scarce one will notice its fineness.

Who goes amid the green wood
With springtide all adorning her?
Who goes amid the merry green wood
To make it merrier?

Who passes in the sunlight
By ways that know the light footfall?
Who passes in the sweet sunlight
With mien so virginal?

The ways of all the woodland
Gleam with a soft and golden fire —
For whom does all the sunny woodland
Carry so brave attire?

O, it is for my true love
The woods their rich apparel wear —
O, it is for my true love,
That is so young and fair.

I choose to mention these two poems by Joyce because, in my opinion, here we have, what is called ‘the chicken and egg dilemma’ that is, which is first, or which is of greater importance. The words or the music of the words. In the poem, Strings in the earth and air make music sweet ; we are struck by the imagery of the words that immediately conjour up a poetic situation as if we could hear the sweet music of violins wafting through the air on an idyllic river walk. The metaphor of Love wandering alongside us bedecked with flowers adds to the musical scene, as he picks out music from his instrument.

James Joyce is known as a brilliant writer, however there was a part of Joyce that almost had an career as as a musician. Joyce’s training and musical skill, his love and appreciation of all types of music, infiltrated his writing in many ways. Joyce had a beautiful tenor voice richly clear and not at all strident. His relationship with both language and music greatly influenced his writing and especially the poetry of Chamber Music, which was written as a collection of love poems. Chamber Music was in fact, Joyce’s first published book in the year 1907. His second collection of poems Pomes Penyeach was published in 1927.

The music in the writings of James Joyce continues to entertain the world throughout the ages and gives us the readers, nutritious food for thought.