Joyce, James (Poetry Criticism)
James Joyce 1882–1941
(Full name James Augustine Aloysius Joyce) Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, memoirist, and critic.
Joyce is considered one of the most prominent literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century. His experiments in prose contributed to a redefinition of the form of the modern novel. As a poet, Joyce's contribution has been regarded as much less noteworthy than that of his fiction, and some critics describe him as a "minor" poet.
Joyce was born in a suburb of Dublin to middle-class parents. He was educated by Jesuits and underwent the same emotional hardship and intellectual discipline as Stephen Dedalus, the hero of his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In 1902 Joyce graduated from University College after earning a degree in Romance languages. He then left Ireland and studied at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. His mother's serious illness caused his return to Dublin in 1903. Following his mother's death in 1904, Joyce moved permanently to the continent with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Settling in Trieste, a city located in the Austro-Hungarian empire, he struggled to support himself and his family by working as an English-language instructor at a Berlitz school.
Two months before the birth of his daughter Lucia in 1907, a collection of Joyce's poems, Chamber Music, was published. He would continue throughout his life to write poetry, but would make little effort to develop his technique beyond the form of these early poems that he had begun before he left Dublin. His first major success, the short fiction collection Dubliners, depicts middleand lower middle-class Dublin life. While composing these short stories, Joyce was also writing a novel, Stephen Hero, which he abandoned to turn his attention to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
With the onset of World War I, Joyce moved to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1915. He used the next four years to complete most of his novel Ulysses, which was published in 1922. In 1920 Joyce moved to Paris. Following the international renown accorded Ulysses, Joyce gained the financial patronship of Harriet Shaw and was able to devote himself exclusively to writing. He spent nearly all of his remaining years composing his final work, Finnegans Wake. Joyce's final years were darkened by the worsening insanity of his
daughter Lucia and by several surgical attempts to save his failing eyesight. After the publication of Finnegans Wake in 1939, Joyce fled Paris and the approaching turmoil of the Second World War. He died in Zurich of a perforated ulcer.
Joyce's first book of verse, Chamber Music, was started during his youth as a college student in Dublin in the late 1890s and published after he had moved to the continent in 1907. A wide range of influences—from Victorian love ballads, Irish songs, and the poetry of William Butler Yeats, Paul Verlaine, and Horace—can be detected in the poems comprising the volume. Most of the poems are brief, simple, and unambiguous. In 1927 Joyce published his second book of poetry, Pomes Penyeach, a collection of thirteen lyric poems. He composed most of them over a period of eleven years, between 1913 to 1924, though one poem, "Tilly," dates back to 1903. With little stylistic variation, they are noteworthy for their distinct rhythm and diction as well as their autobiographical content.
Upon its publication, Chamber Music received mixed critical attention. Critics recognized the lyrical qualities of the poems, but faulted them for a lack of innovation and emotion. However, as Joyce's reputation grew, some commentators have reassessed the verses comprising Chamber Music. Later critics have examined Joyce's use of biblical and classical allusions in the poems. Other commentators have analyzed the thematic and stylistic connections between the poems and Joyce's later fiction. His second collection, Pomes Penyeach, received more praise upon publication than his first volume, and many critics view these later poems as more direct, distinctive, and expressive than those of Chamber Music.
Chamber Music 1907
Pomes Penyeach 1927
Collected Poems 1936
Other Major Works
Dubliners (short stories) 1914
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (novel) 1916
Exiles (drama) 1918
Ulysses (novel) 1922
Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939
Stephen Hero: A Part of the First Draft of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (novel) 1944
The Critical Writings of James Joyce (essays) 1959
Letters of James Joyce (correspondence) 1966
Giacomo Joyce (memoir) 1968
(The entire section is 64 words.)
SOURCE: "The Lyrics of James Joyce," in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, July, 1930, pp. 206-13.
[In the following review, the critic offers a mixed assessment of poems comprising Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach.]
The interest aroused by the ever-expanding design of the Work in Progress [Finnegans Wake], as it appears in quarterly installments in transition, as well as by the inclusion of three segments of this prose epic among the poems which the Messrs. Ford and Aldington have gathered in their recent Imagist Anthology, 1930, is probably sufficient reason for recalling that among Joyce's achievements is a small group of lyrics which certain readers still claim as his most beautiful work. Throughout his career Joyce has been regarded in many quarters as fundamentally a poet. When Ulysses appeared in 1922, its first readers and critics, encountering problems for which their earlier experiences with revolutionary forms of art had not prepared them, at once sought refuge behind the large assumptions that go disguised under the name of poetry. Most of the early notices called it "essentially a poem," "a poet's concept," etc., and thus gave support to a view of Joyce's genius which the autobiographical evidence in his stories, as well as the anecdotes of friends like Æ [George William Russell] and Colum who picture him as a typical visionary of the...
(The entire section is 1624 words.)
SOURCE: "Joyce's Chamber Music: The Exile of the Heart," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4, Winter, 1959, pp. 349-56.
[In the following essay, Baker considers love as the unifying theme in Chamber Music]
A common practice in much Joyce criticism is to dismiss Chamber Music as youthful trivia. Such an estimate is tempting because the thinness of the poems is indeed blatant when they are compared even with the fiction not far removed in conception, Dubliners and Stephen Hero. Confirmation of this now traditional disparagement is found in Joyce's own flippant rejection of the poems as "a capfull of light odes." While his critics are hardly to be blamed for neglect of obviously slight verse, the result has been a blind spot in our understanding of Joyce the man and his total accomplishment: if we ignore Chamber Music we lose additional evidence of the amazing unity of his work, and we lose a dimension in our view of at least one of his characteristic themes.
Critical analysis of the technical aspects of the Chamber Music sequence has been adequate. Since the early review by Arthur Symons, assessments of the competence of the verse and of the various influences which went into its making have been offered by Morton Dauwen Zabel, Hugh Kenner, and William York Tindall. But among these commentators only Kenner and Tindall have undertaken discussion...
(The entire section is 2154 words.)
SOURCE: "James Joyce's 'Ecce Puer': The Return of the Prodding Gaul," in University of Kansas City Review, Vol. 25, No. 4, June, 1959, pp. 265-71.
[In the following essay, Fisher explores thematic links between Joyce's poem "Ecce Puer" and his works of fiction.]
"Ecce Puer" is a slender poem, simply yet gracefully eloquent. To both critics and cultists it is recognizable as one of James Joyce's greatest single lyrical achievements, a poem that is worthy of praise without compensatory references to his more distinguished prose efforts. "Ecce Puer" need borrow none of the accumulated luster of the better known prose works beginning with Dubliners and culminating in Finnegans Wake, since the poem contains rather the most satisfying splendor that can be effected by an economy of means in the hands of the most methodical writer in modern literature. Here is the poem:
Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.
Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!
Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.
A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!
(The entire section is 3372 words.)
SOURCE: "The 'Perilous Theme' of Chamber Music," in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 3, Spring, 1964, pp. 19-24.
[In the following essay, Moseley discusses allusions to the book of Ezekiel in Joyce's Chamber Music.]
One "portrait of the artist" in Finnegans Wake characterizes him as "a sensible ham," who having "with infinite tact in the delicate situation seen the touchy nature of its perilous theme … spat in careful convertedness a musaic dispensation about his hearthstone." Placed alongside a reference to "chamermissies" and the promise, "if one has the stomach to add the breakages, upheavals distortions, inversions of all this chambermade music one stands … a fair chance of actually seeing … the mystery of himsel in furniture," these allusions by the mature Joyce to his earliest work, Chamber Music, seem admissions that his first attempt at turning image into symbol necessarily concealed more than it revealed.
Joyce repeatedly connects his first and last works with a paraphrase of the biblical theme, "the last shall be first, and the first last" (e.g. "So warred he from first to last," FW; and "the lubricitous conjugation of the last with the first," FW). In Stephen Hero the "ham" artist desired to imitate in his "first fruits" (a lyrical sequence) the "fascinating enigmas of the disdainful Jesus," avoiding the "hell of hells wherein...
(The entire section is 2597 words.)
SOURCE: "James Joyce, Irish Poet," in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 4, Summer, 1965, pp. 255-70.
[In the following essay, Scholes provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of "Tilly" and "Ecce Puer," and places Joyce's verse within the context of Irish poetry.]
—They drove his wits astray, he said, by visions of hell. He will never capture the Attice note. The note of Swinburne, of all poets, the white death and the ruddy birth. That is his tragedy. He can never be a poet. The joy of creation …
[Mulligan to Haines of Stephen, at "The Ship": Ulysses]
… I am a poor impulsive sinful generous selfish jealous dissatisfied kind-natured poet …
… one day you will see that I will be something in my country …
… the Abbey Theatre will be open and they will give plays of Yeats and Synge. You have a right to be there because you are my bride: and I am one of the writers of this generation who are perhaps creating at last a conscience in the soul of this wretched race….
[Joyce to his wife in letters of 23, 24 Dec. 1909 and 22 Aug. 1912—MSS at Cornell]
The first of the two quotations prefixed to this essay is not merely an excerpt from a work of fiction. It represents Joyce's...
(The entire section is 6793 words.)
SOURCE: "Chamber Music and its Place in the Joyce Canon," in James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Indiana University Press, 1966, pp. 11-27.
[In the following essay, Howarth traces the development of Joyce's lyricism, concluding that the imagery, form, and themes of the poems in Chamber Music foreshadow those of Joyce's later work.]
The place of Chamber Music in the Joyce canon is at once first, last, and nowhere. Chronologically it is first. It is last for most critics. It is nowhere for most readers, who ignore it or read it too rapidly to gather what it can give. Joyce's own view, even at the moment when he had his worst doubts and almost withheld the volume from publication, was that the poems had "grace"; and perhaps he would also have called them "dainty," the word he uses in A Portrait of the Artist to describe the Elizabethan song which he sang at the piano. For the historian the book is certainly and organically what Joyce allowed it to become when he quelled his doubts and let the printer proceed: Opus I; the first stage in the evolution of the complete opera.
"It is not a book of love verses at all, I perceive," Joyce wrote to his brother. They are not love verses because they do not really attempt to reach a woman, to speak to her, to persuade her, nor do they really attempt to reflect their writer's experience...
(The entire section is 5626 words.)
SOURCE: "The Elizabethan Connection: The Missing Score of James Joyce's Chamber Music," in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter, 1981, pp. 133-45.
[In the following essay which was originally presented at the Seventh International James Joyce Symposium, Russel analyzes the rhythm and structure of Chamber Music, and notes its similarity to Elizabethan poetry.]
James Joyce knew exactly what he was doing in the small volume of poems called Chamber Music. He might have called them Elizabethan Songs or simply Lyrics or Airs; he might even have called them A Short or Selected History of English Poetry, or Exercises in Metre or Verse. But then Joyce, even as a young man, was hardly one to provide explanations. So he accepted his brother's choice as the title, which actually does rather well in conveying the overall spirit. The range is not cosmic nor even symphonic. A small concert hall can accommodate singer, instrumentalist, and audience. Do not expect to be guided, hindsight, by Finnegans Wake or Ulysses. Here is no wild innovation, no journey through detailed particularity to the universal, none of the wordplay or archaeological delights of layered meaning for scholars to dig in. (About the only hint of that later Joyce comes in the portmanteau words: ringaround, lookingglass, poisondart, song-confessed.) Here is a recital—with one performer, a tenor voice,...
(The entire section is 4366 words.)
SOURCE: "The Woman Hidden in James Joyce's Chamber Music, " in Women in Joyce, edited by Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless, University of Illinois Press, pp. 3-30.
[In the following essay, Boyle discusses the feminine imagery in Chamber Music.]
Joyce developed his suite of songs in an effort to create in words, like Stephen Dedalus forming his Mercedes, the "unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld." The youthful Joyce's interest, like that of young Stephen, focused primarily on his own soul, and only secondarily on that fragile and fragmented image which that not-so-constant soul sought to bring into unity. Thus the woman who emerges from Joyce's arrangement of his songs reveals in many ways her varied sources and the adolescent narcissism, insecurity, and ineptitude of her creator. Yet it is the young writer's artistic power that reveals this evanescent but constantly intriguing woman who, like a rainbow on the mist, shimmers with a mysterious radiance and power.
As with Stephen's "green rose," Joyce's ideal woman had not yet found her embodiment outside his imagination. This ideal would be fulfilled only in Nora Barnacle, to whom Joyce wrote in August, 1909: "You were not in a sense the girl for whom I had dreamed and written the verses you find now so enchanting. She was perhaps (as I saw her in my imagination) a girl fashioned into a curious grave beauty by...
(The entire section is 10916 words.)
Rice, Thomas Jackson. James Joyce: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982, 389 p.
Annotated secondary bibliography.
A. C. H. "Chamber Music—Old and New." Poetry: A Magazine of Verse XIV, No. 2 (May 1919): 98-103.
Offers a negative assessment of Chamber Music.
Bowen, Zach. "Goldenhair: Joyce's Archetypal Female." Literature and Psychology 17, No. 4 (1967): 219-28.
Discusses the feminine prototypes found in Chamber Music.
Dixon, John. "Ecce Puer, Ecce Pater: A Son's Recollections of an Unremembered Father." James Joyce Quarterly 29, No. 3 (Spring 1992): 485-509.
Explores autobiographical aspects of Joyce's poem "Ecce Puer."
Gysling, Fritz. "Doctor's Look at a Neglected Poem." James Joyce Quarterly 7, No. 3 (Spring 1970): 251-52.
Provides a clinical interpretation of "Bahnhofstrasse."
Jackson, Selwyn. The Poems of James Joyce and the Use of Poems in His Novels. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1978, 187 p.
(The entire section is 310 words.)