Introduction

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656

James Joyce 1882–1941

Illustration of PDF document

Download James Joyce Study Guide

Subscribe Now

(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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 64

Poetry

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

M. D. Z. (essay date 1930)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1624

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 Irish revival in the nineties, had already encouraged. His first published book was the collection of lyrics, Chamber Music (1907), and in earlier poems like "Tilly" (1904) he had sketched in himself the familiar traits of poetic adolescence, enraged at the stupidity of life:

Boor, bond of the herd,
Tonight stretch full by the fire!
I bleed by the black stream
For my torn bough.

The reportorial naturalism in Dubliners was illuminated by a lyric clairvoyance and sympathy, the story "Araby" first describing the restless creative temper which victimized Joyce's undecided youth. Ultimately, when Stephen Dedalus took shape as Joyce's fictional counterpart, he was a poet charmed by liturgical cadences, by the creative vitality of words, and by the treasury of coined phrases stored in his mind, any one of which—

A day of dappled seaborne clouds—

could set the train of creative enthusiasm running.

In spite of this testimony, we have little evidence that Joyce is not fundamentally a genius in prose. Ulysses may rely on Homeric symbolism, and, if we are to follow Foster Damon, on "the spiritual planes of the Divine Comedy, and the psychological problem of Hamlet," together with a somewhat less convincing use of Blake's mechanism of the epic. The Work in Progress may require its exegetes to make use of far-scattered verse analogies. But, conventional definitions apart, his novels lack specific poetic elements, as well as poetry's absolute sublimation of experience. It is equally apparent that his lyrics are the marginal fragments of his art, minor in theme and too often, for all their precise and orderly felicities, undecided in quality. To the thirty-six poems in Chamber Music he added the thirteen which in 1927 came from the press of Shakespeare & Co., Paris, under the title Pomes Penyeach, eight having originally appeared in 1917 in Poetry. Though an extremely small part of his entire production, this body of lyrics is large enough to disclose changes and adjustments through which Joyce's mind has passed, as well as the creative impulses by which it has been guided.

The verse in Chamber Music has not the finality of single intention. Its deficiencies have been ascribed to the fact that, where it does not reflect the vaporous mysticism of the early Yeats, Æ, and the other Irish revivalists, it is a patent imitation of the Elizabethan song-books. Examination reveals in these poems little more than a superficial verbal similarity to the poetry of the Celtic twilight whose obvious accents appear only in "XXXVI" "Oh, it was out by Donnycarney." Whatever Joyce retained from the bardic songs (or their modern translations) in the way of simplified expression and elegiac motives, was overlaid with the formal decorum, yet enlivened by the lucid sensibility, of Jonson and Herrick, or of those poems by Byrd, Dowland, and Campion which he knew from boyhood. To read Chamber Music with its familiar refrains is to revive sensations first gained from the Book of Airs or A Paradise of Dainty Devices. Yet the overlay of artificial elegance never conceals wholly a nerve of sharp lyric refinement. Little more than elegance is present in "VI":

Adjusted to the courtly tone of Suckling and the Cavaliers, it reappears in "XII":

It is clear that in such poems one has, instead of direct and unequivocal poetic compulsion, a deliberate archaism and a kind of fawning studiousness which attempt to disguise the absence of profounder elements. Yet the archaism which exists at its extreme level in "X" and "XI," or, phrased as vers de société, in "VII," was converted into Joyce's own material in two or three lyrics which, for spiritual suavity and logic, approach the minor work of Crashaw, or at least of Crashaw's descendants in the nineteenth century, Thompson and Lionel Johnson. One of them is "XXVI":

It has been remarked before, by Edmund Wilson, that Joyce was closer to continental literature during his apprenticeship than to current English and Irish. In a writer so intentionally derivative, affiliations are natural. They can probably be traced here to the kind of lyric impressionism that grew, by a curious process of inversion, out of Dehmel and Liliencron toward the broken accent of expressionism as one finds it in Werfel, Joyce's closest ally among the figures of later German poetry. Through his lively contemporaneity and his curious sympathy with modern French art, Joyce was undoubtedly attracted by the inferential subtlety of the Symbolists. But his lyricism, like Dowson's or Rilke's, betrays too much diffusion to enable him to approach Mallarmé's faultless penetration or Rimbaud's intense discipline. It was more readily susceptible to the colors and moods of Verlaine's songs.

This is very nearly a tonal and metrical equivalent of the Chanson d'automne, whose lyric values, and those on other pages of the Poèmes Saturniens or Jadis et Naguère, are present in Chamber Music. But Joyce was testing his lyric gift by a stricter training, by a reading of Rimbaud and Samain perhaps, or of Meredith. The latter's homelier phrases in Love in a Valley are echoed in "XXIV," and his unexpected power to order the material of allegory lies behind the last poem in Chamber Music, the magnificent lyric whose Yeatsian tendency has yielded to the vigor of Meredithian symbolism as one finds it in Lucifer in Starlight or The Promise in Disturbance:

The later lyrics in Pomes Penyeach go so far in integrating these disparate elements that Joyce achieved in the little booklet his own poetic character for the first time. The sedulous understudy which kept him from attaining intimacy or a unifying personality in his earlier work is largely avoided. The style may be defined by devices. It consists in the marked alliteration of "On the Beach at Fontana" and "Tutto e sciolto"; in the persistent periphrasis of words like rockvine, greygolden, slimesilvered, moongrey, loveward, and loveblown (all suggestive of Ulysses); and in the transparent choral tonality of "She Weeps over Rahoon" and "Watching the Needle-boats at San Sabra." Archaisms are still present, and the humid emotionalism of impressionist verse still prevails in "Alone" and "Bahnhofstrasse." But the pattern is constricted by severer form, the lyric accent gains edge, and the emotional content is more secure in its power. Ultimately the tragic surge and wrath of Ulysses finds voice in "A Prayer" and in "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight":

This grey that stares
Lies not, stark skin and bone.
Leave greasy lips their kissing. None
Will choose her what you see to mouth upon.
Dire hunger holds his hour.
Pluck forth your heart, saltblood, a fruit of tears,
Pluck and devour.

Even within thisx narrow range, Joyce's eclecticism, the long reach of his artistic interests, is revealed. Yet one sees likewise the limitations which have kept his lyric output small. The real functions of free-verse have escaped him, and his lyric ideas must otherwise submit to conventional stanzaic formalities. Diffusion mars the outline of many poems, and unnatural sobriety and caution hinder the spontaneity of others. But in four or five pages he has achieved a complete fusion of rapture and lucidity, and written with mastery. "Simples" must rank as one of the purest lyrics of our time: …

Of cool sweet dew and radiance mild
The moon a web of silence weaves
In the still garden where a child
Gathers the simple salad leaves.

A moondew stars her hanging hair
And moonlight kisses her young brow,
And gathering, she sings an air:
Fair as the wave is, fair art thou!

Be mine, I pray, a waxen ear
To shield me from her childish croon,
And mine a shielded heart for her
Who gathers simples of the moon.

The lyric motive and discipline have not been forgotten by Joyce among the problems and ingenuities of his prose epics. Wherever Ulysses avoids parody or satire, it is likely to soar in a lyric utterance; the river symphony at the beginning of the Work in Progress is one of the brilliant phonetic evocations in modern literature. His power to synthesize and formulate the swarming resources of his mind has demanded prose for its proper extension. Yet the poetic temper which has played an indubitable part in his career has given us, by the way, a small offering of exquisite poems, valuable both as diversions of one of the first literary geniuses of our day, and as lyrics which at their best have the mark of classic beauty upon them.

James R. Baker (essay date 1959)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2154

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 of theme.

Tindall's preface to the Columbia University Press edition of these first poems offers valuable commentary on the textual problems and supplies much biographical data. In the discussion of theme, however, he insists upon the self-limiting terms of "Freudian" analysis or, alternatively, upon the Joyce-had-a-clever-but-nasty-mind reading which detects cloacal overtones throughout the sequence. Though there is no doubt that Tindall's methods allow him to discover a surprising subtlety and suggestiveness in these youthful verses, his interpretations are often overerudite and labored. The effect is to eclipse a theme which had its first expression in the poems and was to be repeated in all subsequent work. Chamber Music is Joyce's initial exploration of the conflict of love and creativity, a dilemma which never lost its power to absorb Joyce, both as artist and as man.

Hugh Kenner's analysis, a brief chapter in his Dublin's Joyce, recognizes that the anonymous maiden of Chamber Music reappears with modulated though basically similar symbolic status as "E. C." in Portrait of the Artist, as Beatrice in Exiles, and as Iseult in Finnegans Wake; but he does not trace her presence in "A Prayer" of Pomes Penyeach, in several of the stories in Dubliners, and in Ulysses. While Kenner is to be credited with a sketch of this pervasive feminine force, the complete job remains to be done. That undertaking, however, will be hampered until we see more clearly that Chamber Music must be the point of orientation.

The sequence of lyrics depends upon a quite conventional metaphor for its unity, which reminds us once again that young Joyce was familiar with the lyric and sonnet-sequence traditions of the English Renaissance. The threefold cycle in the evolution of the love-relationship is paralleled with the spring-summer-autumn seasonal cycle and (though with less consistency) the dawn-noon-evening progression of the day. Each of the seasons of love finds its appropriate symbolism in the corresponding season of nature and, when useful in a particular lyric, the period in the day of love is rendered in terms of the mood and atmosphere of the hour. The winter season, which is only implied, follows the closing of the thirtysix poem sequence and serves a double purpose: it marks the end of the love cycle, in which the lovers, recognizing the degeneration of their passion, accept the bleakness of their separate ways; and thus, in terms of the mature insights achieved near the end of the autumnal stage, the entire experience (at least for the boy) appears to have been a time of "deep slumber" and "death."

This final inversion of the seasonal symbolism points to the vital theme of the entire sequence—the initiation of the lovers into the limitations of the passional experience. Poems I-XIII develop the romantic-sentimental phase wherein each of the lovers is absorbed in a fearful duelling for possession of the other. Attracted by the siren-like song of the maiden, the youth abandons his book, the symbol of intellectual motives, and leaves the insular security of his room to join his temptress:

I have left my book,
I have left my room,
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.
("V")

In the following lyric ("VI") the consciousness of the youth retreats from the "austerities" implicit in his initial solitude and the logic of bookish motives, and he begs the girl to admit him into her love. In subsequent poems this shirking of his lonely destiny is overcome. Thus in terms of the metaphor before us at the moment, their love should be regarded as the womb from which the creative spirit is to be born.

In poem "XII" "the bridal wind is blowing / For love is at his noon." In "XIV" (Stanislaus Joyce suggests echoes of "The Song of Solomon") the lover addresses his beloved as "my dove." And so, though he has earlier called for a surrender of her virginal sentiments ("X," "XI," "XII"), phase one closes in an aura of idealism and holiness, soon to be dispelled by the awakening and consequent dialectics of the emerging season. As Joyce explains in a letter to G. Molyneux Palmer, "The central song is "XIV" after which the movement is all downwards until "XXXVI" which is vitally the end of the book. "XXXV" and "XXXVI" are tail-pieces just as "I" and "II" are preludes."

In the second stage (poems XIV-XXII) the conflict between love and creativity emerges in explicit form. The lover, and to some extent the maiden, develops an awareness of the limitations of the love-relationship. Here begins the divorce of spirit which is to culminate in the ascendancy of the male. His evolution to a superior position is foreshadowed in the nature of the disillusionments experienced. While the maiden sentimentalizes the loss of her virgin charms and laments the loss of her moral status, the voice of the lover enters the duo to complain that the exclusiveness of their relationship has destroyed the male companionships in which he found resources necessary for his growth (XIX-XVIII). Poem "XV," therefore, "From dewy dreams, my soul, arise / From love's deep slumber and from death," marks the turning point in his values: henceforth he is to argue for the Daedalian destiny of his soul and while admitting the fascination of his former "sweet imprisonment" he insists that "Love is aweary now." For the first time, the male clearly recognizes his confinement and forsees the spiritual masochism which a continuance of the relationships would demand:

Thus the impulse to retreat from "austerities," first expressed in lyric "VI," is here re-experienced, this time with a defeating self-consciousness lacking in the earlier episode.

In the concluding poems of the sequence (XXIII-XXXVI) the lover comes to rate the values of the passional experience as naive, impermanent—subordinate to the potential creativity of the immanent separate ways:

Since he is now capable of transcending his passion, the coy charms of his beloved are seen as "witchery," evil powers which threaten to enchant him and so destroy his impulse for freedom:

He urges that they enjoy the last moments of a failing love ("XXV") before the "rivers rushing forth/From the grey deserts of the north" overwhelm them with the full sense of their separate destinies ("XXVI"). Yet, though the sound of the rivers strikes fear into the heart of his beloved, the youth identifies it with the sound of Alph, the sacred river; and this he inevitably associates with a triumph of the poetic imagination. His lonely way is now definitely linked with the exile of the artist.

As the lovers wander in the "brown land" of the autumnal phase, their former passion now reduced to a mere friendship, he attempts to console his brooding partner: "The leaves—they do not sigh at all / When the year takes them in the fall." The closing of the love cycle, like the closing of the year, is not an occasion for grief but a time of harvest, presaging a future rich in promise: "Grieve not, sweetheart, for anything— / The year, the year is gathering."

Having achieved this somber triumph, the lover is to discover his naivete. He is now confronted with the loss of the innocent rest he had known ("XXXIV") and is haunted by the loneliness of the journey which lies before him:

In the last poem of the sequence the lover suffers all of the terrors of the fledgling exile. The host of triumphant forces which have been released into his being, now that he has escaped his "sweet imprisonment," rushes upon him as he enters the world. Determined, but terribly alone, the army of fears (actually benevolent enemies of love) assaults his dreams, and he cries out the tortuous ambivalence of his state:

My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?("XXXIV")

The "love" of the last line seems to be not so much the girl he has abandoned but the state of loving, the "sweet imprisonment" in which he can no longer rest.

This reading of the poems does not reduce the sequence to a juvenile apologue of the artist's escape from society, homeland, and church (a miniature Portrait of the Artist), as Kenner suggests. Actually, the milieu in which the tensions are awakened and resolved is quite abstract. Nor does it render the cloacal tones which Tindall ingeniously derives. The result of endowing Chamber Music with the irony and subtlety of the mature Joyce is simply to obscure the obvious thematic tie between verses and the later works.

"A Prayer" in Pomes Penyeach, for example, shows this characteristic duality. On the one hand there is a strong and almost sentimental commitment to the confining demands of passion; on the other, the will to freedom and exile. In a masochistic ecstasy the aroused and enthralled lover submits to the vampire-like powers of his lady:

Draw from me still
My slow life! Bend deeper on me, threatening head,
Proud by my downfall, remembering, pitying
Him who is, him who was!

Yet we have also a repetition of that ambivalent outcry in the last lines of Chamber Music, for in the midst of his appeal the suppliant maintains the tension and division of motives typical of Joyce's artist-lovers:

O have mercy, beloved enemy of my will!

And finally, this blatant outcry:

Subduer, do not leave me! Only joy, only anguish,
Take me, save me, soothe me, O spare me!

The "beloved enemy" is a figure who reappears in various guises throughout Joyce's work. She is the young initiate of Chamber Music and the prototype for the Joyceian female. In Dubliners she is Little Chandler's wife, Annie, representing (as she usually does) the paralyzing force of convention which has penetrated the soul of her husband, a minor poet in potential. In A Boarding House she is the girl and the mother who conspire to cage in marriage the young life of the seducer. In Portrait of the Artist she is the Emma who comes to symbolize for Stephen the several means of convention which are the enemies of his destiny. But in the Portrait, Dedalus, like his precursor in Chamber Music, is so caught up in the naive romanticism of rebellion that he manages to escape. The price he is to pay for his aloofness is seen in Ulysses where, still fearful of involvement, he is dependent upon the amusements afforded by prostitutes—a dependence which functions as a symbol of his fears and the sterility of his creative instinct.

At the opposite pole is Bloom. His utter failure to even attempt the extrication of his potentials from the web of convention is epitomized in the Circe episode. There his submerged will is humiliated by the "enemy" as she appears in several symbolic costumes. Culminating in Finnegans Wake, this pervasive feminine force is the Iseult of Earwicker's dream, a link with Chamber Music which Kenner has noted.

If we appraise these many love-relationships for their symbolic import, it becomes clear that Joyce conceived of creativity as a power whose maintenance depends upon an ideal balance between the slavish submission of Bloom and Earwicker, on the one side, and the sterile objectivity of Dedalus on the other. Looking, then, to the psychologic overtones of these tortured alliances, it is obvious that they go deeper than the chamber-pot reading of Chamber Music or the other works will allow. The theme of the "beloved enemy of my will" is operative in everything that Joyce wrote. Yet it remains to be explored thoroughly, and perhaps an even more challenging and delicate mission awaits future biographers.

Marvin Fisher (essay date 1959)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3372

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 common reader's conception of James Joyce has been influenced by the mildly hostile nature of much of the popular Joyce criticism, by the mere bulk of Ulysses, and most of all by the unique, multi-levelled, and admittedly difficult verbal medium of Finnegans Wake. This reader, confronted with the plain facts of "Ecce Puer," may well ask whether the poem is at all typical of or integral to Joyce's work. Is not the author's real nature more truly represented by the highly complex but skillfully interwoven themes and motifs that are incorporated in the polysyllabic vagaries of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake? What can the tersely restrained simplicity of this poem, which contains only one word of more than two syllables, have in common with the complexity that characterizes so much of Ulysses and is climaxed not in the unconscious but in the subconscious nature of Finnegans Wake? How can the economy and restraint of "Ecce Puer" be even remotely connected with over seven hundred and fifty pages which profess to represent eighteen hours in the lives of three major characters in a most limited physical environment on a typical, even trivial day in June, 1904?

Nevertheless, this poem, seemingly unlike the bulk of Joyce's work, summarizes the most significant of his recurrent themes. For, strangely enough, the half a hundred words of this poem contain a coalescence of the elements and materials used by Joyce in his four best known and individually distinctive prose works. The poem is in part a return to the flawless technique of Dubliners and the compacted experiences of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Each of the four stanzas is a miniature epiphany; and taken together they represent a revelation that is continually expanding in concentric manymeaninged circles to reproduce the unending rhythm of birth and death. Just as evident here as the form and method of Dubliners are some of the themes and occurrences of Ulysses, and the philosophical framework of Finnegans Wake.

In a sense, the two words which constitute the title are the most important of the entire poem, for they indicate the direction or the thrust of the poem. The title, "Ecce Puer" [behold the boy], is both a play on words and a redefining of the original Christian myth, or at least, a restatement of its central meaning in immediate, personal terms. Joyce is only too well aware of the phrase "ecce homo" [behold the man] and its significant context. He intentionally uses a derivative title in order to bring to the poem a set of nonliterary associations which are at the heart of the religious beliefs of the West. The crucifixion of Jesus, the event so obliquely alluded to, is described in John xix.5:

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him." Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, "Behold the man!" When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him." Pilate saith unto them, "Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."

The salient points of the episode, in addition to the redemptive death of Jesus, are His total innocence and the suggestion of suffering prior to death—the meaning of the thorns.

Further evidence of the implicative nature of the title is the lack of apparent connection between it and the secondary materials of the poem—those thoughts or events in experience which lie behind the imagized concepts which constitute the structure of the poem. "Ecce Puer" is ultimately derived from two events in Joyce's life, both of great importance to him. Written in 1932, this poem combines the celebration of the birth of Joyce's grandson with the almost coincidental mourning for the death of his father.

The poem, however, undergoes a process of depersonalization. Both the old man and the child are first viewed as people, not as members of Joyce's immediate family. The exact designations are "a child" and "an old man." Nothing could be less definite, less specific, or more intentionally anonymous.

The first two lines of the poem ("Of the dark past / A child is born") are a succinct summation of one of the most difficult and most criticized phases of Ulysses, the hospital scene where Mrs. Purefoy delivers her child out of the dark past of linguistic development. The very fact the child is born "of the dark past" binds him to those same elements which constitute the past. The act of birth marks the act of creation, of giving form and meaning to a pre-existent void. Through the evolution of language, beginning with the involved constructions of Latin style and continuing through the Medieval period, parodying the notably English men of letters and reaching its consummation in a verbal pandemonium, Joyce correlates the embryonic development of the foetus with ages of language both living and dead. Joyce's method here seems to follow Jung's theory of a "collective unconscious," a racial mythology which has its origins not in the personal unconscious, but which stems from a backlog of racial memory, an echo of Stephen Dedalus' "uncreated conscience of my race."

Jung's thesis complements another theory which Joyce drew upon, that of the Italian philosopher Vico, who held that human history progressed in cycles, each of which contained the same four phases. Joyce's debt to Vico has been adequately documented; and it should be sufficient to say that Vico's cyclical theory was the irreducible historical process which Joyce, the creative artist, used as a structural basis in Finnegans Wake to equate, transpose, and merge his own myth with innumerable correspondences and associations, secure in the knowledge that his creation would coincide with the general pattern of human history. Both Jung's racial unconscious and Vico's historical cycle seek the common ground of a general pattern, and were thus attractive to Joyce. It is in the last two stanzas of the poem that a cyclical view becomes explicit.

The remaining lines of the first stanza ("With joy and grief / My heart is torn") contain the tensions, the divergent and explosive forces that affect the poet. This is the condition of the martyr (a pose not unknown in Joyce—St. Stephen) or of one who is sympathetically aware of the martyr. More specifically, joy is the hope for the future—a hint of the Messianic ideal, which has been already prophesied by Joyce's echoing the words of the Christmas hymns: "Rejoice, a child is born." And grief is indicative of the dismal view of the past voiced by the autobiographical Stephen Dedalus.

Soft, fluid "l" sounds quiet the reader in the next two lines, but beneath the lull of "Calm in his cradle / The living lies" is the implication, perhaps only an unvoiced questioning, of a parallel condition in the dead. Central to this suggestion is the explicit mention of the "cradle" as a container for the living (the unspoken association being the coffin and the dead). Then too, the immediately following supplication ("May love and mercy / Unclose his eyes!") is so fervently and compassionately voiced that one is made aware that the living has something in common with the unliving, the lack of any profound sight. The two lines are reminiscent of the blessing said of the dead—"May the Lord have mercy on his soul." Also suggested here is Stephen Dedalus' unfailingly dark view of the past—"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," literally to open his eyes and disengage himself from the bad dream that man's past evokes. Hence, the later and more imperative admonition, "Finnegans, Wake!" But this still does not explain the use of "un-close," a word that certainly does not seem to belong. That the word should be a negative imperative is important. The eyes of a dead person are closed, as are the eyes of the foetus: therefore to undo death or to begin life, one must unclose those eyes. Joyce has used a single strange word to focus his meaning. The whole quality of the stanza recalls that magnificently phrased coda in the last paragraph of "The Dead," the concluding story in Dubliners: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

"Young life is breathed / On the glass; / The World that was not / Comes to pass." Here Joyce is, on one level at least, relating the flickering beginning of life, the evident organic miracle, that is to be found in the phenomenon of generation. A deeper level is established by the symbolic departure of "glass." Could this be the looking glass, that instrument that functions solely to reflect objectively and transpose the continuous activity that is life? Remotely perhaps connected with Stephen's vivid symbol of Irish art, this mirror more obviously represents an early medical test for the existence of life, a test used only when life is indistinguishable from death. But with this new implication, the mirror completes a pattern, constructs a symmetrical view of any object or event, and integrates the reality with the illusion or the physical object with its reversed image. Everything and its contrary reflection may be viewed simultaneously in this mirror which has already reflected the coffin inherent in the cradle—the death coexistent with life. The "glass" becomes a symbol which unites and reconciles two hitherto unrelated areas—what Jung has called a mediator between the conscious and the unconscious and between all other pairs of opposites.

Conjectural as this may seem, it serves as a support for the previously mentioned world view of Vico. This view, which is explicit in the remainder of the poem, which constitutes one of the philosophical rhythms of Ulysses, and which supplies the structural concept of Finnegans Wake, is further borne out by the subtle ambiguity in "The World that was not / Comes to pass." Here in quasibiblical phraseology is a reminder of that dark past of primal chaos indicated in the first line of the poem as well as restatement of the theme of becoming and being, of void and form. But it is the word "pass" that produces the ambiguity. The more obvious sense of the word is "to be accomplished" or "to come into existence." Still, "to pass" retains the sense of "to pass by" or "to overtake." Another reading indicates "to pass an inspection or test successfully; to attain the required standard." And a reading still different could hold out for "to pass away" or "to be concluded." (The words "to pass" are so flexible that they might also indicate that "the world that was not" comes to be regarded as valid—unheeded or unchallenged.) All these readings of the two words contribute to the idea of a cycle of nothing, becoming, being, and returning to nothing. They differ, however, as to what stage of that cycle each one refers.

Stephen, walking along Sandy-mount Beach, ponders the "ineluctable modality," the generations of man linked by a mystical umbilical cord, and the consubstantiality of Father and Son. The common element in these thoughts of young Dedalus is indeed striking. Individual existence, that is, existence apart from the predetermined pattern, is metaphysically denied. Even the dog on the beach is "looking for something lost in a past life" (metempsychosis). Bloom, also, is aware of the cycle—"Molly. Milly. Same thing watered down … Life. Life." "Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it." The thought of a unifying cycle appears to Bloom in a less meditative though probably as emotionally colored an association as Stephen's, but there is, ironically enough, too much of the worldly about Bloom for him to dwell on the subject. Nevertheless, the "wheels within wheels." The "same old dingdong always. Gas, then solid, then world, then cold, then dead shell drifting around …" are Bloom's own passing attentions to the pattern. Significantly enough, both the funeral and the occasion at the maternity hospital hold such associations for Bloom. Quite evidently, Joyce was constantly attracted by the possibilities of a mythic cycle which allowed him to merge creation, history, and personal experience.

Supplementing Vico and Jung with the writings of an earlier Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno, Joyce reinforced his cyclical conception of reality. If, as Bruno said, each thing serves as the origin of its contrary, then Joyce could encompass birth and death, joy and grief, the cradle and the coffin, in one coincidental paradox that resolves itself into a continuous circle—"The world that was not / Comes to pass," and immediately following: "A child is sleeping: / An old man gone." The idea of Bruno's coinciding contraries is consistent with the simultaneous inversion of the looking glass, but no longer necessary is the objective symbol which effects the reconciliation of opposites. This paradoxical reconciliation assumes a metaphysical validity and shapes the material out of which Joyce continues the poem.

Strongly explicit in the concluding stanza are the particular, personal experiences of the seemingly remote author.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O father forsaken
Forgive your son!

The first two lines juxtapose the child and the old man, life and death, the coinciding contraries mentioned earlier. Next to this two-line summary of the poem's action is a plea from the heart of the poet to the spirit of his dead father, a plea too late to be effectual even though it constitutes the culmination of Joyce's looking glass revelations. The last two lines, recalling the Biblical overtones of the title and initial stanza, supply a reversed image of the last words of Jesus before his death: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," and the final cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Joyce has from the title onward expanded the meaning of the poem in a manner that has become as ritual to him. The meanings of the poem may be said to expand in the same fashion as ripples in a pool form concentric circles always moving outward, till the last circle has become so large that its edges are blurred and its area is indefinite. One circle encloses the experience of the Joyce family. Another circle takes in greater area and more meaning—perhaps Joyce has suggested that this is the experience of any man. This aim at a more universal scope results from the anonymity of the people involved. A third circle confirms the universality of the experience and defines the history of the generations of man, the experience of Everyman. The final circle is achieved through the mythic—in this case the pattern of Christ's origin, death, and resurrection. Obliquely, perhaps, Joyce is also utilizing the myth of the Phoenix, the bird that is reborn out of its own ashes, just as the child is born out of the death of its grandfather, or the future is born at the death of the present.

In Ulysses Bloom is not only the archetypal Everyman; he is, in various situations which Joyce views as correspondences, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and even God. In this poem, too, Joyce has reflected the Nativity—and coincidentally the Crucifixion—in a culturally corresponding situation, and moreover, he has employed the epiphany in its original sense, the revelation of Christ to the Magi. Equally evident in this final stanza are the specific parallels with Ulysses. A child has been born of the same dark past, an old man has died, and a son has deserted his father. It is not for sentimental reasons that Joyce has recast his material.

No, the sentimental is no part of Joyce as he, like Milton's Satan, revisits now with bolder wing the same argument that occupied so much of both the Portrait and Ulysses and even pervades the mind of the sleeping Earwicker. The cry: "O, father forsaken / Forgive your son!" could have no greater power even on the tongue of a repentant Satan. It consolidates Stephen's haunting remorse for his stubborn and proud refusal to ease his mother's death, the "agenbite of inwit," with Joyce's most recurrent theme, the question of paternity. Overtones of a religious denial—of the young man who has denied the faith of his forebears—are likewise present and ought not be suppressed. But even in Ulysses, Stephen is not the only one who has deserted his father, who has denounced his church, and who inwardly has no armor against the prodding guilt, the gall of remorse and of additional suffering. Bloom, who as the fatherless son stands before the mirror and sees himself the sonless father, Bloom, who recalls his dead father quoting Abraham from Mosenthal's drama—"Nathan's voice! His son's voice! I hear the voice of Nathan who left his father to die of grief and misery in my arms, who left the house of his father and left the God of his father"—also possesses this dual guilt toward his dead father and toward his abandoned faith. From the time that Stephen defines paternity as a mystical estate, until he refuses to acknowledge the paternal advances of the vicariously divine Bloom, we follow with anticipation and ultimate disappointment his quest for a father and a faith. And finally it is Joyce himself who in the course of his own personal life cycle has assumed the role of the father, and who can, with remorseful maturity, view in retrospect the bitter arrogance of his youthful Non serviam. He is the Icarus who had to swim to safety in order to become Dedalus, in order to "unclose his eyes."

The complex and paradoxical synthesis of the many resources of language so evident in this poem—one set of qualities providing instructions for the interpretation of the meaning which emerges from another set—characterizes Joyce's novels and the fifteen cantos of Dubliners. Just as any synthesis, the poem can be successfully examined as an isolated whole, or it can be subjected to an approach which attempts to realize the elemental components of the poem in a larger context—not to demolish its unity of structure but to clarify and even reinforce it. Either approach produces evidence that Joyce, the artificer, could vary his external style, but was possessed of an inner compulsion that would not permit him to abandon his most familiar materials. As a creative artist, he could find no mode of expression not contained in the materials of the very nets that once pinioned his newly tried wings. Like the resurrected Finnegan who begins to build anew in the very same pattern, James Joyce returns also to the cycle that nursed him, the cycle that has indelibly etched on his consciousness the already created conscience of his race.

Virginia Moseley (essay date 1964)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2597

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 everything is found to be obvious"; and this semi-autobiographical fragment, like A Portrait, developed toward a momentous decision: the hero's choice among three careers—singing, the priesthood, and writing. This choice is followed in A Portrait by a flight into exile. When Davin asked Stephen Dedalus if it were true he was going away and why, Stephen responded, "the shortest way to Tara was via Holyhead" (Portable James Joyce), implying that the glory of ancient Ireland envisioned in Moore's "The Harp That Once in Tara's Halls" could be restored best from across the sea with "Holyhead" as vantage point.

All this evidence suggests that Stephen-Joyce's decision to become a writer in exile and his method of arriving at it were ultimately theological. The pun on Holyhead (pronounced "hollyhead" in Britain) and the reference to Chamber Music as a "musaic dispensation" seem particularly meaningful. "Self exiled in upon his ego," the young artist saw in the "priest of the imagination" a potential means of combining three careers in one. He could "sing" while creating a "mosaic" of poetic indirection; to keep the "Mosaic Law" imposed by his superego (home, church, and country), he would, because of the "delicate situation," displace through "careful convertedness" the "perilous theme" of "touchy nature" in "delicate" songs.

Is it not probable then that hidden in the biblical overtones of "chamermissies" lies a statement of the young Joyce's own dilemma ("mystery of himsel"), resolved by a choice he was known to regard as perhaps a mistake for eternity, and of his reasons for flight? Such a possibility has remained largely unexplored by exegetes, other analogies being more obvious, although in his edition of the poems, W. Y. Tindall does point to connections with both the Song of Solomon and the Garden of Eden and identify the poet as the "Word."

The title alone of Chamber Music recalls, in addition, the following biblical phraseology: "a bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber"; the dark "chambers of imagery" in which each ancient of Israel deceived himself (Ezekiel 8:12); and the elaboration of the New Testament commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself… walk honestly, as in the day … not in chambering and impurities" (Romans 13:9). And words with religious association occur throughout: antiphon, heaven, soul, entreat, cherubim, divine, enaisled, irreverent, confess, raimented.

Ambiguity and a concern with love and deception are typical of Joyce's other works. But as might be expected of a budding symbolist consciously trying to throw his basic conflict completely off center, it is the least likely of the passages above which appears on careful analysis to supply a key to the fundamental struggle of the lyrics and, in fact, provide them with a structural unity—the one from Ezekiel. Numerous cross-references in Finnegans Wake support this interpretation.

Added significantly as tailpieces, the last two poems show Ezekiel was in Joyce's mind. "XXXVI" is almost a paraphrase of Ezekiel 38, describing the army of God with its horse and horsemen which will bring about "a great commotion in the land of Israel" to purge it before restoration. There is a direct use of language from Ezekiel 43:2 in "XXXV," "the noise of many waters"; God's voice is so imaged when He descended to the temple of the re-established Israel in the "vision of the city." Following the clue of these visionary lyrics, one notices also a remarkable similarity between the images of the sequence and those in this book of prophecy: river, air, fire, book, watchman, captivity, trees (especially the willow and cedar), harps, winds, hair, love, glory, doves, exile, valleys, windows, gates, garden, bending and descent—even the pot (parable of the boiling pot).

Joyceans find that what may be far-fetched at first glance becomes entirely logical and suitable once the right key is turned—and Chamber Music is no exception. Ezekiel marked the beginning of that apocalyptic type of literature whereby the later prophets sought to make their messages impressive and arouse the intellectual activity of their hearers. Alternating between discursiveness and vision, God instructed Ezekiel to use images and symbols in order to illuminate and make effective His teachings. Where else could a young artist so thoroughly steeped in Christian theology have discovered a surer model for his first attempt at the symbolic method? Perhaps it was in acknowledgement of this source and its method that Joyce wrote in Finnegans Wake, "graced be Gad, … in whose words were the beginnings" and "It's haunted. The chamber. Of errings."

For the book of Ezekiel, like Chamber Music, is actually a love story—an ironic one—tracing the courtship, marriage, and separation of God and His chosen people. A warning in Finnegans Wake recognizes this correlation, it seems, and relates infancy (early work), mystery (elusive pattern), and continued practice (final Amen): "Hold him here, Ezekiel Irons, and may God strengthen you! … Where misties swaddlum, where misches lodge none, where mystries pour kind on, O sleepy! So be yet!"

The twilight atmosphere of both the lyrics and Ezekiel is appropriate to the Celtic twilight of Ireland during Joyce's youth "beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!" And Ezekiel, like the lover of the poems, as well as Joyce himself, was by a river (Chebar) when appointed to act as God's spokesman to His chosen people languishing in Babylonian exile with their harp, the national instrument of the Hebrews, hung figuratively upon the willows (Psalm 137:2). In "I" and "III," designated by Joyce as the prelude, the strings of the harp (national instrument of the Irish also) unite the earth and air with music "by the river where / The willows meet." Responsible for this harmony is the wind blowing in the trees, a controlling image throughout Chamber Music; and God's voice directs his prophet from a whirl-wind. Joyce's lover, "lonely watcher of the skies" ("III"), is asked if only he awakes to hear "harps playing unto Love to unclose / The pale gates of sunrise." To Ezekiel alone, divinely commissioned "watchman of the house of israel" (3:17), does God reveal that He has not abandoned Israel in the darkness of captivity.

Death hangs like a pall over love from the beginning of both Chamber Music and Ezekiel; reminiscently, poem "XXX" explains, "We were grave lovers." In each instance responsibility for the gravity of the affair and its apparent lack of consummation rests in the character of the beloved. The image of the loved one ("V") is "goldenhair"; poem "VIII" pictures "my own true love … with springtime all adorning her." So was Israel at first, God remembers: "I passed by thee, and saw thee; and behold thy time was the time of lovers" (16:8). Through His prophet He reminds her that His love had been extraordinary, yet after lavishing all sorts of rich raiment and jewels upon her He had found her prostituting herself to everyone passing by (16:15). As early as poem "VII," the "mien so virginal" in Chamber Music is forebodingly shown to be coquettish, self centered, wooed by "gay winds," and in "light attire / Among the apple trees."

Stephen Hero expressed a fondness for the Holy Saturday service, when the seventh prophecy is read from Ezekiel's "vision of the plain of dry bones," where the "living dead" are organized, clothed, vitalized, and raised to become a living army, the new Israel ("but deeds bounds going arise again. Life … is a wake"). Personified by the Three Marys in this Holy Saturday service are the three natures of God's chosen people as well as those of the sweetheart in Joyce's lyrics—the virgin ("IV" and "VIII"); the mother ("VI"); and the temptress ("X" and "XVII"). It is these three natures which are questioned perhaps in the last line of the final poem ("XXXVI"), "My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?", an echo of Jesus's words on the Cross and of a leave-taking in keeping with the young Joyce's departure into what he considered a necessary exile from his three loves which had sheltered yet betrayed him.

Because of the loved one's duplicity in both Ezekiel and Chamber Music, there is, as Finnegans Wake puts it, "a split in the infinitive from to have to have been to will be…. This is the glider that gladdened the girl that list to the wind that lifted the leaves." Poem "XI" employs the imagery presaging the nearness of God in Ezekiel 9 and 10 ("When thou hast heard his name upon / The bugles of the cherubim"); the "glory" of Love fills poem "XII" as "the brightness of the glory of the Lord" shines over the cherubim in the prophet's vision; yet "a wind of spices" implying burial blows in the Epithalamium of "XIII." Immediately after poem "XV," where the bridegroom comes forth from his bridechamber, "XVI" reveals that the valley in which "many a choir is singing now" has not been reached, and "XXVII" admits, "Nor have I known a love whose praise / Our piping poets solemnize." Since at the death of a wife the Hebrews caused pipes to be played, the analogy indicates love remains unconsummated.

The justice of God requires that Israel be punished for having placed uncleannesses in her heart (14:3), but at the same time His mercy establishes a covenant with her to be pacified in the end (16:60). Warned that if he allows the righteous to remain unwarned, "I will require his blood at thy hand" (3:20), the prophet is given to eat a roll of a book filled with lamentation. In poem "XXVII" the lover vows, "I but render and confess / The malice of thy tenderness," and a pledge is made in "XVI" that once the valley of harmony is reached "there, love, will we stay."

To signify the fate of Israel: a third part to be destroyed by fire, a third part by the knife, and a third part, although scattered by the winds, to survive ("ever a wynd had saving closes"), Ezekiel divides his hair and beard into three parts. Joyce may have seen in this three-sided act a parallel to his own three-faceted dilemma. In the climactic "XIV" "the odorous winds are weaving a music of sighs"; later, in "XXIX," "shall love dissolved be / When … the wild winds blow."

The remnant of Israel escaping God's judgments are "like doves of the valley, all of them mourning everyone for his iniquity (7:16). Dove imagery is prominent in Chamber Music; in poem "XIX" "they" are "sadder than all tears; their lives ascend as a continual sigh." Through the possible dove imagery of "XVIII" the "man of sorrows" who "shall have rest" only by reconciliation with his "bride in exile" is suggested. The reversal of roles in "XIV" to show the bride resting on the breast of the bridegroom supports this inference; and the "lying clamour" over which the sweetheart grieves ("XIX") recalls the victimizing of both Israel and Joyce by lying prophets. "I would we lay in deep … pine-forest enaisled" is a sad wish bearing in its choice of words hints of the church ("XX"); it displays perhaps Joyce's own sadness at being unable to follow the letter of the law as well as its spirit. Lines in poem "XXIX" are reminiscent of the transfiguration scene and Gethsemane: "How is your beauty raimented" and "Desolate winds assail with cries / The shadowy garden when love is." Correlations with the Song of Solomon already noted by Tindall affirm the link between the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as the bride in exile.

Although God acknowledged them as His "hope" and "all His riches" ("This heart that flutters near my heart / My hope and all my riches is … as in some mossy nest…. I laid those treasures I possessed," "XXIII"), the surviving Israelites were long to be abroad among the Gentiles gathering wealth (4:13). As in poem "XXII," "soul with soul lies prisoned"; nevertheless, since exile is necessary before the land of promise can be regained, "the ways that we shall go upon" ("XXX") are welcome. The rain which grays the world is a sign of eventual renewal ("XXXII"); yet during the period of exile there can be no real peace: "They will seek for peace and there shall be none" (7:25). Hence the paradox of poem "XXXIV," "vitally" the end of the book, Joyce said in a letter to Geoffrey Palmer (quoted in Tindall's edition of Chamber Music). "Vitally the end" of Joyce's works, ALP's farewell in Finnegans Wake could well be the resolution of the affair in Chamber Music:

And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father … I rush, my only, into your arms … I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup … There's where. First … The keys to. Given! (628)

In Ezekiel the whole ironic affair between God and Israel is epitomized by the "parable of the two eagles and a vine." One of the eagles sets the highest branch of the cedar, a tree prized in biblical times for its durability and odor, in a city of merchants, and plants the seed of the land along great waters as a willow tree. The growing seed becomes a vine of low stature. At first it leans toward the eagle which planted it, like Joyce's beloved, but soon it bends toward the second eagle (Joyce's jester with "cap and streamers … in the hollow," "X"). God declared that the cedar would be exalted in the end, while the willow would wither in the leaves of spring. In Chamber Music the land of the willows becomes autumnal as the sequence wanes, but the lover in the poem of climax, "XIV," waits significantly by the cedar.

According to the arrangement of his lyrics Joyce preferred, judging from his letters, "XXI" would come first. Read in light of the analogy with Ezekiel it pointedly associates "that high unconsortable one" with the lover, Joyce, Jesus, and God Himself. Each had "glory lost," had found no "soul to fellow his / Among his foes in scorn and wrath / Holding to ancient nobleness." Joyce's own decision to become an exiled "priest of the imagination," if it is the "perilous theme" of "touchy nature," was expressed in Chamber Music as a pledge which can be recognized as fulfilled now in the canon of his succeeding works.

Robert Scholes (essay date 1965)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6793

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 view of the attitude present in certain Dublin quarters toward his own artistic ambitions, and specifically toward his pretensions to being a poet. The second, made up of excerpts from three letters to his wife from Dublin, presents Joyce's view of himself and his rightful position in the literary firmament of the Irish capitol. Whatever his success in the various literary centers outside Ireland, Joyce's thoughts always turned, on publication of one of his works, to its reception at home. Was it being reviewed in the Dublin papers? And what were they saying of it there and thinking of him there? In these questions he never lost interest. His letters to his London publishers are full of requests for information about the Irish reviews of his books. In a particularly hubristic moment he even wrote his wife that he hoped to "be able to give you the fame of sitting beside me when I have entered into my kingdom" (c. 21 Aug. 1912—MS at Cornell). And he meant this kingdom to be a literary one, located specifically in Dublin.

Joyce's desire for a very specific kind of success—in Dublin, as a poet—accounts for some peculiar and interesting facets of his work. I have begun here by asking the reader to consider this rather limited and specialized side of Joyce's literary intention as a prelude to offering for consideration a much more complex aspect of his approach to the creation of literature. I think we can safely say that Joyce began and ended his literary career with a desire to be an Irish poet. From Chamber Music to Finnegans Wake his concept of the meaning of "Irish poet" no doubt evolved considerably, beginning with a notion of someone who was born in Ireland and wrote elegant verses, but culminating with the idea of squeezing the universe inside the four walls of a Dublin pub. In just this manner we must expand out own concept of what an Irish poet might be, in order that we may encompass and accommodate Joyce's peculiar genius.

We do not usually think of Joyce as a poet. He wrote some verse, but it seems unmistakably minor—both in relation to the work of those poets whom we think of as "major" and in relation to his own work as a whole. Yet we cannot easily think of him as anything else. He is not a dramatist, though he wrote two plays, nor is he really a novelist either. As a novel, Finnegans Wake is an absurdity, and even Ulysses, though there is a novel in it, is obviously something more than a novel also. Many of us would be ready to abandon the distinction between prose and verse as a criterion for distinguishing the poet from the non-poet. The Dean of the Education School at the University of Wisconsin has published a volume of verse—but this does not make him a poet. And, conversely, many would agree that passages of Joyce's prose (the close of "The Dead," or of Chapter 4 of A Portrait, or of Finnegans Wake, for examples) might properly be called poetic. But there are other assumptions about the nature of poetry, more subtle and more significant than the mere distinction between prose and verse, which color our usual application of the word poet and raise special problems when we think of applying that word to Joyce. Since the Romantics, poetry has generally been considered to be at the emotional border of the domain of literature, far removed, by its very nature, from things learned and things intellectual. We are certain that Dylan Thomas is a poet. But, like Matthew Arnold, we have our doubts about Alexander Pope. We are not likely to think of praising a poet nowadays in such terms as occurred to the fifteenth-century English poet John Metham when he set out to commend one of his contemporaries for both his learning and his "craffty imagynacionys off things fantastyk." The highest praise that Metham could think of was, "that hys contynwauns made hym both a poyet and a clerk." In our time, we like to believe, the true poet is to be found only far from Academe, in a tavern, or, better still, a coffee-house. We are suspicious of poetry which is either too ratiocinative or too learned.

As an intellectual gesture typical of the current attitude, we can find a bright and aggressive graduate student of English in one of our respected literary quarterlies, attacking Finnegans Wake as "over-intellectual" and "cute." Though some would disagree with these criticisms, a large body of serious modern readers would probably agree that it is not good for a literary work to be too intellectual, and especially not for a work which aspires to the condition of poetry, as Finnegans Wake and all Joyce's works seem to do. The charge against Finnegans Wake in the attack we are considering here is that it is too clever and complicated; that it does not make the direct and moving appeal to the heart, imagination, and intellect that a work like Mann's Joseph and His Brethren obviously does; that it is, in a word, a book written for professors to use as a show-case for their ingenuity. If we accept the notion that learning and intellect are separate from and opposed to emotion and imagination through some sort of segregation in the psyche; if we accept the "dissociation of sensibility" as an actuality and not a concept; then perhaps we may be right to dismiss Joyce's greatest effort as a triumph of pedantry and an artistic failure—a colossal non-poem. But need we accept this view of the psyche and the esthetic which follows from it? To the individual with no interest in theology, Dante's "Paradiso" is not much fun. Does that mean we must declare it, also, a non-poem?

Though Joyce thought of himself at times as a "classicist" rather than a "romantic," he was really neither. By inclination and training his mind approached most closely—more closely than any other modern writer's—the spirit of the later Middle Ages and the emerging Renaissance. His intellectual affinities are with the humanists, allegorizers, and systematizers: with Pico and Bruno, with Dante and Spenser, with Joachim of Flora and Giambattista Vico. And the best defense of the poetry of Finnegans Wake is to be found in part twelve of the fourteenth Book of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium:

But I repeat my advice to those who would appreciate poetry, and unwind its difficult involutions. You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear which first looked dark. For we are forbidden by divine command to give that which is holy to dogs, or to cast pearls before swine.

[trans. by Charles C. Osgood]

To consider Joyce as a poet, we must conceive of poetry not as the Romantics did but as the humanists did. And we must avoid the common absolutistic feeling that we of the mid-twentieth century have in our ultimate wisdom finally arrived at the only true definition of poetry. Boccaccio says (Genealogia, XIV, vii) that "whatever is composed as under a veil, and thus exquisitely wrought, is poetry and poetry alone." And in dealing with Joyce, Boccaccio will be more helpful to us than Coleridge, or Richards, or even Whitehead. What Boccaccio means by "composed as under a veil" is that poetry always approaches the condition of allegory. Where most moderns have accepted the notion that literature holds a mirror up to nature, Boccaccio believed that poetry "veils truth in a fair and fitting garment of fiction." And so, for that matter, did Sidney, though he phrased it differently. We have heard of The Mirror and the Lamp; now we must think for a moment of the implications of the mirror and the veil. To the Renaissance mind, delighting in the play of intellect over the accumulations of history, literature, and philosophy, a poem which encouraged this kind of mental activity was the ideal kind of poem. When Spenser called the Faerie Queene a "dark conceit," he meant that in it truth was veiled, and he certainly intended some of the reader's pleasure to come from the intellectual exercise which the continued allegory would afford. Of course, he required a learned and intelligent reader. To such a reader he was willing to give helpful hints, as in his letter to Raleigh, which is really aimed at a larger audience and was in fact incorporated into the book by an early printer. Joyce's habit, in giving such men as Stuart Gilbert, Frank Budgen, and Samuel Beckett clues to the meaning of his dark conceits, is not some modern aberration of eccentric genius but behavior characteristic of all allegorical poets. In this Joyce resembles not only Spenser but Dante as well, whose famous letter to Can Grande della Scala is analogous to Spenser's to Raleigh.

One place where we can see Joyce's allegorical habit of mind in action on a small scale is in his verse. The only critical attempt thus far to see this verse as allegorical has been Professor Tindall's [the editor] reading of Chamber Music as an elaborate dirty joke. If Joyce's allegory is to lead us only into the blind alleys of scatology, perhaps we might do well to abandon any plan of considering him as an allegorist, or poet in Boccaccio's sense. But there are other avenues of exploration open to us. A more usual approach to Joyce's verse than the scatological is the biographical. For this approach there is not only precedent, but obvious justification as well; and it has clearly had its successes in illuminating Joyce's works. His prose as well as his verse can often be traced back to its sources in the actualities of his own life. But this is not necessarily the best and most fruitful way to approach either his minor or his major works. Joyce is an allusive writer as well as an elusive one. But the great question we must face in dealing with his allusiveness is the nature and the context of his allusions. By emphasizing one context of allusion or another in reading his work, we can place it in a variety of perspectives. The usual practice has been to emphasize the biographical allusions. The argument about to be developed here is that we often (and perhaps always) would do more justice to Joyce as a poet if we would subordinate the biographical approach to a more purely literary one. Let us consider two poems: one clearly a success, and one, just as clearly, an enigma. The first is "Ecce Puer," a dramatic lyric written long after Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach, on the occasion of Joyce's becoming a grandfather.

     "Ecce Puer"

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!

This does not appear, at first glance, to be an auspicious poem on which to base the argument that the biographical method for penetrating the veil of Joyce's poetry is not the best one. For that reason it is of especial importance for us. If it can be established that the effects of this poem depend more on another context of allusion than the biographical, then we shall have come a long way toward accepting the view that the biographical context should not be the dominant one in any reading of Joyce. For this poem is both personal and occasional. In it Joyce celebrates the birth of his grandson and mourns the recent death of his father. Our knowledge of Joyce's life and of the problems and difficulties he faced both as a son and as a father, cannot fail to invest the poem for the biographically knowledgeable reader with greater significance and emotion than it might otherwise have. But the question is not whether biographical knowledge can add to our appreciation of poetry. Almost always it can. The question here is whether or not it the most important context of allusion in this poem.

To answer this question we should first consider what the poem might mean to a reader deprived of this context. Such a reader could be expected to note that the speaker is torn between joy over the birth of a boy-child and grief over the passing of an old man. The inference which jumps most readily to the reader's mind is that the dead man is the speaker's father, the child his son. As the last lines indicate, this poem, like Ulysses is deeply concerned with the relationship between fathers and sons. The poem, then, would be seen as presenting the universal emotions appropriate to a speaker mourning his father's death and celebrating his son's birth. The apparently close juxtaposition of the two events in time enables the poet to heighten both emotions by their proximity and the dramatic conflict this proximity engenders in the heart of the speaker. The old man and the child represent also the past and the future between which the speaker himself is poised. In the last two lines the exclamation of the speaker leads us to believe that he has left his father at some time in the past and now, too late, asks forgiveness. It also must raise the unspoken question of what will be the relationship between the speaker and his son in he future. If the sensitive but un-biographically oriented reader we have postulated here should finally turn to biography for further help—would that help be forthcoming? From the biographical data he would learn much about Joyce's father that might add poignancy to the poem for him. But he would also learn that the child involved was not Joyce's son but his grandson. The neat trinity of the three generations—analogous to that of Laertes, Odysseus, and Telemachus which Joyce remarked in the Odyssesy—would be spoiled by the biographical facts, if those facts were allowed to dominate the poem. But it may well be that while time and fate chose to juxtapose the death and birth over a span of four generations, the poet in Joyce saw, in this situation which moved him as a man, the possibility for the even more moving and dramatic juxtaposition of the two events spanning only three generations. Thus he did not in the poem specify names, relationship, or generations and he left that reader whom Fielding called sagacious to make the inference which was right for the poem though wrong for the facts.

But the poem does not depend for its effect on the inferable dramatic situation alone. There is a context of allusion here which adds, for the knowledgeable reader, overtones and reverberations which enhance the poem and raise its intensity to a higher pitch. The last two lines allude to the primal Christian archetype of the confrontation between father and son: the "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me" of Matthew and Mark, and the "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" of Luke. Joyce's lines

O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

are a witty conflation and inversion of the Biblical expressions, but the wit is poet's wit, designed to control, even while it displays, a deep emotion. Within the reader who pierces the veil of allusion (surely not too difficult a task in this case) an emotion corresponding to that of the speaker is also engendered. Perhaps we can paraphrase Eliot and say that here Joyce has employed an allusive correlative. The cries of Jesus and of the speaker in this poem are cries for atonement—in all the senses of that word—and the human cry may be the more poignant of the two because it is made too late, to ears that cannot hear it.

The alert reader, having seen this much, will also see how the title of the poem alludes to the same context. Pilate's exclamation, "Ecce Homo," which has been used as the title for countless paintings of Christ's passion (including one by Munkacsy on which Joyce wrote a youthful essay) is modified here to apply to the birth of a boy-child rather than to the passion of the Son of Man. In this title there is perhaps more of Christmas than of Easter. But the speaker is a son, also, and it is his passion which the poem dramatizes and expresses through an intense combination of situation and allusion.

The other poem to be presented here as an example of Joyce's allusive art is a more difficult one. It was first published in Pomes Penyeach under the title "Tilly," which refers primarily to the fact that it is the extra item in this baker's dozen of poems. But it had previously existed for a long time in manuscript under the titles of "Cabra" and "Ruminants." The "Cabra" version was the first, and had been written as early as 1903, when Stanislaus Joyce referred to it in his diary (The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. G. H. Healey, Cornell: 1962).

     "Cabra"

He travels after the wintery sun,
Driving the cattle along the straight red road;
Calling to them in a voice they know,
He drives the cattle above Cabra.

He tells them home is not far.
They low and make soft music with their hoofs.
He drives them without labour before him,
Steam pluming their foreheads.

Herdsman, careful of the herd,
Tonight sleep well by the fire
When the herd too is asleep
And the door made fast.

At some later date this version acquired the title "Ruminants," a significant change in the light of the final version of the poem. As "Cabra" the poem is a brief pastoral idyll. The change to "Ruminants" suggests Joyce's shifting attitude toward his subject, and is probably meant—as the final version would indicate—to include the herdsman as well as the herd, emphasizing their common bond of placid animality. When it appeared as "Tilly" in Pomes Penyeach the poem read this way:

     "Tilly"

He travels after a winter sun,
Urging the cattle along cold red road,
Calling to them, a voice they know,
He drives his beasts above Cabra.

The voice tells them home is warm.
They moo and make brute music with their hoofs.
He drives them with a flowering branch before him,
Smoke pluming their foreheads.

Boor, bond of the herd,
Tonight stretch full by the fire!
I bleed by the black stream
For my torn bough!

The differences between the two versions have been dealt with in considerable detail by Chester Anderson (PMLA, LXXIII, 3) and will not be rehearsed here. The change in attitude is reflected in many changes in diction throughout the poem, but primarily through the introduction of a new image and the dramatic specification of the speaker's situation. The herdsman now drives his herd with a flowering branch, apparently torn from the living bush or tree which is the speaker of the poem.

The only two previous attempts to treat this poem seriously which have come to my attention are those of Chester Anderson and Richard Ellmann. Both relate the poem to the biographical context of allusion. Mr. Anderson (in the essay cited above) suggests that the poem is about Joyce's relationship with J. F. Byrne (the "boor" of the poem in this reading); Mr. Ellmann suggests that the poem is about the death of Joyce's mother (the "bough" in this reading—see James Joyce, New York: 1959). For a number of reasons another context than the biographical seems preferable in the case of "Tilly," First of all, Joyce was still making new copies of the "Cabra" version of the poem as late as 1916, which he would certainly not have done if he had supplanted it by the opposed "Tilly" version (see MSS No. 54 in the Cornell University Joyce Collection), and as late as 1919 the old version, with the title changed to "Ruminants," was the current version (see MSS No. IV.A.—in the University of Buffalo Joyce Collection). The drastically revised version of the poem probably dates from shortly before its first publication in 1927. (The only known holograph manuscript [in private hands] is of that date.) This removes the poem in time from the psychological moments of composition appropriate to either J. F. Byrne or Joyce's mother as subject matter, making either subject dubious on biographical grounds alone. Furthermore, a purely literary context exists which will provide us with a reading more satisfactory than the biographical. The bleeding bush or tree is a poetical image used by many of the greatest poets, including some Joyce most admired and knew best. The context to which Joyce is alluding here is a literary one, the knowledge of which will open the poem easily to us and enable us to perceive both its meaning and its excellence.

Vergil used this image in Book III of the Aeneid (24-68). Here Aeneas, himself now a wandering exile, seeks to prepare an altar for a sacrifice to his mother, Venus. On plucking some myrtle boughs he is horrified to see black blood welling from the injured tree. The tree speaks. It is Priam's son Polydorus who had been sent abroad, exiled for safety's sake by his father, only to be betrayed and slaughtered treacherously on the shore of Thrace.

In Book VIII of the Metamorphoses (which provided Joyce with the epigraph for A Portrait.) Ovid introduced an oak tree which bled when struck with an axe, and spoke to warn that its death would be avenged. But the image of the bleeding tree was employed most powerfully of all by Dante, in Canto XIII of "The Inferno." There, beside the boiling river of blood, Dante and Vergil enter the wood of the Christian suicides. At Vergil's bidding Dante plucks a small branch from a thorn tree and is startled to see the tree bleed and to hear words bubbling forth with the dark blood. Vergil reminds Dante that he has recounted such a wonder in the Aeneid, and he asks the tree to tell Dante of its history. The tree in life had been Pierre delle Vigne, poet, scholar, and advisor to Frederick II of Sicily. Through envy Frederick was led to accuse his counselor of treason and ultimately to have him blinded, banished, and imprisoned, driving him to suicide.

In Book I, Canto ii of the Faerie Queene, Spenser employed the bleeding tree in a similar context. Taking shelter under two "goodly trees" the Redcross Knight plucks a bough to make a garland for the false Duessa, whom he knows as Fidessa. The tree begins to bleed and speak, telling of how as a man he had been seduced by Duessa and betrayed, existing now "enclosed in wooden walls full faste / Banished from living wights." Spenser here was following Ariosto (Orlando Furioso, VI, stanzas 26-56), whose French knight Astolfo was seduced by Alcina and then transformed to a myrtle tree on the shore of a magic island far from his home. The exile and betrayal of Polydorus, the betrayal and banishment of the blinded Pierre delle Vigne, the seduction, betrayal, and banishment of Astolfo and Fradubio—these provide us with the context against which "Tilly" must be considered. Joyce's poem is a variation on a traditional theme.

Through the image of the bleeding tree, with its rich heritage in literary history, Joyce has established as a context for "Tilly" an atmosphere of betrayal and banishment. The specific details of the speaker's situation are not developed as in the narrative poems of Vergil, Dante, Ariosto, and Spenser. They must be worked out by the reader inferentially, employing his awareness of the poem's allusiveness. For the reader who does this, what seems originally to be an enigma will be found to yield its meanings once it is seen in its proper and necessary contexts of allusion. In addition to the context suggested by the image of the bleeding tree itself, we may also turn to the context suggested by the themes of betrayal and exile which cluster about the image as an accumulation from its literary past. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the play Exiles, and Ulysses these themes are of considerable importance. The reverberations set up between "Tilly" and these larger works add to the poem's richness of meaning and to the satisfaction of that kind of reader whom Boccaccio desired for poetry. The reader alert to the literary history of the image of the bleeding tree, and to the importance of the themes of exile and betrayal in Joyce's work as a whole, will readily perceive in the boor with the flowering branch driving the herd another of Joyce's characterizations of the stay-at-homes of Irish literature, who cater to the rabblement (as Joyce accused Yeats's Irish Literary Theatre of doing in "The Day of the Rabblement"), flourishing the garlands they have usurped from the true poet, who has been banished for trying to create the conscience of his race. With the boor we must associate a gallery of characters, ranging from the sympathetically treated Gabriel Conroy of "The Dead," to Malachi Mulligan, the "usurper" of Ulysses, and including Cranly in A Portrait, and Robert Hand in Exiles. Richard Rowan, the autobiographical character in Exiles, derives his name from the rowan tree, the ash with its bell-like berries, believed to have magical properties and often cut for switches, wands, and walking sticks. In Richard and Robert we can readily see the torn bough and the tearing hand. Joyce's interest in the themes of betrayal and banishment was a continuing preoccupation, which he never kept long out of his writing, from his first literary production, the lost "Et tu, Healey," to Finnegans Wake.

His interest in the theme of exile, in particular, may have brought to his attention a poem of Yeats's on this theme, in which we find exile and a torn bough closely juxtaposed. It first appeared as the dedication to a collection of Irish tales edited by Yeats and published in 1891. (Stanislaus Joyce said that his brother had read "all of Yeats," and there is no reason to think there is much exaggeration in the statement, especially as far as the early Yeats is concerned.) In its first appearance the poem was simply called "Dedication":

There was a green branch hung with many a bell
When her own people ruled in wave-worn Eri,
And from its murmuring greenness, calm of faery
—A Druid kindness—on all hearers fell.

It charmed away the merchant from his guile,
And turned the farmer's memory from his cattle,
And hushed in sleep the roaring ranks of battle,
For all who heard it dreamed a little while.

Ah, Exiles, wandering over many seas,
Spinning at all times Eri's good tomorrow,
Ah, world-wide Nation, always growing Sorrow,
I also bear a bell branch full of ease.

I tore it from green boughs winds tossed and hurled,
Green boughs of tossing always, weary, weary,
I tore it from the green boughs of old Eri,
The willow of the many-sorrowed world.

Ah, Exiles wandering over many lands,
My bell branch murmurs: the gay bells bring laughter,
Leaping to shake a cobweb from the rafter;
The sad bells bow the forehead on the hands.

A honied ringing! under the new skies
They bring you memories of old village faces,
Cabins gone now, old well-sides, old dear places,
And men who loved the cause that never dies.

In 1892 Yeats included the poem in his volume The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics. Joyce may well have come to know the poem in this edition, for one of his favorite Yeats poems, "Who will go drive with Fergus now," was originally a song in the play "The Countess Kathleen" in this volume. If not in this edition he would probably have found it in the Poems of 1895 or in one of the many later reprints of this volume. We should not have to be concerned with the various reprintings of the "Dedication" poem, were it not that its history parallels the history of "Tilly" in a very interesting way. In the Irish Statesman of 8 November 1924 Yeats published a new version of the poem under the title "An Old Poem Re-written":

There was a green branch hung with many a bell
When her own people ruled this tragic Eire;
And from its murmuring greenness, calm of Faery,
A Druid kindness, on all hearers fell.

It charmed away the merchant from his guile
And turned the farmer's memory from his cattle,
And hushed in sleep the roaring ranks of battle:
And all grew friendly for a little while.

Ah, Exiles wandering over lands and seas,
And planning, plotting always that some morrow
May set a stone upon ancestral Sorrow!
I also bear a bell-branch full of ease.

I tore it from green boughs winds tore and tossed
Until the sap of summer had grown weary!
I tore it from the barren boughs of Eire,
That country where a man can be so crossed;

Can be so battered, badgered and destroyed
That he's a loveless man: gay bells bring laughter
That shakes a mouldring cobweb from the rafter;
And yet the saddest chimes are best enjoyed.

Gay bells or sad, they bring you memories
Of half-forgotten innocent old places:
We and our bitterness have left no traces
On Munster grass and Connemara skies.

This new, more somber version then replaced the old in the section called "The Rose" of the collected Early Poems and Stories of 1925. It may be found today in this section of the standard editions of Yeats's verse, not far from "Who Goes with Fergus," which was dropped from the play "The Countess Kathleen" and added to "The Rose" in the Poems of 1912. These dates are important, for "Tilly" did not appear in print until Joyce's Pomes Penyeach volume of 1927. We know that as late as 1919, Joyce had not re-written "Tilly," but we do not know exactly when he did re-write it. The suggestion offered here is that he may well have re-done his old poem after encountering Yeats's "An Old Poem Re-written" in the Irish Statesman of 1924 or the Early Poems and Stories of 1925 (where the new version appeared under the original title). The theme of exile in the two poems, combined with the striking image of the torn branch, links them in fact, whether or not Joyce's poem was intended to be an answer to Yeats. It is tempting, however, to see in "Tilly" a direct answer of sorts—an address to the tearer of boughs and leader of the rabblement by the torn and rejected arch-exile himself. But we ought not to think of merely substituting Yeats for J. F. Byrne or any other individual in our reading of the poem. The function of the contexts of allusion Joyce has invoked in the poem is to establish a frame of reference which is at once general and specific. Once aware of these contexts we are in no doubt that this is a poem about betrayal and exile, about the contrast between the contented ruminants who are located specifically in Cabra, Ireland, and the speaker, bleeding from his torn bough by some nameless dark stream. Unlike "Ecce Puer" this poem does not have any situational level which can be apprehended in realistic terms. Cabra and the black stream are as far apart as "that … country" and Byzantium in Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium." If we seek merely to particularize the poem, to equate Byrne or Yeats or Gogarty or any other individual with the leader of the herd, we succeed only in diminishing the poem's meaning and its importance. It is a song of exile, a bitter echo brought to life, perhaps, by Yeats's "gay bells," but itself awaking reverberations, answering notes from our cultural and literary tradition. In his introduction to the anthology of Irish tales for which he wrote this "Dedication" poem, Yeats observed that "No modern Irish writer has ever had anything of the high culture that makes it possible for an author to do as he will with life, to place the head of a beast upon a man, or the head of a man upon a beast, to give to the most grotesque creation the reality of a spiritual existence." Joyce aspired to the kind of culture Yeats had in mind here and sought in his most ambitious works to invest his own grotesque creations with "the reality of a spiritual existence." And in "Tilly" it is precisely this culture which justifies the grotesque image of the bleeding tree. Joyce did not, of course, merely aspire to high culture. He went a long way toward achieving it. In 1902 George Russell (AE) had written to Yeats, "I want you to meet a young fellow named Joyce whom I wrote to Lady Gregory about half-jestingly. He is an extremely clever boy who belongs to your clan more than to mine and more still to himself. But he has all the intellectual equipment, culture and education which our other clever friends here lack."…

Joyce, in a way, was just the kind of young man Yeats and his friends who cared for Irish literature were hoping would arise—a man with enough culture and education as well as the genius to be a great poet. Though Joyce's independence—apparent to Russell and Yeats from the start—only grew as he matured; though he went into voluntary exile from Ireland, blasting Yeats and Russell and both their "clans" with his broadside verses The Holy Office; Yeats in particular must have derived some well deserved satisfaction in having seen what Irish literature needed in 1891, and having later recognized it in Joyce, who had not been ten years old when Yeats wrote his introduction to the Irish tales. He did more than merely recognize talent in Joyce. He was of considerable practical assistance in getting this difficult young man reviewing work which kept him alive in Paris in 1902 and 1903 and in introducing him to people who could help him, including finally Ezra Pound, who was an enormous help to Joyce when he needed it most. All this assistance, of course, did not prevent Joyce from developing a sense of injured merit, and it did not stop him, in particular, from measuring himself as a poet against Yeats and Russell and their proteges. If Joyce wished, in some way, to see "Tilly" set off by Yeats's "Dedication," he may also have wished to see "Ecce Puer" set off against another of Yeats's poems. No artistic work is produced without connection with past works of similar kinds. The metrical scheme of "Ecce Puer" did not come to Joyce out of nowhere as the appropriate vehicle for the celebration of the birth of his grandson. He undoubtedly used the scheme he did because Yeats had employed almost the identical meter and rhyme scheme for a similar poem. (Again, this poem is to be found in the "Rose" section of the standard collections of Yeats's poems.)

     "A Cradle Song"

The angels are stooping
Above your bed;
They weary of trooping
With the whimpering dead.

God's laughing in Heaven
To see you so good;
The Sailing Seven
Are gay with His mood.

I sigh that kiss you,
For I must own
That I shall miss you
When you have grown.

Joyce rhymed only the second and last lines of each stanza, while Yeats rhymed the first and third as well, but aside from the minor difference the similarity in prosody and situation is striking. Even the juxtaposition of the new-born and the dead in Yeats's first stanza anticipates the contrast between the generations which is the dramatic fulcrum of Joyce's poem.

Joyce consistently measured himself against other Irish artists, and he was always more interested in the reviews of his work in Irish periodicals than in any others. In Dubliners he had deliberately set out, with George Moore's collection of Irish stories The Unfilled Field in hand, to write better stories than Moore or any other Irishman could write. Even in Finnegans Wake he was partly motivated, no doubt, by a desire to show that when he wanted to he could do more with Irish mythology than Lady Gregory and Yeats and the rest of the Irish Literary Revival put together. It is also likely that in the two dramatic lyrics we have been considering, "Tilly" and "Ecce Puer," he was driven by the same desire to measure himself against the best in poetry that Ireland could produce—and he had no doubt that Yeats was the best.

In his introduction to that collection of tales dedicated to the Irish exiles, Yeats had remarked, "Most things are changed now—politics are different, life is different. Irish literature is and will be, however, the same in one thing for many a long day—in its nationality, its resolve to celebrate in verse and prose all within the four seas of Ireland. And why should it do otherwise? A man need not go further than his own hill-side or his own village to find every kind of passion and virtue. As Paracelsus wrote: 'If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest of all the stars and all the heavens.'" This prophetic statement by the leader of the Irish Literary Revival certainly suggests for us, now, Joyce's method as poet—as maker, that is, not only of verses but of huge symbolic edifices which move from the crusts of personal experience toward the stars and all the heavens.

Even in the two little poems we have been investigating here, we have seen Joyce reaching out toward the Western heritage of pagan and Christian literature for the archetypes and images which will make the bridge from the personal and the Irish to the universal. In all his works, from these minor poems to the most ambitious flights of Finnegans Wake, the bridge is there. It is not always easy to cross, but it is worth crossing. Boccaccio observed long ago (Genealogia, XVI, vii) that "this fervor of poesy is sublime in its effects: it impels the soul to a longing for utterance; it brings forth strange and unheard-of creatures of the mind; it arranges these meditations in a fixed order, adorns the whole composition with unusual interweaving of words and thoughts; and thus it veils truth in a fair and fitting garment of fiction." Between the crust of bread and all the heavens lies the veil of poesy. If we do not wish to be left with the crust alone, we must seek to penetrate the veil. We must read, we must persevere, we must sit up nights, we must inquire and exert the utmost powers of our minds; so that works of poetic genius are not to us as pearls cast before swine. If we approach Joyce's works as Boccaccio insisted we must approach the works of a poet, we shall find him to be what he always meant to be—an Irish poet, and one of the greatest.

Herbert Howarth (essay date 1966)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5626

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 of love or even of the fantasy of love. They are essays in style. This in two senses. They are essays in a style of life. Although they are not purely "Shakespearean" or "Jonsonian" or "lutanist" (since other influences from Horace to the Victorian drawing room ballads, from the Irish come-all-yous to Verlaine, converge in them), yet their singer takes shape, if a blurred shape, as a grave-mannered gentleman of a pre-industrial world, a courtier. Something must be said about him later. They are also essays in style in the more familiar literary meaning of the term: essays in the arrangement of words to please the ear. Pulchra sunt quae audita placent.

Read as an exhibition of the verbal skill, the more satisfying for the carefully-spun simplicity of the context, Chamber Music will seem a remarkable collection. It bears the sign which characterizes the poetic stylist in all languages, the deliberate invention of technical obligations and their fulfillment. In each stanza of Poem "VIII," Joyce obliges himself to renew and amplify the first line in the third line. He loves to take a word from one stanza and employ it in the next in a different position. In Poem "X" he agreeably converts two rhyming nouns of the first stanza, streamers and dreamers, into two rhyming participles in the corresponding lines of the second stanza. The craft of the disposition and redisposition of words in a short lyric might be learned from Chamber Music. So might the art of the reduction of large-scale effects to lyric proportions. We know how Joyce was gratified by the rhetoric with which Seymour Bushe spoke of Michelangelo's Moses, the frozen music, "which, if anything that the hand of man has wrought of noble and inspiring and beautiful deserves to live deserves to live." That immediate closure of a whole period by the iteration of a verb that has just closed a subordinate clause, Joyce uses and extends in Ulysses, and uses but appropriately curbs in Chamber Music—when he tells his sweetheart or his soul to repudiate the slanderers:

His literary architecture, metropolitan in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Joyce practices in miniature in Chamber Music. Parallel parentheses, parallel questions, hold stanza supported against stanza. Songs curve in elegant quasi-palindrome to end as they began.

There is a spice of absurdity in proving the talents of rhetoric in a writer who through the course of a lifetime was to demonstrate a master's power over the styles of his precursors and contemporaries: who was to resume the prose of all the eras of English literature in the "Deshil Holies Eamus" chapter of Ulysses; who parodied The Waste Land; who dexterously plied a birthday lyric into five languages, each version authentic in tone and tune. The reminder of the obvious is to clarify the intention of Opus I. The persistent stylistic care has one predominant purpose, implicit in the title of the volume. The aim is "music."

It is legitimate to call Joyce neoclassical and to see him in the neoclassical procession of our century. Yet the term is too narrow and too broad. Joyce was a Romantic poet as well as an Archaic. And of the classical centuries he totally ignored the eighteenth, for some observers the supremely classical. He was not of the Age of Reason. He valued the lyric above all other poetry, and understood its birth and its beauty as beyond the reach of reason or observation. That is clear from his love of Mangan, from his appeal to the standard of "Es war ein König in Thule," from his rejection of Meredith's poetry for its lack of the lyrical impulse. In both A Portrait and Ulysses he describes Stephen writing a lyric, and shows with scrupulosity of introspection that it is a brimming of unconscious powers and knowledge: that it is indeed a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling." It overflows as music. "A song by Shakespeare or Verlaine, which seems so free and living and as remote from any conscious purpose as rain that falls in a garden or the lights of evening, is discovered to be the rhythmic speech of an emotion otherwise incommunicable, at least so fitly."

The Age of Reason judged that one of the problems of the poet was to make his sound seem an echo of the sense. Joyce worked from the opposite point. His effort was to find sense capable of carrying the sound that he heard when the inner life brimmed over. The sense must be the medium of the sound. He was a musician in search of a system of notation. When Joyce perceived that the poems of Chamber Music were not love poems, this was what he perceived: that he had been looking for words to register the music of the emotions of a young man of twenty-two.

The purpose was music. And the success? A partial success: the music is there for the seeking but does not invade the reader unless it is patiently sought. If we give the songs of Chamber Music several readings, they begin to take hold; and afterwards, when we are about other occupations, the music will stir in the memory, possibly without the accompaniment of the words; the melody will rise, fall, recur, prolong itself, offer its atmosphere and world picture.

But we do not give them so much reading, unless for [an essay] of this kind. And a writer is at least partly to blame if we read him no more than perfunctorily. He has not put in enough to detain the eye. What Joyce has not given to Chamber Music is enough sense to carry the music. For us on this North American continent at this period when some density is expected of literature, density and a scatter of potent symbols which we may construe and connect ad lib., the verses want substance. Together with his view of its music, Joyce seems to have had a conception of the lyric which deterred him from that necessary accumulation of sense. He seems to have thought that the lyric required frailty: a flower quality: it must be as fresh, standing, and defined as a flower, and as frail. For the taste of our time, consequently, he could never solve, in a poem, the problem of scoring his music with sense rich enough to carry it. But in prose he could. It was a pertinent comment when he said that one leaf of "A Little Cloud" was worth more than Chamber Music. He devoted nearly all his energy to prose because there he judged it right to impress a robust substance and score it densely, satisfyingly to the modern ear. Nevertheless, the music of the poems is worth seeking: a communication, however faint, of the voice of the world.

The better to see that the chamber music is what counts, I turn to a different aspect of the volume. Was it original? Joyce liked to appear before his city, his people, and his rivals as original: to upstage them with a display of easy intercourse with men of whom they had never heard but who were apparently Masters. But though the surprise performances of his youth came off, and though in his ultimate achievement he was so immensely original, he was not original at every moment of his progress. When, for example, he transposed Verlaine into Poem "XXXV" of Chamber Music he chose precisely the piece that most quickly made an appeal to the common English reader; Arthur Symons' translation of the same piece was to find its way into a popular anthology of world literature. In what might at this distance of sixty years seem to be the novelty of Joyce's affection for the lutesong, he was not novel. He was part of an English movement which has continued for another two generations, giving rise in literature to the sestinas and villanelles of the thirties, and in music to the revival of the sixteenth and seventeenth century composers and their forms and temper, and especially to the work of Benjamin Britten. He was not at the root of the movement. He was an offshoot from the main stem. The movement was a generation old when he published Chamber Music.

An essay by Francis Hueffer (father of Ford Madox Hueffer) is a useful signpost to the enquirer. In Macmillan's Magazine, November, 1880, Hueffer wrote on "Troubadours, Ancient and Modern." His modern troubadours were younger poets of the epoch, engaged in writing "rondeaux and roundels, villanelles and triolets." He named Arthur O'Shaughnessy, John Payne, E. W. Gosse, T. Marzials, Andrew Lang, Austin Dobson, and Mary Robinson, and quoted a triolet by Robert Bridges. During the two decades following his article, these troubadours were joined by others, including the Irishman whom Joyce regarded with some passion, Oscar Wilde.

So when Stephen, awaking towards dawn in a suffusion of music, experiences the word made flesh in the rhythmic recapitulations of the villanelle, he is not the first rediscoverer of the delight of this antique form. It is a glowing villanelle that he composes, shot with a romantic ardour. He fills the form with his own melody and movement. But in his choice of the form the innovator-to-be is not yet an innovator.

How another Irishman, who was as dexterous and virtuous with poetry as Joyce was to be with prose, could draw on the troubadour fashion and innovate with it, can be seen by a glance at three poems written by Yeats in three well-separated and markedly contrasting periods of his career. Among the perfect poems of The Wind among the Reeds is "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven." There Yeats borrows from the modern troubadours by hinting, scarcely hinting, at their recurring phrases, and assimilates their method to his twilight style. Twenty years later he writes lines in which "I would be ignorant as the dawn" recurs as if in a rondeau, but grows to the surprise of "Ignorant and wanton as the dawn" (the rondeau is transformed by the Yeatsian dynamic). Twenty years later still, he writes the Crazy Jane sequence and the cognate ballads that depend on a refrain—thus assimilating the troubadour convention to the interclashing violence and tenderness of his final art. Feigning in his early days, when the troubadours were most the mode, to stand apart and to leave their exercises to his less profound friends among the rhymers, Yeats in fact stole their recapitulations and refrains, and stole with genius to add to his technical resources.

My impression of the relationship between Yeats and Joyce, while close to that proposed by W. Y. Tindall in his preface and notes to the Columbia University Press edition of Chamber Music, differs a little from his, and particularly on a point of rhyme. The note to Poem "XXVIII" urges that Yeats inaugurated the technical experiments of his middle life, especially his experiments in distant and as I would say felicitous rhyme, or as Prof. Tindall says, "bad" rhyme, under the stimulus of Chamber Music. The argument is persuasively put, yet I am not quite persuaded. It is true that the rhymes of Chamber Music ring now and then like those of the later Yeats. In particular Joyce is successful, like Yeats, in rhyming monosyllable and plurisyllable. But there were already such rhymes in "To Ireland in the Coming Times." As for distant rhymes, the poet who had written "The Song of Wandering Aengus," in which an exquisite series of consonantal rhymes, "wood," "wand," "wing," threads the familiar vowel rhymes, did not need to learn the skill from Joyce. What he had to learn and did supremely learn from Joyce in due season was to face the real world: to face those "things uncomely and broken," by which he had been shocked in the nineties when they "wronged" his image of ideal beauty. But he could not learn that from Chamber Music, whose troubadour, another idealizer as troubadours are, had still to teach himself the lesson.

For the technique of lyric, Joyce was entirely willing to go to school with Yeats. He marvellously renders homage to Yeats the technician in the passage of A Portrait which recalls the playing of The Countess Cathleen in Dublin, the jeering incomprehension of Stephen's fellow students, and Stephen's enchantment. "A soft liquid joy flowed through the words where the soft long vowels hurtled noiselessly and fell away, lapping and flowing back and ever shaking the white bells of their waves in mute chime and mute peal and soft low swooning cry":—that is his experience of Yeats' dramatic verse. The metrical modulations of Chamber Music must at least have been encouraged by the iamb-qualifying metrics of The Wind among the Reeds and Aleel's songs in The Countess Cathleen. What is striking, perhaps, is that Joyce could incorporate the metrical lessons of Yeats without any of the more obvious signs of imitation. He liked to dissemble his debts to his immediate elders, at least if they shared the same language. Although the lyrics of Chamber Music are modern troubadour songs, they avoid a too evident association with the movement: there is not a roundel or villanelle among them; yet to the eye of the historian certain usages (the prohibition "O bend no more," and the exploitation of the adaptable noun "ways") clearly connect them with the villanelle of A Portrait. Joyce prefers the Shakespearean or Jonsonian song to differentiate himself from the Dobsons; and to imply, perhaps, that refrains are obstacles for schoolboys, relatively easy for a poet to leap, and that he will do the harder thing, meet the demands of an archaic form "free and living." By the same step he differentiates himself from Yeats. When Yeats heard some of the early Joyce poems in the autumn of 1902 he was amazed at their technique: "… much better than the technique of any young Dublin man I have met during my time. It might have been the work of a young man who had lived in an Oxford literary set." That last sentence is not ironic. It means that he saw the poems as an exacting development of the modern troubadouring of England. It also means that the form had beguiled him into overlooking his own influence, which he would have recognized in Irish forms or themes or in the smoke of theosophical imagery.

But of course the form was not chosen for the sake of concealment. That was an incidental benefit. It was chosen because it belonged to a Weltanschauung, a stance, a "style" of life. In plotting the relative unoriginality of the "modern troubadour" form, I have no intention of depreciating its value or the function or the value of the Joycean stance. The archaic lyricist was an essential part of Joyce and his work.

An essential half. There were two Joyces: the lyrical and the satirical; the singer and the clown. At the beginning of his writing life they were well-split halves: he was the complete schizophrene. The personality ascendant in Chamber Music was the courtier, the punctualist, the grave and dainty singer. The other personality was the obscenist, the ribald rapscallion, the brayer. In Joyce's outward daily behaviour at twenty-two the latter seems to have been better-known to the Dubliners (though Stanislaus tells of his craving for good manners even then). As he grew older the courtier became the conductor of his living; he would let no one outvie him in etiquette. The movement in his works was towards the ascendancy of the rollicker. But not, I hasten to add, to the exclusion of the lyricist. That is the subject of my story.

Thanks to Richard Ellmann's scholarship, we have a document which tells us a great deal about both personalities and their goings-on and gettings-together. It is the Giacomo Joyce notebook of the last prewar period in Trieste. At once lachrymose and animated, it helps to explain the lifelong survival of the Courtier in Joyce, and accordingly his role in Chamber Music.

We may sometimes ask ourselves why so stern a literary critic as Joyce permitted himself his luteplaying, and the idealizing daintiness to which Ellmann, nearly as stern, has attached the damning label "prettified." Giacomo Joyce shows that the literary critic knew the limitations of the style but also discerned a value at its core:

Jan Pieters Sweelink. The quaint name of the old Dutch musician makes all beauty seem quaint and far. I hear his variations for the clavichord on an old air: Youth has an end. In the vague mist of old sounds a faint point of light appears: the speech of the soul is about to be heard.

The limitations are the distance and faintness of the revelation. The justification is, that the revelation comes: "the speech of the soul."

Written some ten years after the Chamber Music songs, Giacomo Joyce makes use more explicitly than they of an old-world setting and old-world locutions. Joyce transposes Amalia Popper's home across five centuries: "Wintry air in the castle, gibbeted coats of mail …" A servant interrupts the lesson with the announcement of a visitor: "There is one below would speak with your ladyship." On a later occasion Joyce seeks (but in the safe realm of interior dialogue) a rapport with Amalia, and when she apparently trembles before his adult approach he reassures her in a lutanist's phrase: "Nay, be not afraid." Later still he fancies that he has possessed her in a wordless, touchless interpenetration of looks, and accepts that as the most consummate of all possible conquests and resigns the physical Amalia to any lucky later-comer: "Take her now who will!" Listen to these phrases with not a troubadour's but a theatre-goer's sensibility, and you may contend that they are lifted from the dialogue of Victorian melodrama. There was certainly the oddest communication in the Joycean memory-chambers between the refined-and-archaic and the Victorian-and-plush. But it is evident from his castle scenery that he himself dated his language and stance as antique. That "elegant and antique phrase," which he had made as if to abjure in Poem "XXVII" of Chamber Music, alleging that he knew that the reality of love was different from the troubadour's ideal, he still uttered. It was irrepressible and indispensable.

However, the lyric gentleman who was the soliloquist of Chamber Music no longer has matters all to himself in 1913. The Other Joyce interrupts, halloos, heckles, and more and more asserts his counterstrain. Lyric twists into comedy. "Love me, love my umbrella." The two personae compete for the stage. If the graver affects to be alone, the Other cavorts around him and pokes him with bum and truncheon. This is a decisive development. The notebook drives a road towards Ulysses.

In Ulysses Joyce makes a masterpiece out of the cooperation of his two selves. As the current lore of our mid-twentieth-century tells, the schizophrene who elevates his conflict into art does it not by slaying either of the partners but by bringing them into a relationship where both live and fulfill themselves in a totality that is greater than their sum. The multifarious power of Ulysses arises from the integration of the Two Joyces, the coordination of what they both know and their different ways of saying it. The ribald comedian gets his heroic fling, and the lyricist still discourses in a flow of music. The vision opens, clearer, nearer. Tributes have been paid, as they must be, to the comedian as the vision-bidder. Our concern here is with Orpheus and his lute as visionary and instrument of the vision. Of course, the music of the epic is often rich beyond the dainty range of Chamber Music: "Yes, bronze from anear, by gold from afar, heard steel from anear, hoofs ring from afar …" But when Joyce wishes most precisely to elicit "the speech of the soul," he still uses the simplest lyrical phrase. So as he approaches the culmination of Molly's monologue: "he said I was a flower of the mountain." If we turn to that and look at it in a ruthless mood, we may feel not unfamiliar qualms about the suspension of Joyce's literary censorship. Has he relaxed the control when he should have exerted it sternly? He does not think so. He is working at full stretch here, and if he employs the lyrical method it is because he believes in it. He expects us not to turn and look at the phrase, but to come to it on the tide of continuous reading: to understand the style by going all the way with him through the vicissitudes in which it inheres; and thus to feel it and hear it as he does.

An event in the history of Chamber Music connects alike with the occurrence of that lyric phrase at the climax of Ulysses and with the whole problem of Joyce's valuation of his lyrical self. During the crisis of 1909 when Joyce fell victim to Cosgrave's slander of Nora and wrote to her in agonized abuse, then feared that he had destroyed his contact with her and that he would never repossess the pleasure and nourishment of her tenderness unless he could undo his outburst, one of his gestures of propitiation was to quote Chamber Music to her. And she, astonishingly, took up the volume and read it. He did not pretend that he had written the poems for her. On the contrary he admitted that they were conceived for an imaginary ceremonious lady of a tower: "a girl fashioned into a curious grave beauty by the culture of generations before her." By contrast Nora was, as we can see at this distance, Reality, earthy and sound, a physical wife, a healing force. Yet the poems were for Nora, he went on to say, because there was "something in you higher than anything I had put into them." Joyce was sure, and remained sure long after his love had "waxed all too wise," that in Real Woman there springs the point of light or the point of life or a flower, and that Real Woman longs for its recognition and for a man's worship of it. Molly, after she has had her romp with the large Blazes Boylan, still cares for Bloom because he feels for her and for all women with this lyric intuition:

… yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is …

In 1909 it helped Joyce to expunge his mistake and win Nora back when the poems of Chamber Music reminded his wife that he "understood or felt what a woman is." They reminded her not by saying it, but singing it.

The episode may have confirmed to Joyce that the Chamber Music poems secrete the light of reality at the core of their idealism, and that song is the most compelling testimony of life, that the lyrical method must never be dropped. It might be enriched, but not dropped.

Wherever Joyce strove, and he strove persistently, to broach the light of reality, he relied on music. We can never go towards that point of light. It will recede if we press forward. It can only grow towards us, and will only come if beckoned, conjured—and can best be conjured by music. Joyce had been impressed, say Mason and Ellmann in their notes to The Critical Writings, by the last line in Verlaine's "Art Poétique": "Et tout le reste est littérature." It may be so; but he was more impressed by the first line: "De la musique avant toute chose." It was his own innate conviction, his own innate practice. We are always impressed to find that we are right to do what we do.

"The speech of the soul" formed in the vague mist of antique music, but the flower of Ulysses was Molly's body, not her soul. As the singer and the obscenist coalesced and Joyce's art strengthened, the speech of the soul became the song of the earth. In the last opus, Finnegans Wake, the world speaks: its rivers, its thunder. Since the effects of a major book spread in ripples through the ensuing decades, it has naturally followed that the better entertainment of our present time listens for the music of the world. An instance is the scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita in which the tape-recorder, in the elegant room in Rome, plays back the menacing eddies of the cosmic winds.

To revisit Chamber Music with that outcome of the opera in mind is to seek the first tape of the speech of the soul which is also the first tape of the world-voice. Joyce recorded it in Poem "XXXIV." As he told Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer, the composer who set the song, Poem "XXXIV" is dramatically the last of the sequence ("XXXV" and "XXXVI" are tailpieces). Two forces are registered: the winter that menaces outside the door and forbids rest; the breathing of the sleep of a heart soothed by a poet's gentleness. The melancholy of the cosmic winter drifts through the music, but there is a lulling countermotion, a berceuse, the warmth, the protection of the pleasure of art; and the music involves, however faintly felt, faintly heard, an equilibrium of the two forces, the two rhythms. There are four vocative "O"s in this short poem. They are unnecessary to the meaning, almost unnecessary to the metre, for the poem would be metrically sufficient without them; but they are right for the music. A composer, and a singer, would make something of them. When the music comes to life in us in the days after the reading, they play their part.

The music of Poem "XXXIV," faint but haunting, grows into the winter rhapsody of the last paragraph of "The Dead," with which Joyce begins to realize his orchestral powers. Then the maturation of a quarter of a century goes forward. In Chamber Music the paucity of the success, it has been suggested, lies in the paucity of the sense. In the subsequent books the sense gains in body. It engages the intellect in its own right in Dubliners and A Portrait, perhaps occasionally over-engages it to the neglect of the musical flow. In Ulysses there is the most satisfying interplay of sense and sound. But in certain sections of Ulysses, and in the whole of Finnegans Wake to which they look forward, a curious thing happens. "The sense must be the medium of the sound"; but Joyce plaits layer on layer of sense; and that almost defeats his purpose; not perhaps by his fault, but by our habits, which, however, he might have forseen. We are readers of literature, not listeners to music. We are much, much worse than our ancestors, of whom Ben Jonson bitterly complained that they were beginning to use their eyes and stop their ears. We are eye-folk on the verge of deafness. The glaucomatic Joyce was not. With Shakespeare, Jonson, and Milton he was all inclining ear. We go to work with our eyes on Finnegans Wake, as the spelling tempts us to, laboring to analyze the layers of sense into their components. It is salutary to turn repeatedly to the letter in which Joyce tells Miss Weaver that he is "considerably wound up" after proofreading Anna Livia Plurabelle, that the "sing-song" fills his addled head, and that till it fades he cannot deal with the news of the day. To be filled with the singsong must be the hope of every devotee of Finnegans Wake. We are brought to the right condition whenever we listen to an Irishman reading the work, or anyone reading it with the resources of the tenor voice. These aids failing, we must read it aloud ourselves. Even if we are non-Celts and even if we are crows, the sound will be better than anything the eye alone can afford. Yet though I say this as essential doctrine, I must not make it exclusive doctrine. Since Joyce took the risk of plying his sense closely, he obviously wanted the criss-cross to play a part in the total effect; and it is doubtful whether the ear can pick up half the ambiguities that are within the comprehension of the eye. It may be that Joyce overtaxed the capacity of every reader with so intricate a polyphony of sense and sound. I leave that topic to my wiser colleagues. Assuming ad interim what we like to assume of a master, that he is always right, let us justify him by saying that in Finnegans Wake the musical love of God and the intellectual love of God and the bodily love of God meet and merge.

One last consideration. Joyce presented himself in Chamber Music as a neoclassicist and as a perfectionist who shaped faultless lyrics and assembled them in an impeccable book. Yet the last lyric is ill-chosen if a book of perfect proportions is the objective, and ill-chosen if the objective of the book is consonance. Poem "XXXVI" has been praised to the neglect of the preceding thirty-five. It is a good poem. But it is not archaic, and it is not chamber music. It works in a style with which Yeats had experimented in "Do you not hear me calling" and "I hear the white horses," a style far from softness or daintiness, a style that bids for the furious energy of the horses of passion, a style that, regardless of all daedalian animad-versions on the Celtic Revival, draws on the imagery of the Red Branch and the battlecars. How are we to account for its presence after Poem "XXXIV" and that perfect winter ending? We may contrive this reason: that Poems "XXXV" and "XXXVI" go on to register sharply the hostility of the winter, of the outer elements, within which Joyce had quietened his love to her long sleep. More, it registers the terror within the beauty, that violence in the cosmos, which lady and poet who lean their ear for the lovely sounds of the world will catch in the undersong—catch and lose and never cease to lean for till they have caught it again and notated what the sea murmurs and the thunder says. By this argument we may claim that the final poems issue organically from the volume, though as a disproportionate and fearsome cauda or coda. But we must add another reason. Joyce and his brother, who helped him to arrange the volume, subordinated their sense of perfection to a romantic passion from which neither they nor some of their foremost neoclassical coevals, including T. S. Eliot, were free: the love of the grand curtain. George Moore was, for better or worse, more genuinely neoclassical: he deliberately cultivated the "minor" ending, the dying fall. In this matter Joyce was romantic and Wagnerian. Dubliners culminates in "The Dead," extensive beyond any of the preceding stories, resonant beyond any of them, its own end soaring away from Dublin. A Portrait is formally neoclassical, touched with the sense of the downbeat ending as the narrative cracks into fragments of diary, utterly right to convey approaching departure and the disconnecting of the son, tissue by tissue, from the boyd of home; but emotionally it is romantic, fervidly charged with the ritual of self-dedication and intimations of immortality. Ulysses is the most famous example in literature of the concentration of every power in the final chapter and the unremitting amplification of the power through the last page and the last word. The final page of Finnegans Wake is correspondingly intense, cosmic, Wagnerian. But here, for his last bow, Joyce pulls one new trick from his reserves and exhilaratingly synthesizes his romantic and neoclassical modes: the purple curtain, seeming to descend on a Liebestod, suddenly furls back again, and by a dream-transformation everything is where it was at the start, and death is birth and there is no end but resumption. The final page of Finnegans Wake does on the largest scale what the lyrics of Chamber Music do in miniature, loops back to the first line. A nice example of the consistency and unity of Joyce's art.

Myra Russel (essay date 1981)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4366

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, singing his various songs. The tempo is andante, the directive cantabile, the key a clear and bright G major. It is not enough to read the poems, or even to read them aloud; we must make an effort to hear the missing music.

The most obvious connection comes from the many direct references to music within the poems. Mood and tone are established at once in Poem "I":

While Pan plays sweet melodies on his pipes, an Elizabethan singer is fingering his lute. We know from his letters that Joyce played with the idea of having a lute made for him so he could "coast the South of England from Falmouth to Margate, singing old English songs" (Letters I). The London instrument-maker (who had once made a psaltery for Yeats) wrote back that lutes were difficult to make, difficult to play, and were very expensive. He suggested a harpsichord. Actually, a picture of a harpsichord did appear on the title page of Chamber Music when it was published in 1908, so perhaps it is not too fanciful to see this book of songs as a substitute for that tour.

Instruments in the poems include strings, winds, an old piano playing "an air / Sedate and slow and gay," sweet invisible harps, and the bugles of cherubim which herald surrender to Love. The lover's voice is "softer than the dew," he hears the girl "singing a merry air," and "wise choirs of faery / Begin (innumerous!) to be heard." Nature too is alive with music: thrushes call, the wind "is whistling merrily," and the "flowery bells of morn are stirred." Even at autumn when love is ended, the winds weave a "music of sights." Truly "strings in the earth and air" are everywhere.

But the significance of music to Joyce's poems goes beyond references to singers or instruments; it is intrinsic to the poetry itself. In ancient Greece the poem and the music were indivisible. Lyric poetry was not only a union of both, but the identity of the lyricist was so intermingled with the music that by comparison, says Nietzsche, "… our modern lyric poetry appears like the statue of a god without a head." To the German philosophers, music was feeling in quintessence, highest and most universal of the arts, dealing with a sphere beyond all phenomena.

The English Renaissance had its own theories, derived from the Greeks, about music and the rhythmic conception of the universe, and about the analogy between celestial order and human affairs. Music to the Elizabethans (and I use that term broadly to cover Tudor and Jacobean), while not always cosmic, had many aspects—all of them beneficial. Musical understanding, taste, and appreciation were expected of the Renaissance gentleman; so was the ability to sight-read and sing. Music contributed to what Sir Thomas Elyot called knowledge of "publicke weal," which in turn contained its own harmony. Music, it was believed, helped to establish harmony in personal character by ordering its contradictory parts into a harmonious relationship. Thus might music stimulate virtuous action and serene contemplation.

The English court set a high value on music. Henry VI composed songs, as did Henry VIII, who also played the lute well, sang at sight, and saw to it that his daughters were taught music at an early age. Queen Elizabeth had a regular establishment of from sixty to seventy wind and string players. Lutanists held the highest rank since they composed their own songs, sang as well as played, and arranged music for consort. The nobility emulated the court and kept a regular staff of instrumentalists and singers to perform and teach members of the family. Many composers earned their living this way, among them Joyce's favorite, John Dowland, whose airs he used to seek out and copy from the Elizabethan songbooks in the National Library in Dublin. (Did Joyce know that Dowland came from Irish stock, his father having come from County Dublin, or that his First Book of Airs was published while he was in residence at Trinity College in Dublin, or that he dedicated one of his later songs to "my loving Country-man Mr. John Forster the Younger, Merchant of Dublin in Ireland"?)

Music also affected middle class life: a vast store of airs and folk songs were sung or whistled at various levels of taste and education. Children learned vocal and instrumental music along with reading and writing, and it was believed that playing an instrument increased the skills of the small joints.

Given the importance of music in Elizabethan life and the value attached to it, it is hardly surprising that standards of musical taste were so high. The quality of the music is extraordinary. Anyone who has ever played or listened to the songs of Byrd, Campion, Dowland, or Morley—and the piano cannot approximate the rich quality of the lute—cannot but be struck by the purity and unearthly beauty of that combination of words and music. Poems they are, but not poems simply set to music. So commingled are both in their form, their rhythm, their sound and mood that one can only call them pure art.

Both poetry and music placed limitations on each other, and perhaps an understanding of those will help to explain what so many readers have seen in Joyce's lyrics as shortcomings. The conventions of Elizabethan poetry kept the content restricted and unpretentious, which is not to say unsophisticated. Emotions tend to be simple and impersonal; imagery and diction are likely to be obvious and familiar, and not necessarily original. The same is true of most of the poems in Chamber Music, and Joyce's brother tells us [in My Brother's Keeper, 1958] that one of the reasons for that title was that it "seemed suitable to the passionless love themes and studious grace of the songs." Elizabethan love lyrics, bound by strict conventions, were not exactly passionate either; lovers were ardent or shrinking, yielding or unkind, faithful or not. Also, because songs were meant to be sung, i.e., performed for others, emotions had to be diffused and generalized, made suitable for a public hearing. Treatment of love songs might be grave, light, or mock-serious, all of which are compatible with music. Another popular convention, carpe diem, with its sense of urgency, "Stay time awhile thy flying" or love me now, also lent itself to musical treatment. Occasionally the theme of a song might be quasi-philosophical, such as "Down down proud mind" or Campion's "What if a day or a month or a year." John Donne, who could and did write in the traditional lyric pattern, broke away to find a more personalized voice for his unusual conceits and his treatment of love as individual. It was he, according to one historian, who initiated the divergence of music and poetry which widened as the seventeenth century advanced. Involved conceits and a subtle play of wit could not be reproduced musically, and the poets understood this.

Of course music imposed certain restrictions on the poet. Practical considerations, such as the divided attention of the listener, the fact that the words were harder to hear, a phrase and its significance might easily be missed, and there was little time to ponder an idea without missing the next one, had to be remembered. Some poets worked from the music, setting rhythm and line to the musical phrase. Some wrote with the music in mind; knowing the rules, they could compose for the music. James I pointed out that the poet must avoid breaking a word when the music requires a pause, and must be sure that the end of a phrase fall on a syllable long enough to bear a cadence. Another way in which music imposed its form involved repetition. Music requires and can absorb more repetition than poetry, so the melody was repeated in stanza form. This required that the poet keep the meter and general word pattern of subsequent stanzas parallel to the first verse, since the music would be the same. Thus a caesura or an enjambement, with its corresponding musical phrase, is usually repeated in all stanzas. Joyce follows the spirit, if not the letter of this rule. In Poem "VII" the many enjambed lines add to the light and musical quality of the poem, and the pattern is consistent in all three verses. But the middle-of-the-line pauses do not occur in the first stanza, but only in the second and third, which might have created a problem for an Elizabethan musician.

Poem "XXVIII" is similar in its irregular rhythm:

Note that the last poem has four stresses to each line (except the last, which is irregular), while the first poem had an alternating 4/3 pattern. These are the most frequent rhythms in Elizabethan lyrics. The basic structure for a stanza was four measured lines with four phrases of music; usually each note had a syllable set to it. Shakespeare's songs had an extra dimension, set as they were amid the unrhymed iambic pentameters of the comedies. Airs such as "It was a lover and his lass" (As You Like It V iii), or "When that I was and a little tiny Boy" (Twelfth Night V i), or

Sigh no more Ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foote in Sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never
(Much Ado about Nothing II iii),

are among the most perfectly constructed, the most musical, and the most exquisitely beautiful of all the lyrics of the period.

Of the thirty-six poems in Chamber Music, thirteen are in the four-stress pattern. Five have an alternating 4/3 meter. Several others employ the four-stress with a variation: the last line of each stanza or of the poem or the finishing couplet has three stresses, or sometimes only two. But this too is standard practice; the short last line was favored by one of the earliest Renaissance poets, Thomas Wyatt.

The similarity between the Chamber Music poems and the short lyrics of the Elizabethans is most apparent in the rhyme schemes. One of the most widely used—ababcc / dedeff—Joyce follows in nine of his poems. Whereas Wyatt often varies his (in "Blame not my lute," for example) by using the b rhyme again in the second stanza, and Campion sometimes keeps the same c rhyme in every stanza, Joyce adheres strictly to the pattern. Another traditional rhyme scheme—abab / cdcd—occurs in ten of Joyce's poems. Rhyme in the second and fourth line—abcb / defe—is another common form and we find this in nine poems. Here it is Joyce who uses variations; an a, b, or c rhyme may turn up in the third or fourth stanza. This occurs most frequently with the sound air which quite fittingly runs as a motif through the first twenty-five poems, appearing twenty-four times as an end rhyme. There is air which surrounds the earth, the air in "Winds of May," and "with many a pretty air," meaning demeanor—all in a book of airs.

Rhyme, of course, strikes the ear and is another of the obviously musical aspects of poetry. Most Elizabethan songs are in rhyme, although there were critics who deplored it. All regarded with horror the kind of obtrusive alliteration or rhyme which concealed an unbalanced or unrhythmical structure. Thomas Campion, who was both poet and musician, argues in his Observations in the Art of English Poesie that rhyme is often superfluous to lines which "close of themselves … perfectly" or else it covers up poor workmanship. He has this to say about Quatorzens, the French sonnet form:

… the poet handles his subject as tyrannically as Procrustes the thiefe his prisoners, whom, when he had taken, he used to cast upon a bed, which if they were too short to fill, he would stretch them longer, if too long, he would cut them shorter.

Poetry to Campion was essentially audible, and the ear was both a "rational sence and a chiefe judge of proportion." His attack on rhyme notwithstanding, many of his finest poems are in rhyme; the workmanship, as well as the balance between music and poetry, is faultless.

So far the rhyme scheme has been accounted for in only twenty-eight of Joyce's poems. In the remaining ones, some have only minor irregularities. Poem I, for example, differs in its alternating rhyme only in the second verse where Joyce repeats his a rhyme—air—unexpectedly in the second and fourth lines as "there" and "hair," leaving the other two lines unrhymed with "river" and "mantle." Poems "III" and "X" both have clear patterns: the first having three stanzas of five lines with an abbab rhyme, and the other with two stanzas of eight lines with abbc / addc—although there seems to be no counterpart among the Elizabethans. The five-line alternating rhyme of Poem "VI" is uncommon, though there is one in Dowland's 2nd Book of Airs. Poem "IX" becomes regular if we count "Welladay! Welladay! / For the winds of May" as one line, thus giving the stanza eight lines with every two rhyming. That has counterparts in Campion and Robert Jones. "Lightly come or lightly go," Poem "XXV," is a little unusual because once again Joyce repeats his a rhyme (not "air" this time) in the second stanza.

The poem which has the strangest rhyme scheme, with no parallel, is "XIV," the lovely one with echoes from the Song of Solomon:

In his letter to Palmer, the Irish musician who was setting some of the lyrics to music, Joyce wrote that this poem was central, and after it, all movement was downward (Letters I). The rhyme scheme here is abbb, an unusual beginning. The second stanza starts off with a new rhyme, c, but then goes back to bba.

Next comes deef, and after that, the totally irregular bfeb:

The last verse jumbles any possibility of a pattern into Chamber Music's only hint of chaos. However, from a musical standpoint none of this matters because the predominance of that b rhyme—arise, lies, eyes, sighs—gives the song its theme and continuity. Perhaps there is a connection, nevertheless, between centrality and disparity; perhaps this is a reminder that Joyce is twentieth-century and not, at the core, at one with his idealized neo-Elizabethan world. On the other hand, perhaps nowhere is Joyce more Elizabethan than in his irregularities.

If you add to the twenty-eight poems with a regular rhyme scheme another seven which are irregular, the total is not thirty-six. That is because there is no way to fit the last poem, "XXXVI," into a structure even remotely like the Elizabethan. With an alternating meter of five and six stresses to a line, the rhythm is irregular and difficult. The long lines and the wild, despairing mood lessen the importance of the rhyme. No lute could provide music for this, only the rising excitement of percussion instruments, with perhaps a lone oboe. Many critics who dismissed most of the poems in Chamber Music as too light or too simple or too derivative have pronounced "XXXVI," which creates a world of nightmare and desolation, one of the few worthy of being called Joycean. Of course Joyce himself said that the true end was "Sleep now," "XXXIV," and that the last two poems were "tailpieces." Herbert Howarth, in his excellent and balanced essay " Chamber Music and Its Place in the Joyce Canon," says that while the last two can be seen as an organic outgrowth of winter and the end of love, as a "disproportionate and fearsome … coda," they might also be explained by Joyce's love of the final purple curtain (shared by his brother who helped to arrange the order of poems). Very few composers have set "I hear an army" to music. That is not to say that it is unmusical, but it is most certainly out of tune with the other poems in this volume.

If, as Pater has said, "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music," then more must be accounted for than just rhythm, meter, and rhyme. Even if we add repetition and variation, which are common to both music and poetry, we have not reached the essence of what makes poetry musical. Both areas have their respective form and structure, rules, conventions and devices—yet something elusive at the core resists analysis. Since the time of the Elizabethans, very few poets or musicians or literary critics have attempted to unravel the perplexities. Northrop Frye is one of the few who has confronted the issue, particularly in his introduction to a collection of essays called Sound and Poetry.

By "musical" I mean a quality in literature denoting a substantial analogy to, and in many cases an actual influence from, the art of music…. this is not what the word ordinarily means to the literary critic. To him it means "sounding nice."… The term musical as ordinarily used is a value term meaning that the poet has produced a pleasant variety of vowel sounds and has managed to avoid the more unpronounceable clusters of consonants that abound in modern English.

Such phrases as "smooth musical flow" or "harsh unmusical diction" indicate, according to Frye, a sentimental use of the word musical. "Harmony in its non-musical sense means a stable and permanent relationship," and of course in that sense music only achieves harmony at the very end, with the resolution into the final tonic chord. Music then is actually a series of discords, and a musical discord is defined by Frye as, "not an unpleasant sound; it is a sound which throws the ear forward to the next beat; it is a sign of musical energy, not of musical incompetence."

"A dreamy sensuous flow of sound" and "a careful balancing of vowels and consonants," according to this theory, would indicate an unmusical poet. "Sharp accents, crabbed and obscure language, and long, lumbering polysyllables" are more likely to have an affinity with the tension and driving impetus of music.

Does this help to determine what is musical in poetry? If these standards are applied to Joyce's lyrics, only Poem "XXXVI" would emerge as musical.

The phrases drive on beyond their lines, throwing the ear forward with the restless energy of discord. The dominating l's of the second stanza—battle-name, whirling laughter, cleave the gloom, blinding flame, clanging, clanging upon the heart as an anvil—certainly create tension.

But then how shall we listen to "XXXV" with its rush of run-ons and its long sad rhymes: moan, alone, monotone? This too is music, according to some closer to Verlaine. However, it is certainly not alien to the Elizabethans either. Here is an excerpt from "Love those beams" in Dowland's Book of Airs:

Frye's theory may illuminate aspects of modern poetry or "I hear an army," but it cannot explain the musical richness of the Elizabethans or the thirty-five poems of Chamber Music.

Listen to the triplets in Poem "XXXIV":

The enjambed lines create a rhythmic flow; the words, even the consonants, slide easily and gracefully over the tongue and ear. The motifs of the first stanza are repeated in subsequent ones. Sleep is heard three times in the first, twice in the second, once in the last. The repetition is doubly effective because of the lulling quality of the word itself. "A voice crying 'Sleep now' / Is heard in my heart" becomes "The voice of the winter / Is heard at the door." Between the first and the last "O you unquiet heart" comes "My kiss will give peace now / And quiet to your heart." Even the fact that all the rhymes except one are identical contributes to the musical effect.

Or take the frequently set to music Poem "V":

Music would have to reflect the simplicity of the theme: a young man attracted away from his books to the brightness and lilt of a young woman's song. It would have to capture the lightness of "Goldenhair" and "A merry air." Fortunately the rhythm is not so simple or the poem could become doggerel, the dangers of which both Joyce and the Elizabethans were well aware. Remove the "dance" or "have" from stanzas two or three and the result is sing-song. But it is the opening line which provides the essential rhythmic irregularity in each stanza. The falling meter of the last verse, "Singing and singing," is straight-forward. The rising meters of "My book is closed" and "I have left my book" with one up-beat and then two, are variations which create no problems. But how are we to scan the all-important line which opens the poem? Is it "Lean out of the window, Goldenhair" or "Lean out of the window, Goldenhair," which, with its triplets, is more regular and more in harmony (using the literary meaning) with the rest of the poem. Musically, the first is preferable. Lean, like the verb bend which Joyce was also fond of, has strong and active possibilities; its sound is rich and lingers over the rest of the line like an overtone. But it does throw the rhythm off, leaving three unaccented syllables before the next stress, somewhat in the manner of Hopkins' sprung rhythm. The ambiguities of that first line could inspire interesting music. Otherwise this is one of the lesser poems in the collection, although hardly what Anthony Burgess called [in his ReJoyce, 1965] "one of the most atrocious lyrics ever penned by a great writer." It is graceful and unpretentious.

Joyce's letters make it clear that he not only wanted the poems set to music, but meant them to be. He wrote to Palmer, who had already set eight of them:

I hope you may set all of Chamber Music in time. This was indeed partly my idea in writing it. The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them to music myself.

The Joyce also had his own ideas about what the music should be like is suggested by his remark to the composer that while the music was "very elegant," still "The second three songs please me better than the first five." Surprisingly enough, the three poems which were Joyce's own favorites, "Donneycarney," "At that hour," and "Gentle Lady" ("XXXI," "III," "XXVIII"), have received very little musical treatment since Palmer. Poem "III," which has some challenging rhythms and phrases, seems only to have been set to music by one composer, Hugo Kauder. The most popular choices have been "I," "V," and "XXXIV," with "X" and "XVI" close behind. Ten poems have not been set to music at all.

Most critics acknowledge that Chamber Music is both musical and Elizabethan. Once that is said they often go on to indicate disappointment: however delicate or lyric, the poems are "slight," or as Morton Zabel put it in 1930 in Poetry: "… his lyrics are the marginal fragments of his art, minor in theme and too often, for all their precise and orderly felicities, undecided." The major intent of this paper is to open up new ways of looking and judging. To be musical and Elizabethan is a very remarkable achievement. And if some of the poems fall short, it is hardly surprising when we consider how high the standards were.

[In The Dying Gladiators, 1961] Horace Gregory once said that when they came to Joyce's lyrics, his critics were tone-deaf. They belonged to a generation who "accepted the flaws of Pound, Eliot, and Auden as standards of excellence in writing verse and grew to admire flat lines and tone-deaf phrasing. Joyce's gift was nine-tenths auditory…." It is not enough to say that Joyce's poems are indeed musical and do contain echoes of Elizabethan airs—and then dismiss them. We have only heard what Nietzsche called "the statue of a god without a head." How can we hear that exquisite blending, that felicitous balance, that unique and marvelous coherence which Campion called "Words and Music Lovingly Coupled" when we are attuned instead to the divergence and complete separation of the two arts, a divergence which began in the very century when the lyric was at its peak of perfection.

I started out by saying that Joyce knew precisely what he was doing in Chamber Music. Whether he was testing his own talents and saw the Elizabethans as a challenge, or whether he chose to compose airs because music and poetry were a vital part of his own life—it hardly matters. The Elizabethans intrigued and enticed him. He liked their poems; he loved their songs. It was, after all, the Golden Age, the Renaissance of English music and poetry. The strong connecting links suggest that these are the lyrics with which Joyce's poems should be compared, not those of his own day. And of course ultimately it is the music which must establish the clear and luminous connection. Until then, Chamber Music, like the statue, is missing a vital element.

Robert Boyle, S. J. (essay date 1982)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10916

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 culture of generations before her …" Joyce, in the smithy of his soul, "fashioned" this woman in delicate Elizabethan songs, and over some years evolved an arrangement of those songs in a two-part sequence building to and falling from the consummation of an ideal first love. Essential for retrieving the woman of Chamber Music is to establish Joyce's ordering of the songs—a difficult task, for when Chamber Music was published in 1907, the sequence which Joyce finally adopted (not without reservation) was arranged not by Joyce but by his brother Stanislaus.

In February, 1903, Joyce wrote to his brother about Chamber Music: "Dear Stannie, I send you two poems. The first one is for the second part …". The poems were "I hear an army" ("XXXVI") and "When the shy star" ("IV"). [In Selected Letters of James Joyce, editor Richard] Ellmann notes: "… Joyce planned to divide his poems into two parts, the first being relatively simple and innocent, the second more complicated and experienced. The second group would commemorate his departure from Dublin …". Ellmann's adjectives may hint at some echo of Blake's songs of innocence and of experience, and perhaps at a foreshadowing of the early simplicity and later complications of a love affair, as in Elizabethan sonnet sequences like Sidney's and Shakespeare's. Ellmann's suggestion that the second "group" would, like the ending of Portrait, commemorate Joyce's departure from Dublin does seem to accord with an aspect of "I hear an army"; however, as a description of Joyce's plan for his sequence, the suggestion appears to be too restrictively autobiographical. As I see Joyce's own arrangement of his poems (different from the arrangement Stanislaus constructed for the long-delayed publication), it aims at building on Joyce's own experience a universal expression of youthful human love in all times and places. I suspect that from the beginning of his planning Joyce worked for a motion upward to the poem of consummation, "My dove, my beautiful one" ("XIV"), and downward gradually through the subsidence of passion, external difficulties, ultimate disillusion, and finally, as in the two poems he calls "tailpieces" in the published version, an Arnoldian listening to the noise of embattled waters.

The earliest manuscript of the suite, now owned by James Gilvarry, was sold by Sylvia Beach in 1935. Twenty-seven of the thirty-three poems are, like those Gogarty saw in Joyce's hand in 1903, beautifully written in the center of large sheets, and Litz describes the arrangement: "In the Gilvarry sequence, "I" and "III" are the opening poems, "XXXIV" is the close, and "XIV" stands squarely in the middle, flanked by thirteen poems on either side. This perfect symmetry of musical and emotional effects was spoiled slightly as Joyce added later poems, until finally in the rearrangement for the 1907 edition it was almost entirely obscured."

Of the ordering of the poems in the 1905 Yale MS, " Chamber Music (a suite of thirty-four songs for lovers) by James Joyce, Via S. Nicolo, Trieste, 1905," Litz says, "This obviously represents a careful and long-considered plan." The climactic Poem "XIV" still stands as squarely as it can in the middle, No. 17 of the thirty-four poems. And this is Joyce's final sequence before Stanislaus rearranged the poems for publication.

From the beginning Joyce took his ordering seriously. In 1902, he had shown the poems to Lady Gregory, and his concern for the form of the whole suite appears in her comment: "I think, from what you said, that you would not like to publish those poems till the sequence is complete …". She was less frank than Yeats was a month or so later, when he commented on a poem Joyce had sent him. It was surely Joyce's original arrangement of his poems that Yeats had seen and that he found helpful to interpret the poem "in its place with the others": "Perhaps I will make you angry when I say that it is the poetry of a young man, of a young man who is practicing his instrument, taking pleasure in the mere handling of the stops. It went very nicely in its place with the others, getting a certain richness from the general impression of all taken together and from your own beautiful reading." It is an interesting possibility that Yeats here by his pointed repetition laid in Joyce's imagination a foundation for the shift from Stephen Hero as a title to the final title of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Evidence that Joyce was impressed by Yeats's words seems to me apparent in a letter to Stanislaus written more than four years after he had read Yeats's judgment: "By the same post I received from Elkin Mathews the proofs of Chamber Music. It is a slim book and on the frontispiece is an open pianner! Shall I send you the proofs to correct. I don't know whether the order is correct. I don't like the book but wish it were published and be damned to it. However, it is a young man's book. I felt like that. It is not a book of love-verses at all, I perceive." But the version that had gone to Mathews was not the arrangement Joyce had submitted to so many publishers for those exhausting years. On October 9, 1906, Joyce wrote to Stanislaus about Arthur Symons's advice to submit his poems to Mathews, and for some reason—I suspect a complex of reasons—agreed to change his own arrangement for one proposed by Stanislaus. Joyce sounds tired and discouraged—"Tell me what arrangement you propose for the verses. I will follow it perfunctorily as I take very little interest in the publication of the verses"—and perhaps felt that a change in his text might bring luck. If one could probe Joyce's psychological depths, one might perceive some perverse revenge on his often-rejected poems, some resentment at Yeats's patronizing but solidly based counsel, or some strange search for a co-author to share responsibility, like Joyce's later weird effort to recruit James Stephens to finish Finnegans Wake. There is no way to discover with rational certainty what motivations operated in Joyce's subconscious. He did accept Stanislaus's arrangement, in any case, and although that arrangement damages the "story line" of Joyce's own sequence, it offers decided advantages. In grouping the songs according to the music of the verse, and thus the mood, Stanislaus stressed the element Joyce valued most. And if a singer were to present the songs in an evening's entertainment, the arrangement by mood would be practical and effective.

But Joyce was certainly not comfortable with the book. If Stanislaus's recollection of Joyce's wanting to cancel the publication is accurate (Stanislaus had an Irish imagination), it would be added evidence that Joyce much disliked something about the book he had so vigorously sought to publish for four years. Since Joyce often showed great affection for individual poems, since he read them to friends and critics with full confidence, and since he spoke in Finnegans Wake with apparent satisfaction of "all this chambermade music," I suspect that the repulsive feature may have been the arrangement that he had "perfunctorily" agreed to.

Some evidence for my suspicion seems to emerge from Joyce's description of his sequence in a letter to G. Molyneux Palmer on July 19, 1909: "The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them to music myself. The central song is "XIV" after which the movement is all downwards until "XXXIV" which is vitally the end of the book. "XXXV" and "XXXVI" are tailpieces just as "I" and "III" are preludes." Joyce still conceives of the movement rising to "XIV" and being "all downwards" to "XXXIV," where he sees the end of something vital—I take it the end of the love affair. That description fits Joyce's arrangement to perfection, but it does not fit the published arrangement. For example, between "XI" (Joyce's 16), which bids adieu to virginity, and "XIV" (Joyce's 17), where virginity gives place to consummation, Stanislaus places "XII" (Joyce's 26), which weeps for the loss of girlhood. The formal tone of "XII" does fit well with the other poems with which it is grouped, but its motion is distinctly downward, as the poet rejects the counsel of remorse which the Capuchin moon gives to the poet's repenting lover. Again, Stanislaus's arrangement inserts, between two poems of parting ("XXX" and "XXXII," 32 and 31 in Joyce's arrangement), a poem celebrating a uniting kiss ("XXXI," 23 in Joyce's arrangement), a rude dislocation of the downward motion.

"XVII," which speaks of the loss of a male friend because of the lady, was number 10 in Joyce's arrangement and thus appeared before the poem Joyce called "central" (his 17, "XIV"). In Stanislaus's rearrangement, however, "XVII" is placed after the original central song. Ellmann opines that Joyce retained this poem to help the "changed mood" of the later poems; but Joyce placed it among the early poems in his series, and in any case it seems to me that the poem was important to Joyce because it carries a faint echo of Shakespeare's alienation from his male friend (Finnegans Wake certainly stresses in Wildean tonality the shadowy presence of Mr. W H). If my opinion is correct, then such reference to the desertion of the male friend should belong to the upward movement, where Joyce originally put it, before the poet and his lady achieve consummation and a temporary exclusive union. The poem which follows in both arrangements ("XVIII" and 11) depicts the lady comforting the poet sorrowing over the loss of his friend.

But there is no certitude to be had here. Joyce did accept and publish Stanislaus's arrangement, and in effect repudiated his own previous arrangement, never published. Why not then let the matter rest there? Because, as I have experienced it, a close look at Joyce's arrangement reveals new things about the poems, and furnishes them with the kind of universal human context that Joyce found important in his works, as in his arrangement of Dubliners according to the development of human experience through childhood, adolescence, and maturity.

In Joyce's original conception, as I now see it, the relationship of the lovers (which begins with the appearance of the girl in 4 ["II"]) gradually develops from the first hesitant approach up to the act of consummation (celebrated with religious tone in 17 ["XIV"]) and declines (with a growing intellectualizing about the nature of love and a diminishing of passion) to the death of love in 34 ["XXXIV"]. In an effort to reconstruct Joyce's conception, I offer the following outline of the original structure, with my own notion of each poem's theme. I will attempt to justify questionable points in my fuller discussion of the individual poems:

Ascent of the Suite

Preludes—the poet speaking to himself.

1 [XXI]—The lonely poet defies the world.

2 [I]—The poet makes music by himself, sweet but funereal.

3 [III]—The lonely poet hears a prelude to human love.

Suite Proper—The lovers' relationship begins.

4 [II]—The lonely girl plays the piano at evening.

5 [IV]—In the evening the poet comes to her gate, singing.

6 [V]—His song: I leave my books, my loneliness, to see and hear you.

7 [VIII]—She brings light and love to the richly appareled spring wood.

8 [VII]—"My love" is now fully objectified in the light, graceful girl.

9 [IX]—He longs for the girl.

10 [XVII]—He has deserted his friend, and suffers.

11 [XVIII]—He seeks his comfort in her.

12 [VI]—Like the Bridegroom in the "Song of Solomon," he longs for peace in her arms, in her love.

13 [X]—Now a new lover's song, livelier than 6 [V].

14 [XX]—He longs for them to lie together in the woods (and in a grave).

15 [XIII]—He sends the wind as herald to the physical consummation of their marriage of souls.

16 [XI]—He urges the virgin to loosen her hair.

Zenith of the Suite (the noon, the summer)

17 [XIV]—His Song of Songs!

Decline of the Suite

18 [XIX]—He consoles the sad girl, shamed by unnatural dogmas.

19 [XV]—He himself hears nature's sighs and the wisdom of accepting mortality.

20 [XXIII]—He expresses his happiness, like the unweeping birds (but, like Shelley with his skylark, he is, unfortunately, more wise than they).

21 [XXIV]—Her negligence begins to justify his wisdom.

22 [XVI]—The lover wants to seek Love in a cool valley, where those wise choirs of birds sing (and Love may visit, as he did in the past).

23 [XXXI]—She kisses him (but overhead a bat flies).

24 [XXII]—He is allured to prison, to sleep (to death).

25 [XXVI]—She experiences the fear that only a poet can express.

26 [XII]—She has been hoodwinked into accepting the false doctrine of everlasting love, and he counsels her to be satisfied with the passing but truthful living light in her eyes.

27 [XXVII]—In his "wisdom," he suggests the true source of her fear, her own animal nature (maybe also some mysterious malice).

28 [XXVIII]—He counsels acceptance of human reality.

29 [XXV]—He more desperately calls for laughter and song.

30 [XXIX]—He complains that she is ruining their garden.

31 [XXXII]—As they prepare to part, he mounts his wise pulpit once more.

32 [XXX]—He recalls the whole course of their love.

33 [XXXIII]—Another lover's song (maybe to himself, as in the preludes): winter ends us.

34 [XXXIV]—Final lover's song: accept the sleep (which may be the "Out, out brief candle" of Macbeth).

([XXXV] and [XXXVI]—Never in Joyce's arrangement of poems, he called these "tailpieces," and they are not part of the "upward-downward" movement of the other verses.)

Joyce's plot is simple enough, but the complexities within it offer many insights into his youthful notions of love, of art, and of woman. A glance at some of the points of interest in each poem might clarify Joyce's conceptions.

In the three preludiai poems, the lonely poet addresses himself. In 1 ["XXI"], the problem, like the one which emerges occasionally in Shakespeare's sonnets, is to determine whether "his love" is subjective or objective. I incline to suppose that if the speaker really is unconsortable, then the only one he can possibly consort with is himself. In that case, "his love" is the love inside him. It is possible, no doubt, to find here what Joyce does suggest elsewhere, that he and his love become "one flesh," and then are in a position to face enemies as one being. But I find that difficult to merge with the lonely stag image which I see here, so I prefer to see this speaker "companioned" (that is, literally, "breaking bread," like a lonely Christ) with himself.

On Curran's autograph copy of the poem, given to him some months after Joyce had met Nora, the dedication "To Nora" is written, with the date September 30, 1904. But while the poem found a completion in Nora, more probably, according to the evidence I can now find, the song started out like the others, expressing the lonely "desire of my youth." (Joyce's reference to "my verses" seems to be inclusive of all). With this supposition, there is no difficulty in understanding the speaker's having found no soul to fellow his, and the inclusive nature of the stag image, so stressed in "The Holy Office," remains intact. Further, with this reading, the poem starts off the suite admirably, since the poet's desperate need for true companionship prepares the way for what follows.

Poem 2 ["I"] brings in "sweet" and "soft" music (the adjectives will be repeated ad nauseam), and the artist's exilic tendencies appear in the bent Narcissistic head. In 3 ["III"] that head assumes a more outgoing angle, looking up, longing for light and the dying fall of more "soft sweet music." The religious wind, apparently, is antiphonally causing those invisible harps to sigh for Love. The need for a soft, sweet girl is established.

Poem 4 ["II"] brings in the girl. The body of the suite gets under way with the girl playing an actual piano, not the fancied harp (or real penis, if Tindall's view has force) that the anemic love of 2 ["I"] is fingering. In a dim but lovely natural setting, she too bends her head, shyly thinking (surely of the lover she longs for) as her hands wander willfully over the keys. The trees of the avenue, lining the "way" which leads to the girl, are lighted by lamps similar to those ("like illumined pearls") which set the scene for "Two Gallants"—a grim undertone. The twilight, starting out amethyst, has at the end moved down to darker blue, approaching that violet which gives a bottom limit to the rainbow and merges with night (and which, in my imagination at least, will have a share in "violer d'amores" on the first page of Finnegans Wake). The girl is the central light in all this gathering dusk ("gathering" is the climactic word in 33 ["XXXIII"]).

The shy girl melts into the shy star of 5 ["IV"], which draws and guides the poet to the girl's garden. [John Henry Cardinal] Newman's "… but like the morning star, which is thy emblem, bright and musical" is twice quoted in Portrait, the image haunting Stephen's imagination. Mary as the morning star and as closely related to the Star of Bethlehem was even more familiar to Catholic imaginations (used to dwelling daily from earliest childhood, as Stephen demonstrates, upon the titles in her litany) than were the blessings of Guinness. To this young poet, who had probably, like Stephen, vowed not too long before he wrote this poem to be a knightly votary of his Lady Mary, the maidenly shy evening star in Song 5 ["IV"], like Mercedes, the lady of mercy, would surround his beloved too with the rhetorical aura reflected from Newman's undulating prose.

This modest star of Chamber Music receives expansion through Dubliners into Finnegans Wake. Its potentialities as a Star of Bethlehem, drawing the Magi to that manger which had become the center of creation (as Gabriel in "The Dead" is drawn westward, and as the Evangelists with their Ass gather, in the Watches of Shaun, at the marital bed where Holy Shaun gleams forth), can be more readily perceived in this suite of poems when one reaches the climactic biblical force of 17 ["XIV"]. Its epiphanic role stems from the kind of emotion Joyce expressed after his visit to Nora's former room in Finn's Hotel. This was in the Advent season of 1909, leading to the season of Epiphany celebrated in "The Dead," and Joyce's feeling and words to Nora foreshadow those of Gabriel in the more elegant hotel where he and Gretta spent the night:

Yes, I too have felt at moments the burning in my soul of that pure and sacred fire which burns for ever on the altar of my love's heart. I could have knelt by that little bed and abandoned myself to a flood of tears. The tears were besieging my eyes as I stood looking at it. I could have knelt and prayed there as the three kings from the East knelt and prayed before the manger in which Jesus lay. They had travelled over deserts and seas and brought their gifts and wisdom and royal trains to kneel before a little newborn child and I had brought my errors and follies and sins and wondering and longing to lay them at the little bed in which a young girl had dreamed of me…. I leave for Cork tomorrow morning but I would prefer to be going westward….

A similar sacred bed in the Watches of Shaun is the focus of "blue-blacksliding constellations" and the scene of "How culious an epiphany!"

The solitary, young wise man of this poem (his references to his "wisdom" weigh down the second, declining half of this suite of songs), sings as a visitant drawn from afar. And she, bent in revery like the Madonna who pondered marvelous things in her heart, would surely now look up as at the visit of a seraph.

His song follows in 6 ["V"]. "I have left … I have left" probably echoes the leaving of father and mother to cleave to a wife. He leaves the book and the possibly Rosicrucean and alchemical fire to plunge into the gloom which is then pierced by her song. The merry air, a contrast to his lonely, sad studies, brings him, longing for a sight of her, to her window.

In 7 ["VIII"] he revels in the sight of her in the green wood. Her light and love make the whole woodland gleam with a fire, soft and golden, far superior to the fire he left behind. She is light also in her movements, graceful, virginal, calling forth all that is beautiful and good in nature, which puts on its richest apparel and its sweetest sunlight to adorn and worship her. (This springtide, alas, will have been destroyed in the final song of the suite, and this brave attire all shed and ruined in 30 ["XXIX"] and 31 ["XXXII"]).

The girl in 8 ["VII"] becomes one with his love, the lonely love of 1 ["XXI"] now objectified fully in her. They join together, in the poet's mind, as the gay winds do, joining in companies. And as the winds woo the leaves, his desires woo the graceful girl.

But there is something odd about the girl's attitude. Like the Bride of the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon and the Canticle of Canticles), she is among the apple-trees, but she seems interested in her own shadow rather than in the Bridegroom. And she goes slowly and lightly. [In Chamber Music, the editor William York] Tindall scents creative urine, sees the sky as cup as helpful to the thematic chamber tinkling, and finds the holding up of her dress "no less prudent than relevant."

It is surely true that "goes" for Joyce operated well in a context of wine and porter and urine and copulation. In a letter to Stanislaus on August 31, 1906, speaking about George Moore, he wrote: "Italy … where they drink nice wine and not that horrid black porter (O poor Lady Ardilaun over whose lily-like hand he lingered some years back): and then she goes (in all senses of the word) with a literary man named Ellis …". Lady Ardilaun was one of the Guinesses, and her lily-like hand may connect with a conditioned response in young Joyce's imagination, linking cups and chamber-pots with beef-tea and sacramental white wine and porter and urine. Then indeed the dainty hand of this song gains complexity and interest.

But more immediately applicable to this poem is Joyce's Epiphany 26, in which the girl "dances with them in the round—a white dress lightly lifted as she dances, a white spray in her hair; eyes a little averted, a faint glow on her cheek. Her hand is in mine for a moment, softest of merchandise." This suggests that in the song the girl's attention to her shadow may be shyness or calculation, or a combination of both, and thus might stem from a consciousness of and a reaction to her would-be lover.

In 9 ["IX"], the poet longs for the girl and speaks to the May winds, also light dancers. He asks them, with Verlainian delicacy, to find his true love and to make the divided loves of the last line truly one love.

In the midst of this longing, separated from the girl, he adverts in 10 ["XVII"] to his separation from his friend (like Stephen's from Cranly) because of her. This touch of the Mr. W H element of Shakespeare's sonnets suggests an alliance with Elizabethan sequences, and introduces the pain and betrayal motif of such interest to Joyce, enamored of romantic suffering. The soft "merchandise" of her hand, bought now with his betrayal of his friend, is again in his (the "again" suggests a more definitive grasp, I suspect, after some significant encounter with the friend). With his hand occupied, he cannot make any sign of amendment to his friend, nor, as she sings, speak a word. Her singing voice and willful hand have effectively destroyed his friendship with a man who was once at his side.

He seeks comfort for the pain, in 11 ["XVIII"], in her soft wooing. An immature, non-ancient mariner, he yet preaches a universal tale and knows that words are worthless. The union of bodies can express love as words cannot, and, like the Bridegroom, he can find in her breast comfort for the gnawing sorrow.

He sings, in 12 ["VI"], the Bridegroom's song, longing for peace in her arms, in her love. The "that" in the first line is, as Tindall beautifully develops, a distancing word, and indicates that the poet feels himself definitely outside that sweet bosom now, with rude winds threatening to visit him. The fourfold repetition of "that," Tindall further perceives, carries a suggestion that the poet, like Stephen in the villanelle, is reluctant to go along with the powerful impulse to plunge into the "lure." Thus an ironic undertone, quite alien to the Song of Song's surface, gives a faint ominous overtone to the soft knock in line 7, which seems to echo the Bridegroom's knocking (in Catholic liturgy applied to Christ knocking at the heart):

I slept, but my heart was awake.
Hark! my beloved is knockinge.
"Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew….
Song of Solomon, V, 2

A rogue will knock loudly in 33 ["XXXIII"], with murder in the background. Here the stress is on peace. Austerities (those rude south winds) might creep in, but in that sweet softness, or soft sweetness, they would be made gentle.

He proves this, in 13 ["X"], by the new lover's song, livelier than the "softer than the dew" song of 5 ["IV"]. This song is full of motion, of gaiety, of contempt for musing dreamers who do not act. The lover of 1 ["XXI"] and 2 ["I"] was such a dreamer, sinking into the past, into himself. This lover, as honied as the fragrant Bridegroom, moves fast and sings boldly, with wild bees drawn to his sweet odors. But we surely note (as Bloom discovered, "Still gardens have their drawbacks"), that productive and hummingly musical as they are, bees may sting.

In March, 1902, Joyce gave a Byronic—Little Chandlerish verse to John Byrne. It mourns the death of a gentle lover with (naturally) a "soft white bosom" and "no mood of guile or fear" (both moods strong characteristics in the woman of Chamber Music). Its last stanza foreshadows the remarkably more mature 14 ["XX"]. The earlier verse reads

I would I lay with her I love—
And who is there to say me no?

(No one says "nay" because a rhyme with "below" is called for.) In the poem in CM, the dark pine-wood is primarily the lovely trysting park near Dublin (quieter than the Hill of Howth with its flamboyant rhododendrons), but it doubles well as a coffin. Part of the wisdom of this young poet, clinging like Buck Mulligan to an adolescent rationalism, is that human love is intimately involved with the constantly changing human organism, which will inevitably deteriorate ("… whose mother is beastly dead"). But like Byron, and in a far more subtle way like Jonson, this poet enshrines even mundane lips and hair in an inflated religious tonality:

Interestingly, as Tindall points out, the shallowness of the religious coating trickles through the uncertain rhyming of "kiss" and "is."

The ennui after the "I come" of the previous poem (13 ["X"]) prepares for the post-coital letdown following their actual consummation in 17 ["XIV"]. In 14 ["XX"], the long vowels delay and dwell on the rhythm, and the imagined kiss in stanza 3 descends like water as her hair, in Rossetti-like disorder, sweetly and softly endews the Bridegroom's head.

This small baptism takes place at noon. At that hour, the speaker (or dreamer) of chapter 7 of Finnegans Wake figures we might, through "inversions of all this chambermade music," get a glimpse … of Shem the elusive artist, "the whirling dervish, Tumult, son of Thunder …". If we do link "tumult" in this poem to that liturgical (the dervish) and Evangelical (St. John) context, then this flowing hair can suggest baptismal water (so feared by Stephen), as do the letters just before the full statement of the villanelle ("… the liquid letters of speech, symbols of the element of mystery, flowed forth over his brain" [Portrait]); and if we compare this seemingly simple girl in the pine-forest with the luring and destructive witch of the villanelle; and if we recall the apparition of Stephen's mother in "Circe" ("… her face worn and noseless, green with grave mould. Her hair is scant and lank. She fixes her blue-circled hollow eyesockets on Stephen and opens her toothless mouth uttering a silent word" [Ulysses]), then we can see why Shem is like St. John, the true Son of Thunder ("… whom we surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder …" [Mark, 3:17]), celebrator of the infinite and ineffable Logos. Shem too wants to find and utter the word and needs a divining woman to that end, somewhat as St. John needed the Blessed Virgin to see and hear the true Word. Thus Stephen begged his mother, who, like Hamlet's father, had come back from the dead, for the word known to all men; thus Joyce sought a woman for his clou to immortality. The fear that this woman of Chamber Music will feel in 25 ["XXVI"], rising from the mystery of her own being, is the same fear that inspires that artist to express the mystery of his own being (and thus of every human being) in imperishable ink. This noon poem, for all its prettiness, contains something of the threat of death and the dark and maybe even hell, the noonday devil's horrors. (Joyce is thinking of Psalm 91:6, the destruction in wait for those who rebel against God, "… nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.") Shem is "… noondayterrorised to skin and bone by an ineluctable phantom …". Some such torrent of contexts brings into my mind, as I skim over the sugared surface of this sweet noontide song, the feeling of threatening possibilities swirling deep below.

Approaching the climactic moment of their courtship, the "courtly" poet, more of a Jonson than a Spenser, in 15 ["XIII"] sends a courteous wind as herald of his coming as the Bridegroom. The wind of spices from the Song of Songs announces his coming, and it finds out her little garden and her window. Noon here is the climax of their love, the completion of the perfection of day. And the Greek "epithalamium" mingles the ancient sexual traditions of the Greeks with the greatest of Jewish love songs in preparation for the climactic song of this suite.

Now the voice of the lover himself, in 16 ["XI"], supplants that of the herald, and the lingering adieu to virginity comes from his seraphic lips. His address to the shy girl and his instruction to prepare for the loss of her maidenhood (and maidenhead) is translouted into turfish in Finnegans Wake:

As in Portrait, the lover has come as a seraph to the virgin's chamber, and as he dreamed of her wooing in 11 ["XVIII"], he now woos her. The name on the bugles of the cherubim may be just "Seraph," but more likely, considering Joyce's eucharistic treatment of the artist as Christ, it is "Logos," the Word. As the Word, this artist can be imagined as overshadowing the virgin to effect through her his own conception in transaccidentated ink (thus Joyce will deal with the Artist-Being-Made-Word, climaxing that image on FW). I am not suggesting that the youthful Joyce here foresees the sophisticated and faintly blasphemous meanings which he later developed for Stephen and Shem, but I do perceive that in suggesting the divine aspect of the poet (somewhat in contrast to his "disregard of the divine" in 26 ["XII"]), he opens the way for that development. The girl's veiled hair, enclosed as under the veil of a nun or in the formal cap of Hester Prynne, must come pouring down in what the poet sees as a sign of her surrender to him. That the surrender is a calculated one, like Molly Tweedy's among the Howth rhododendrons or like Hester Prynne's among the shadowy trees where she again lured the manipulated Dimmesdale, does not appear here—but the way is open for that too.

And now, in 17 ["XIV"], the climax, the celebration of Hymen! The Song of Songs provides all the material for this ecstatic expression of full, loving union, and the dew on the lover's lips and eyes foreshadows Stephen's soul "all dewy wet" as he pictures the seraph coming to the virgin's chamber.

Epiphany 24, having listed a dozen elements from the Song of Songs, focuses on "that response whereto the perfect tenderness of the body and the soul with all its mystery have gone: Inter ubera mea commorabitur." The mystery involved in human love (as in human poetry) is the focus of this lovely song too.

This poem corresponds to Stephen's vision of the girl in the water, a female seraph who called him to his true vocation, "to recreate life out of life!" As a result of that call, he would dare, as in drunken bravery in "Oxen of the Sun," to challenge even God, and to call his post-creation better than the creation of God, which Stephen judges to be mere material for the artist's sublime literary Eucharist. The girl in the water shares much imagery and language with the dove of this song—e.g., "soft white down," "dovetailed," "bosom was as a bird's soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some darkplumaged dove."

I wonder, though, if in the pale veil which lies on the poet's head (though the snood has fallen from hers), there is not some faint shadow of the demonie, some echo of the "ajew, ajew fro' Sheidam" cast backward here (Sheidim is Hebrew for demons), bouncing perhaps off the villanelle? There the demon-woman, the Shee, lurks in the liturgical smoke, the source of weariness for the uneasy lover. Weariness will come soon enough, in 28 ["XXVIII"], for this now ecstatic lover. Maybe this veil, in the fearful insecurity of the poet, is not altogether desirable.

But it would be hard to forecast, from the "beautiful one" of this song, the temptress of the villanelle, and, far more, the luscious but diseased (if that is the implication of the "injection mark" of Ulysses 512) Zoe of "Circe" and her enchanted days:

(… A fountain murmurs among damask roses. Mammoth roses murmur of scarlet winegrapes. A wine of shame, lust, blood exudes, strangely murmuring.)

Zoe

(Murmuring singsong with the music, her odalisk lips lusciously smeared with salve of swinefat and rosewater.)

Schorach ani wenowach, benoith Hierushaloim

Zoe's Hebrew, I would guess, more likely emerges from Bloom's imagination recalling his father's chanting than from the actual Zoe (where would she have learned it?), but in any case it means, "I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem" (Song of Songs, 1:5). It will be a long journey from this Irish girl of Chamber Music to the battered, depraved Zoe, but within this perfect wreath of songs ("The Vita Nuova of Dante suggested to him that he should make his scattered love-verses into a perfect wreath …"), the poems which decline from the central poem point toward the lower circles where Bella and her women wait.

Sadness has come over the deflowered girl in 18 ["XIX"]—not, according to Tindall, because of the deflowering (as in the "curious rite" of Ulysses 392), but because of what people are saying about her. Tindall refers to Yeats's "Aedh Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved." If one judges that "all men" are actually talking about the Sweetheart of this poem, of course the text does become as puzzling as Tindall finds it. But I believe that the "lying clamour" is that which the Capuchin will whisper in her ear in 26 ["XII"], or a corollary to that—namely, the religious stance of Irish Catholicism (as young Joyce read it) that sexual activity is evil unless blessed by Church and State.

If that is true, then in the first stanza the poet is saying to the girl, "All men condemn you, like the woman taken in adultery, preferring the religious lie to the natural truth. But you must realize that their belief that you are a woman without honour does not make it so." "Before you" could also carry the implication, especially in light of what follows, that "they preferred that clamour before you did," thus touching the source of her sadness in herself. He appeals to her natural pride to condemn the false and wasted tears of the men, their calls to repentance, and as they deny their natures, she should, like the defiant poet of 1 ["XXI"], hold "to ancient nobleness" and deny their false doctrine.

In 19 ["XV"], the poet demonstrates his own acceptance of nature's sighs (here signs not of sorrow but, presumably, of satisfaction and fulfillment) and the wise admonitions of leaves and flowers to arise, like the Bride and Bridegroom, to a day of love. Something of the tonality of Titania and Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream accompanies those veils of gossamer and those wise choirs of faery, votaries of the natural.

"Admonisheth," with its Elizabethan formality, probably means first of all an extension of the poet's counsel to his soul to arise from sleep and death (sleep as symbol of death will be stressed in 34 ["XXXIV"], as it is in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73). Joyce probably composed this song originally as an address to his own soul, like Stephen's "dewy wet" soul waking from ecstatic dreams or rising "from the grave of boyhood, spurning her grave-clothes. Yes! Yes! Yes!" But as the poem fits into the suite, following 17 ["XIV"], "my soul" more naturally comes to mean the beloved lady lying at his side, who has just been sighing and, no doubt, trembling in sleep. The slumber-death of love at this point still seems to be only their former loneliness, now past. And the few faeries (or at least few choirs) who faintly celebrate their present union can be heard only by attentive and wakeful ears.

"Admonisheth," however, can also carry a warning, and maybe those sighs are not totally pleasant ones after all. Maybe the faeries are "innumerous" and faint because the wisdom they sing is to some degree specious. It may even be that among the veils threatened by the rising sun is that happy veil of dew on the Bridegroom's head in 17 ["XIV"]. The noonday devil may be preparing his attack. These "wise" choirs may be foreshadowing the later wisdom of the lover. Nature's sighs and gentle stirrings may signal not only the dawn's epithalamium but the evening's thanatopsis.

And sure enough, the wise birds of 20 ["XXIII"], who do not live very long, suggest an apothegm to the yet wiser lover. Like these prudent wrens, who store treasures in their nests, he has "laid" (another word of many helpful meanings) his own treasures also in "some mossy nest." The heart of his beloved "flutters" in the first line, preparing for the propriety of picturing her as a bird. His hope and riches and happiness, which he had lost when religion and other inimical chains had taught him, like Blake, to weep, he has regained and stored in her. Thus they are—or are they?—as wise as the prudent birds. But into this wisdom of the poet creeps a question, and the possibility that evening will bring the death of love.

His beloved begins to justify that questioning in 21 ["XXIV"]. She had let down her hair for him in 16 ["XI"], and now she combs it endlessly for herself and her mirror-image. That glorious sun, which in 7 ["VIII"] she had made more beautiful in the woods, she now uses only as a means to admire herself more. She prefers her mirror to her lover, to natural sunlit life. Like the temptress of the villanelle, she is a witch and a lure to the lover, who "prays" her to leave her selfishness, to stop being "enchanted" by herself beneath the luring "pretty air." The charming negligence of her gestures embodies her negligence of her lover, about which he will complain more bitterly in 30 ["XXIX"]. Her love is declining, and she foreshadows the pretty airs of the piping poets to come (in 27 ["XXVII"]), airs which hide the selfish and destructive witchery beneath their enchanting praises of perfect, lasting love.

The lover in 22 ["XVI"], proposing to return to the valley where they once found love, reveals his uncertainty in that wavering "sometime." Now the musical and productive birds are the wise choir, calling them both away from that mirror. Almost abruptly, in proffering his pastoral invitation, he somewhat flatly asserts, "When we get there, we'll stay there." Since the lovers are not birds, who are better designed to be at home in the valley, the hesitant rhythm of the final line finds realistic justification.

She kisses him in 23 ["XXXI"], and sweetness and softness encompass him. But "murmuring" can be suspicious, as the idiot murmuring in Bloom's gazelle garden demonstrates. Especially is this true when the murmuring educes a phrase like "O, happily!" and all the time there is a bat flying overhead. Tindall lists Joyce's numerous treatments of women as bats and of bats associated with love and sex, and the vampire bat fits fairly well with the poisondart looming up in 27 ["XXVII"].

The witch "allures" him into the prison of her arms in 24 ["XXII"]. The witch of the villanelle lures seraphs from heaven, and here the "dearest" woos the lover with her soft arms, seeking to overcome the reluctance, like Stephen's, "to relent," and seeking to hold him fast, "to detain." There may have been a wooing word too, like that Joyce once heard from Nora: "I remember the first night in Pola when in the tumult of our embraces you used a certain word. It was a word of provocation, of invitation and I can see your face over me (you were over me that night) as you murmured it. There was madness in your eyes too and as for me if hell had been waiting for me the moment after I could not have held back from you." Hell does wait for fallen seraphs, in Catholic as in Miltonic imaginations, and I suspect that the "lure" of the villanelle and of Chamber Music finds some roots in the "swallowed bait" of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129, which also lands the prey in hell.

The demonic rivulets gyrate considerably below the surface of this saccharine song, starting with "sweet" and "soft" and ending with "sleep to … sleep … soul with soul." That last coupling seems to me allied to Newman's device as cardinal, "Cor ad cor loquitur, " heart speaks to heart. Some of the drooling prose of Stephen's dealing with Emma, under the aegis of the Blessed Virgin, seems allied to that same device:

She placed their hands together, hand in hand, and said, speaking to their hearts:

—Take hands, Stephen and Emma. It is a beautiful evening now in heaven. You have erred but you are always my children. It is one heart that loves another heart. Take hands together, my dear children, and you will be happy together and your hearts will love each other.

[John Henry Cardinal] Newman's "The Glories of Mary for the Sake of her Son" is quoted in Portrait just before that passage and in length at the end of the section. And that passage, in Newman's sermon, is preceded by a quotation from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin: "… and in the glorious company of the saints was I detained" (Newman's italics). As Atherton points out [in the introduction to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man] in his note to Stephen's discussion of "detained" with the Dean of Studies, "Newman is translating very literally et in plenitudine sanctorum detentio mea (Ecclesiasticus, 24:16): 'My abode is in the full assembly of the saints…. '" In this song in Chamber Music (24 ["XXII"]), the word is used as Newman uses it, and it draws in the whole complex of Newman's praise of Mary's glories, among which her virginity and her heroic determination to preserve it shine brilliantly. Now we can fully evaluate the "lying clamour" of those who, as in 18 ["XIX"], assert that the loss of virginity is a shameful loss ("… those unspeakable sins by which degraded man outrages and defiles the temple of the Holy Ghost, defiles and pollutes himself). These "arms / By love made tremulous" resemble Stephen's reaction in his supposed freedom from alarms after his "penitence": "His hands were trembling, and his soul trembled …." But Stephen's trembling stemmed from a lie, and so (we perceive as things develop) does this Chamber Music love. A clue lies in the ambivalence of "could" in "Ah, could they ever hold me there …": "I wish they could" balances with "they can't."

The basis for "I wish they could" from the artist is, I take it, his need to tap her "divining ear," to find there a clou to immortality. She listens, in 25 ["XXVI"], not to a choir of birds, but to the soft choiring of her own blood. And she hears there a sound which causes fear. The divining of this sorceress has tapped some mystery beyond her rational grasp. She may be fearing torrents of water rushing forth from grey deserts. It is her heart that fears, and north of the heart is that grey matter that, according to Molly, Bloom considered to be the actual phenomenon which some called "soul" ("he says your soul you have no soul inside only grey matter"). The poet may be asking his beloved if she fears not only the vague destructive evil but also the sterile, rationalistic floods from the brain which threaten to sweep away her divination of human delight welling from the loving soul and to drown out the dulcimers of the Pleasure Dome.

That it is a mystery she conjures forth, a source of fear and pain, is suggested by Joyce's cry to Nora in December, 1909: "O the sweet pain you brought into my heart! Ο the mystery your voice speaks to me of!" It is the lady's ear that hears the mystery from that full choir where, like the Virgin, she is "detained." Her sacred river of blood brings "a mad tale," or the basis for one, into her consciousness, like that of the Ancient Mariner, frightening and ghostly. The flow may lead, when the ghosts can be conjured up, to the Sacred River to which Purchas led Coleridge, or to the oceans of blood to which Holinshed led Shakespeare. The poet, through careful scanning of her mood, hopes likewise to be led to a mad tale, maybe as mad as Finnegans Wake.

But his "human only" wisdom first moves him to warn her about religious sentimentality. In one of the most complex and interesting poems of the suite, 26 ["XII"], Joyce, among many other things, reveals most obviously his debt to Ben Jonson. [In his Dublin's Joyce] Hugh Kenner, having expressed some brilliant insights on what Joyce learned from Verlaine, goes on, under the heading "Ironic Elegance and Ben Jonson," to see this poem as illustrating, in its "double-writing," the aim Joyce assigned to Stephen Hero:

But in his expressions of love he found himself compelled to use what he called the feudal terminology and as he could not use it with the same faith and purpose as animated the feudal poets themselves he was compelled to express his love a little ironically. This suggestion of relativity, he said, mingling itself with so immune a passion is a modern note: we cannot swear or expect eternal fealty because we recognise too accurately the limits of every human energy. It is not possible for the modern lover to think the universe an assistant at his love-affair and modern love, losing somewhat of its fierceness, gains also somewhat in amiableness.

The artist as a young man recognized those limits more accurately than did the far more mature author of Finnegans Wake, who adverted to the multitude of pesky "unfacts": "Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude …." Youthful faith in rational science and the certitude which results still impress this young artist. With these he attempts to insert an ironic modern undertone beneath the elegant Elizabethan surface of this song, and succeeds in echoing a truly ironic Elizabethan, the witty and acerbic Ben Jonson.

The song's echo of Jonson I find quite explicitly in "plenilune." That word enjoys the fullness of its tenuous existence in English, insofar as I can determine the matter, in Jonson's The Fountaine of Selfe-Love or Cynthias Revels (as the title appears in the 1601 Quarto):

…. Arete, behold

Another Cynthia, and another Queene
Whose glorie (like a lasting plenilune)
Seems ignorant of what it is to wane!
(Act V, Scene 8)

That is precisely the doctrine of Joyce's "hooded moon," itself in its waned state contradicting its dogma, namely, that the full moon demonstrates that beauty and love and glory can last forever. Jonson's "lasting" on the surface implies that Queen Elizabeth, symbolized as usual in Cynthia the moon goddess, has been and will be plenilune forever. But she was, of course, ancient when Jonson wrote his lines, so Joyce's adjective also brings out an ironic undertone of Jonson's elegant surface. Joyce refers primarily to the old Elizabethan times, when "plenilunes" were fresh and at least verbally young. Now, he implies, the times and the word are both ancient and moribund, as Elizabeth was then and as the love this suite celebrates is now. All this speculation is contingent, I am aware, on Joyce's having actually derived the word from the author he was to read exhaustively in Paris, but my guess is that he did.

The waning and waxing of the moon in Joyce's song, the narcissism of this lady, the apocalyptic glory under her feet (not "tread out," as Tindall supposes, but rather supporting and setting off her glory), and her conviction, learned from the idealistic Capuchin, that there is a love that endures even to the edge of doom—these elements and others suggest Jonson's powerful influence. Further, Jonson himself, recently converted to Catholicism when he wrote those lines, would serve in excellent ways (with considerable irony also) as "the comedian Capuchin." The "elegant and antique phrase" of the following poem (27 ["XXVII"]) links with the antiquity of "ancient plenilune" to stress the courtly irony of old Ben, and to find deep roots feeding the "wisdom" of this young Dublin poet. In making his Capuchin a Jonsonian comedian, the wise young Joyce, who is reputed to have patronized Yeats, possibly echoes the attitude of Gabriel Harvey, set down about 1600: "… the younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus & Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, have it in them, to please the wiser sort."

The glory, at any rate, passes from the unreal dogma of stanza 1 into the real sparkle in living eyes in stanza 2, which, while trembling in its ephemeral "moving and changing every part of the time," can be doubly possessed—but not for long, as the chime of "Mine, O Mine" links inevitably with "No more."

The poet's own doctrine, product of his "human only" wisdom—Shem's life transaccidentates into ink expressing a literary "chaos, perilous, potent, common to allflesh, human only, mortal"—is clearly set forth in 27 ["XXVII"]. In November, 1906, when he was twenty-four years old, Joyce revealed to his brother his theories on the love he had known: "Perhaps my view of life is too cynical but it seems to me that a lot of this talk about love is nonsense. A woman's love is always maternal and egoistic. A man, on the contrary, side by side with his extraordinary cerebral sexualism and bodily fervour (from which women are normally free) possesses a fund of genuine affection for the 'beloved' or 'once beloved' object." This is the wisdom that falls from these "all too wise" lips, assigning categories for love according to sex, and distinguishing in the man "genuine" affection, which leaves for the egoistic though maternally tender woman a mixed, or perhaps hypocritical, or maybe more exactly, devious affection. At any rate, we see in 27 ["XXVII"] the rapturous satisfaction of her maternal heart operating simultaneously with the poison of her malice. The malignant and even murderous elements that may be operating in some complex and basically incomprehensible women—like Cleopatra and Hester Prynne and Molly Bloom—have in this suite developed from the lady's indifference in 21 ["XXIV"] to this Housmanian statement. The bat image helped to suggest it, and in his notes for "Penelope," Joyce noted "(female spider devours male after)." The malice in her tenderness stems, Joyce suggests, from her own animal desires and needs, particularly the need to be inseminated and to protect and foster her offspring. This is expressed with more than Jonsonian tenderness, but with full Jonsonian irony. "I but render," I presume, echoes Shakespeare's Sonnet 125, where the rendering is mutual:

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou by oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.

This Chamber Music poet seems to be stressing, in his rendering, that the total giving of self is all on his side, and the significant item in his confession of his complete love is the supposition that mixed in with her tender love for him is malice.

The lying Capuchin of the previous poem, with his doctrine of perfect love, has waned, but these wise lips are waxing to bring in the modern truth. His own experience brings science to the religious and false "solemnizing" of love with pastoral and lyric pipes. Some touch of the poison dart he has found in all love (love in women, that is), and so he once more warns his beloved to believe him and to face the realities of human intercourse. But the warning seems to be spoken mostly for himself, and to be sugar-coated for her sentimental and less perceptive mind. Or perhaps he is striving to spare her feelings, while at the same time expressing the Darwinian under-tones of animal courtship and fulfillment. The song does not really have the definite limits I am suggesting, but, while it suggests those, leaves matters open to some unexpressed larger context. It does not finally exclude mystery, try as it will.

The poet in 28 ["XXVIII"] sings this same wisdom briefly, and, in more direct fashion, counsels accepting the passing nature of human love. He points to mortality and implies that death, as this wise young man tends to judge, ends all love. Mae West in her youth taught a similar doctrine when she replied to a suitor's pledge of eternal love, "Yeah, but how about your health?" Echoes in this poem of Marvell's broodings on the sleep of love in the grave prepare for the final poems of the suite. The weariness of declining love foreshadows the disillusioned "Are you not weary" of Portrait's villanelle.

More desperately, the poet in 29 ["XXV"] calls for laughter and song. The girl's divining heart, he knows, fears the inevitability of Time's (and Death's) victory—remotely like Margaret in Hopkins's "Spring and Fall," whose heart presaged mortality. But laugh anyway, he urges—as Joyce himself fills the cosmos with laughter in Finnegans Wake. Do not grieve over wasted suns like that of 21 ["XXIV"], but run while these winds (more familiar with the lover than they were with the virgin) loosen the tumult of your hair once more. Keep it light in all senses; the clouds that will bring darkness at evening yet attend (in the sense of await) the passing of the sun and of your love. Confess, not with stern self-revelation and acceptance of defeat, but with laughing and loving song assert a human defiance to darkness and the void.

Poem 30 ["XXIX"] is certainly written by "… a certain gay young nobleman whimpering to the name Low Swine …." He whimpers out accusations of her destruction of the "rich apparel" of 7 ["VIII"], of her Titania-like despoiling of summer, of her having brought to the enclosed garden the desolate winds of autumn, soon to bring the wild winds of winter. Love is dissolving, and it's all her fault. He had loved her, too dear, not wisely but too well, as another self-satisfied hero once whimpered. But she, whose clear eyes remain unperturbed, justifies his wise insight of 27 ["XXVII"]. She is selfish. And so, in this song, he falls upon the thorns of life and bleeds.

But in 31 ["XXXII"], before the lovers finally part, he once more, as a determined preacher, mounts his wise soapbox. Rain indicates nature's empathy with their tears—his anyway, since the lady may have perceived she will do better without him—and the wet leaves, once so loving and joyful, cover their memories (which he will uncover in the following song). "Way" here is a singular, I suppose, because they have not yet parted; they will need separate ways in the next poem. They stay for a moment, to contemplate the path this whole suite has taken, before they look at the memories and part. In this moment of pause, the wise counselor returns once again to his "heart speaks to heart" pose.

In 32 ["XXX"], he recalls the whole course of their love. The main memory is the opening action of the suite in 4 ["IV"], where she shyly played the piano and he fearfully stood near—like Bloom, less shy, turning the pages for young Molly. "Grave" has something of the atmosphere of "The Dead" about it, as do all these dripping trees and soggy leaves. The sweetness is gone, and the anapest "at the last" suggests the almost stumbling speed of the painful yet welcome parting. The plodding hesitancy of the final line, similar to the movement in the final line of Paradise Lost—"Through Eden took their solitary way"—suggests the return of loneliness.

Two lover's songs end the suite. The poet may be singing just to comfort himself, as he did in the opening poems. At any rate, he takes the advice which he gave to her in 29 ["XXV"], to laugh and sing though heavyhearted—or at least he tries. Having expressed his resentment and hurt in 30 ["XXIX"], and his sorrow and resignation and determination in 31 ["XXXII"], he now sings, and his music contrasts with the "sweet" music of Love at the beginning. Love now (in 33 ["XXXIII"]) is neither the lonely harpist nor the happy lover nor the possibly divine figure softly knocking at the heart in 12 ["VI"], but is a "fool in motley" like the one Jaques met in the forest (like Buck Mulligan in motley), now loudly knocking perseveringly at the tree—no doubt the garden's apple tree. Loneliness has returned to them, now loveless, but nature, not really malignant but only indifferent, carries on in its merry determination to have propagation by fair means or foul. Macbeth, indeed, is somehow involved in that knocking, as the next and last poem makes explicit. The fall, which takes the ungrieving leaves, goes into the gathering of winter, as night seals their sad parting. But the repetition of "year" in the final line may go with the ambivalence of gathering, which means both a collection of force for a deadly attack and a preparation for new things to come. It may more specifically imply, too, at the close of the suite, a harvest of the good things in their love. He urges her, or at least (if she has already gone) his memory of her, to imitate the leaves and go the way nature calls her. The ending has some faint hint of the immensely powerful tonality of the ending of "The Dead."

But all hopeful possibilities disappear or are at least muffled in the final song, almost a lullaby. It is more likely that the poet is alone here, as in the opening poems, speaking once again to himself. The unquiet of the girl in 25 ["XXVI"] now settles in him (if she herself, as I imagine to be the case, is not actually present), and the voice which urged her to sleep in union with him in 24 ["XXII"] now sounds only in his own unquiet heart. "The voice of the winter" has replaced the lovely voice of the turtle once heard in the land ("voax of the turfur is hurled on our lande"), and it is likely the wintry voice emerges from that rogue (Jack Frost?) knocking in the previous poem. Here the sinister voice echoes the cry which Macbeth heard, and it sounds in the heart which has murdered love—"Glamours hath moidered's lieb …"

In the final stanza, we run into what Tindall calls "pronominal confusion." "My kiss" operating on "your heart" would argue that the lady is still there. I settle it by supposing that she is there in his imagination, and that his unquiet heart can be viewed by him as his or hers or both. Shem (as Mercius) does something like this in regard to himself and Justius (and their mother) at the end of chapter 7 in Finnegans Wake, mixing pronouns as he and his brother mingle in his mind and merge into the fluid mother. But in any case, the suite ends in some confusion, in frustration, incomplete and uneasy, with a wish for peace stymied by that fateful knocking.

Joyce, having just received the proofs of Chamber Music, told his brother, about March 1, 1907, that he might finally determine to become a writer: "Yet I have certain ideas I would like to give form to: not as a doctrine but as the continuation of the expression of myself which I now see I began in Chamber Music." With this Wildean attitude in his mind, he goes on to say, "It is not a book of love verse at all, I perceive." Stanislaus's arrangement had treated the poems as just scattered love-verses. Joyce, as I understand him, perceived his poems, with his own suite in mind, as an attempt at a portrait of himself as artist, as a projection of the woman he desired to meet in the world outside himself (something like Stephen's "green rose"), and as a large philosophy dealing with human love.

Joyce's portrait of himself looms largest, of course, but if one listens to and stares long enough at the poems in Joyce's own imaginative scheme, not Stanislaus's, then behind that rather precious, self-centered, verbal musician emerges the outline of a woman, like the lovely Eve peering curiously out from under God's other arm in Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam." Joyce shows the woman of Chamber Music fulfilling Shakespeare's prophecy about his love:

'Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth …
(Sonnet 35)

Joyce's woman, as I attempt to unify these fragmentary glimpses, emerges for me a clear Irish figure—lovely, graceful, shy, talented, passionate, affectionate, selfish, sensitive, possessive, intuitive, guilt-ridden, resentful, cold, determined—a woman of infinite variety. She has the Jewish beauty and passion of the Bride in the Song of Songs, of the Queen of Sheba, of Anastashie. She has the glory of Mary, the source of the human Word; the happy purity of Beatrice; the shy virginity of Stephen's Mercedes, Lady of Mercy. She has the sensual taint of Zoe (Jewish at least in Bloom's imagination), sterile source of life, like the Dead Sea. She has the witchery of the villanelle's Temptress, of the Shee, of Circe, of Titania. She has the malice of the Vampire, seeking the poet's mouth like the Pale Vampire of Ulysses, the complete inversion of the Song of Songs ' opening line: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…." She is contradictory and tantalizing and mysterious, but full of life and energy. She deserves to be restored to the ordered if fragmentary world in which Joyce placed her. Then, in spite of the flaws with which adolescent certitudes and artistic uncertainties left her, she will still do all that a girl composed of ink can do to make defect perfection.

Further Reading

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310

Bibliography

Rice, Thomas Jackson. James Joyce: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982, 389 p.

Annotated secondary bibliography.

Criticism

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.

Full-length critical study on Joyce's poetry.

Kerrigan, Anthony. "News of Molly Bloom." Poetry LXXXV, No. 2 (November 1954): 109-12.

Discusses the theme of love in Chamber Music.

M. A. "The Lyrics of James Joyce." The New Republic 18 (March 1919): 191.

Offers a mixed review of Chamber Music.

Phul, Ruth von. " Chamber Music at the Wake." James Joyce Quarterly 11, No. 4 (Summer 1974): 355-67.

Provides a psychoanalytical analysis of poem "VI" in Chamber Music.

Spoo, Robert. "Rival Confessors in Chamber Music: Meaning and Narrative in Joyce's Lyric Mode." James Joyce Quarterly 26, No. 4 (Summer 1989): 483-98.

Notes thematic links between poems "XII" and "XXVI" of Chamber Music, as well as with Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Additional coverage of Joyce's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography: 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 126; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 10, 19, 36, 162; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; DISCovering Authors: Novelists Module; DISCovering Authors: Poet's Module; Major 20th-century Writers; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 3, 26; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 3, 8, 16, 35, 52; and World Literature Criticism.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

James Joyce World Literature Analysis

Next

Joyce, James (Short Story Criticism)

Explore Study Guides