James Joyce Joyce, James (Poetry Criticism) - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

James Joyce 1882–1941

(Full name James Augustine Aloysius Joyce) Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, memoirist, and critic.

Joyce is considered one of the most prominent literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century. His experiments in prose contributed to a redefinition of the form of the modern novel. As a poet, Joyce's contribution has been regarded as much less noteworthy than that of his fiction, and some critics describe him as a "minor" poet.

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

(Poetry Criticism)


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)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1624 words.)

James R. Baker (essay date 1959)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2154 words.)

Marvin Fisher (essay date 1959)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3372 words.)

Virginia Moseley (essay date 1964)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2597 words.)

Robert Scholes (essay date 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6793 words.)

Herbert Howarth (essay date 1966)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5626 words.)

Myra Russel (essay date 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4366 words.)

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

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10916 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


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

Annotated secondary bibliography.


A. C. H. "Chamber Music—Old and New." Poetry: A Magazine of Verse XIV, No. 2 (May 1919): 98-103.

Offers a negative assessment of Chamber Music.

Bowen, Zach. "Goldenhair: Joyce's Archetypal Female." Literature and Psychology 17, No. 4 (1967): 219-28.

Discusses the feminine prototypes found in Chamber...

(The entire section is 310 words.)