James Joyce, a few poems

2022-08-19 @Literature

Though Joyce’s primary works abound in extravagantly dense poetic expression, Joyce also published verse: Chamber Music being the predominant compilation of contrastingly minimalist and fairly charming poems, at a superficial perusal anyway.

That is, having explored much of Shakespeare’s and Spenser’s sonnet cycles treating effectively the same thematic of romance, my general here attention waned a bit. Though one must say, in contrast to the Renaissance counterparts, Joyce’s are remarkably spartan, right in line with the appropriately evocative musical appellation.

The following three are among my favourites of Joyce’s verse. One rhymes fully, one partially, one not at all. Two happen to be love themes all the same: I hear an Army culminating the Chamber Music cycle, Sad is his voice originating elsewhere.

All can be classified as imagism: compact, unobscured metaphors, simpler language, free verse encouraged. And though mighty particular with the imagist movement, these bond well with me. Incredibly well.

Note the simple and repetitive language of Sad is his voice, yet to what effect, to what astounding effect! There’s a story behind it, which however you need not to appreciate the lines:

James Joyce - Sad is his voice that calls me

Rain on Rahoon falls softly, softly falling,
where my dark lover lies.
Sad is his voice that calls me, sadly calling,
at grey moonrise.

Love, hear thou
how soft, how sad his voice is ever calling,
ever unanswered, and the dark rain falling,
then as now.

Dark to our hearts. O love, shall lie and cold
as his sad heart has lain
under the moongrey nettles, the black mould.
and muttering rain.

The following one is an attrition between the hostile dream state and love’s abandonment in the awakening. Took me numerous iterations to accept the closing lines, otherwise enthralled by the viking/barbarian/warrior imagery. But it ultimately reconciled:

James Joyce - I Hear an Army

I hear an army charging upon the land,
And the thunder of horses plunging; foam about their knees:
Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand,
Disdaining the rains, with fluttering whips, the Charioteers.
They cry into the night their battle name:
I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter.
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame,
Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.
They come shaking in triumph their long grey hair:
They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore.
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?

I’ve not a clue to the backstory of Tilly, but do you not bask in the mixture of clarity, sharpness, tenderness and the stark brutality from which nearly stems a parable?

James Joyce - Tilly

He travels after a winter sun,
Urging the cattle along a 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!

Stellar.

Questions, comments? Connect.