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Thursday, June 16, 2011

XXVIII- James Joyce

Gentle lady, do not sing
Sad songs about the end of love;
Lay aside sadness and sing
How love that passes is enough.


Sing about the long deep sleep
Of lovers that are dead, and how
In the grave all love shall sleep:
Love is aweary now.


Today, being Bloomsday, seemed an appropriate time to share some of James Joyce's severely overlooked poetry.  Joyce, most known for his radical prose, also wrote two collections of poetry.  This poem, XXVIII is excerpted from his first ever published work, "Chamber Music" which is a collection of poems.  The poems are very lyrical in content, and should be considered musically.  Joyce himself did so, going so far as to set one of them to music.  I have a very personal investment in the project of interpreting Joyce musically, and I find the lyricism of these early poems of his laudable and inspiring, and think it a shame that they are often dismissed as simply "not as good" as his later works.


Poem XVIII, in particular, is very lyrically present.  It reads almost as a reaction to the type of folk song it references.  I can almost see this poem as a reaction to "Black is the Color of my True Love's Hair."  The last two stanzas of that song read as follows:


I go the Clyde for to mourn and weep
But satisfied I never can sleep.
I'll write her a letter, just a few short lines
And suffer death ten thousand times.


I know my love and well she knows
I love the grass whereon she goes.
If she on earth no more I see
My life will quickly fade away.


Joyce is asking us, in a way lyrically comparable to folk song, to move on, beyond self-indulgence and self-pity. Love that passes is enough. It cannot always be time for love, Joyce tells us. This seems like a very measured response to heartbreak, or perhaps, in response to unfulfilled longing. When he wrote this poem, Joyce was a young man who was very much in love with Nora Barnacle, though the two could not be together. Perhaps this poem was a response to those feelings. Either way, for me, the poem is comforting. It reminds me that I have been loved, and that is enough. Even if now is not the time for love, its remembrance is still beautiful, so long as it is not tainted by self-pity. I implore any readers to reconsider how you may think of Joyce. When Joyce comes to mind, it is for his dense, intimidating prose. However, he had a lyrical side, expressed in his poetry, which is captivating and beautiful. It should be enjoyed, rather than critically dismissed in the canon of Joyce studies, as it too often is.


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