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John McCormack – Recordings: 1911-1940

- March 17, 2017 in ballad, Ireland, irish ballads, james joyce, John McCormack

The songs of one of Ireland's best known tenors, renowned for lending his superior diction and breath control to a whole range of operatic and popular songs.

John McCormack – Recordings: 1911-1940

- March 17, 2017 in ballad, Ireland, irish ballads, james joyce, John McCormack

The songs of one of Ireland's best known tenors, renowned for lending his superior diction and breath control to a whole range of operatic and popular songs.

James Joyce reading his work (1924/1929)

- June 15, 2012 in anna livia plurabelle, Audio, Audio: 1920s, Audio: Speech, c.k. ogden, finnegans wake, james joyce, non-article, recordings, sylvia beach, ulysses

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FROM THE “AEOLUS” EPISODE OF ULYSSES (1924)


MP3 Download / Internet Archive Link

Joyce made this recording in Paris at the HMV studios at the insistence of Sylvia Beach (the woman behind Shakespeare and Company, the publisher’s of Ulysses), although HMV would only loan out their equipment at a cost and would have as little to do with the recording as possible. Beach recounts:

Joyce himself was anxious to have this record made, but the day I took him in a taxi to the factory in Billancourt, quite a distance from town, he was suffering with his eyes and very nervous. Luckily, he and Coppola were soon quite at home with each other, bursting into Italian to discuss music. But the recording was an ordeal for Joyce, and the first attempt was a failure. We went back and began again, and I think the Ulysses record is a wonderful performance. I never hear it without being deeply moved. Joyce had chosen the speech in the Aeolus episode, the only passage that could be lifted out of Ulysses, he said, and the only one that was “declamatory” and therefore suitable for recital. I have an idea that it was not for declamatory reasons alone that he chose this passage from Aeolus. I believe that it expressed something he wanted said and preserved in his own voice. As it rings out – ‘he lifted his voice above it boldly’ – it is more, one feels, than mere oratory.



THE “ANNA LIVIA PLURABELLE” SECTION FROM FINNEGANS WAKE (1929)


MP3 Download / Internet Archive Link

This recording of Joyce reading was made in 1929 by C.K. Ogden (the linguist, philosopher, and inventor of Basic English) in the studio of the Orthological Society in Cambridge. Ogden boasted of the two biggest recording machines in the world and wanted to do a better recording of Joyce than the Ulysses recording of 5 years earlier which he regarded as being of very poor quality. Sylvia Beach again:

How beautiful the “Anna Livia” recording is, and how amusing Joyce’s rendering of an Irish washerwoman’s brogue! This is a treasure we owe to C. K. Ogden and Basic English. Joyce, with his famous memory, must have known “Anna Livia” by heart. Nevertheless, he faltered at one place and, as in the Ulysses recording, they had to begin again. Ogden gave me both the first and second versions. Joyce gave me the immense sheets on which Ogden had had “Anna Livia” printed in huge type so that the author-his sight was growing dimmer-could read it without effort. I wondered where Mr. Ogden had got hold of such big type, until my friend Maurice Saillet, examining it, told me that the corresponding pages in the book had been photographed and much enlarged.


Below are the texts themselves:


FROM THE “AEOLUS” EPISODE OF ULYSSES (1924)


He began:
      —Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Great was my admiration in listening to the remarks addressed to the youth of Ireland a moment since by my learned friend. It seemed to me that I had been transported into a country far away from this country, into an age remote from this age, that I stood in ancient Egypt and that I was listening to the speech of some highpriest of that land addressed to the youthful Moses.
      His listeners held their cigarettes poised to hear, their smokes ascending in frail stalks that flowered with his speech. And let our crooked smokes. Noble words coming. Look out. Could you try your hand at it yourself?
      —And it seemed to me that I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest raised in a tone of like haughtiness and like pride. I heard his words and their meaning was revealed to me.

FROM THE FATHERS

It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are corrupted which neither if they were supremely good nor unless they were good could be corrupted. Ah, curse you! That’s saint Augustine.
      —Why will you jews not accept our culture, our religion and our language? You are a tribe of nomad herdsmen: we are a mighty people. You have no cities nor no wealth: our cities are hives of humanity and our galleys, trireme and quadrireme, laden with all manner merchandise furrow the waters of the known globe. You have but emerged from primitive conditions: we have a literature, a priesthood, an agelong history and a polity.
      Nile.
      Child, man, effigy. By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes: a man supple in combat: stonehorned, stonebearded, heart of stone.
      —You pray to a local and obscure idol: our temples, majestic and mysterious, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serfdom, awe and humbleness: ours thunder and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is an host and terrible are her arms. Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles at our name.
      A dumb belch of hunger cleft his speech. He lifted his voice above it boldly:
      —But, ladies and gentlemen, had the youthful Moses listened to and accepted that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spirit before that arrogant admonition he would never have brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage, nor followed the pillar of the cloud by day. He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai’s mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.



THE “ANNA LIVIA PLURABELLE” SECTION FROM FINNEGANS WAKE (1929)


Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a tailing and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing. My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fielhur? Filou! What age is at? Its saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace! Aman. Will we spread them here now? Ay, we will. Flip! Spread on your bank and I’ll spread mine on mine. Flep! It’s what I’m doing. Spread! It’s churning chill. Der went is rising. I’ll lay a few stones on the hostel sheets. A man and his bride embraced between them. Else I’d have sprinkled and folded them only. And I’ll tie my butcher’s apron here. It’s suety yet. The strollers will pass it by. Six shifts, ten kerchiefs, nine to hold to the fire and this for the code, the convent napkins twelve, one baby’s shawl. Good mother Jossiph knows, she said. Whose had? Mutter snores? Deataceas! Wharnow are alle her childer, say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them farther? Allalivial, allalluvial! Some here, more no more, more again lost alla stranger. I’ve heard tell that same brooch of the Shannons was married into a family in Spain. And all the Dunders de Dunnes in Markland’s Vineland beyond Brendan’s herring pool takes number nine in yangsee’s hats. And one of Biddy’s beads went bobbling till she rounded up lost histereve with a marigold and a cobbler’s candle in a side strain of a main drain of a manzinahurries off Bachelor’s Walk. But all that’s left to the last of the Meaghers in the loup of the years prefixed and between is one kneebuckle and two hooks in the front. Do you tell me that now? I do in troth. Orara por Orbe and poor Las Animas! Ussa, Ulla, we’re umbas all! Mezha, didn’t you hear it a deluge of times, ufer and ufer, respund to spond? You deed, you deed! I need, I need! It’s that irrawaddyng I’ve stoke in my aars. It all but husheth the lethest zswound. Oronoko! What’s your trouble? Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue riding the high horse there forehengist? Father of Otters, it is himself! Yonne there! Isset that? On Fallareen Common? You’re thinking of Astley’s Amiptheayter where the bobby restrained you making sugarstuck pouts to the ghostwhite horse of the Peppers. Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper. It’s well I know your sort of slop. Flap! Ireland sober is Ireland stiff. Lord help you, Maria, full of grease, the load is with me! Your prayers, I sonht zo! Madammangut! Were you lifting your elbow, tell us, glazy cheeks, in Conway’s Carrigacurra canteen? Was I what, hobbledyhips? Flop! Your rere gait’s creakorhueman bitts your butts disagrees. Amn’t I up since the damp dawn, marthared mary allacook, with Corrigan’s pulse and varicoarse veins, my pramaxle smashed, Alice Jane in decline and my oneeyed mongrel twice run over, soaking and bleaching boiler rags, and sweating cold, a widow like me, for to deck my tennis champion son, the laundryman with the lavandier flannerls? You won your limpopo limp from the husky hussars when Collars and Cuffs was heir to the town and your slur gave the stink to Carlow. Holy Scamander, I sar it again! Near the golden falls. Icis on us! Seints of light! Zezere! Subdue your noise, you hamble creature! What is it but a blackburry growth on the dwyergray ass them four old coldgers owns. Are you meanem Tarpey and Lyons and Gregory? I meyne now, thank all, the four of them, and the roar of them, that draves that stray in the mist and old Johnny MacDougal along with them. Is that the Poolbeg flasher beyant, pharphar, or a fireboat coasting nyar the Kishtna or a glow I behold within a hedge or my Garry come back from the Indies? Wait till the honeying of the lune, love! Die eve, little eve, die! We see that wonder in your eye. We’ll meet again, we’ll part once more. The spot I’ll seek if the hour you’ll find. My chart shines high where the blue milk’s upset. Forgivemequick, I’m going! Bubye! And you, pluck your watch, forgetmenot. Your evenlode. So save to jurna’s end! My sights are swimming thicker on me by the shadows to this place. I sow home slowly now by own way, moyvalley way. Towy I too, rathmine.
      Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia, trinkettoes! And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills. Gammer and gaffer we’re all their gangsters. Hadn’t he seven dams to wive him? And every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch had its seven hues. And each hue had a differing cry. Sudds for me and supper for you and the doctor’s bill for Joe John. Befor! Bifur! He married his markets, cheap by foul, I know, like any Etrurian Catholic Heathen, in their plinky lemony creamy birnies and their turkiss indienne mauves. But at milkidmass who was the spouse? Then all that was was fair. Tys Elvenland! Teems of times and happy returns. The seim anew. Ordovico or viricordo. Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle’s to be. Northmen’s thing made southfolk’s place but howmulty plurators made eachone in person? Latin me that, my trinity scholard, out of eure sanscreed into oure eryan. Hircus Civis Eblanensis! He had buckgoat paps on him, soft ones for orphans. Ho, Lord! Twins of his bosom. Lord save us! And ho! Hey? What all men? Hot? His tittering daughters of. Whawk?
      Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome? What Thom Malone? Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. Ho, talk save us! My foos won’t moos. I feel as old as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia’s daughtersons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now! Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!







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    Seeing Joyce

    - June 12, 2012 in Articles, Books, finnegans wake, frank budgen, frank delaney, james joyce, Literature, Painting, ulysses

    This year’s ‘Bloomsday’ – 108 years after Leopold Bloom took his legendary walk around Dublin on the 16th June 1904 – is the first since the works of James Joyce entered the public domain. Frank Delaney asks whether we should perhaps now stop trying to read Joyce and instead make visits to him as to a gallery.

    Photograph Joyce had made in Zurich, 1915, and sent to Michael Healy, Nora's uncle. Source: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

    In 1931, Stanislaus Joyce wrote to his older brother, James, a letter that echoed with many voices.
    I cannot read your work in progress. The vague support you get from certain French and American critics I set down to pure snobbery … What is the meaning of that rout of drunken words? … You want to show that you are a superclever superman with a superstyle.
    It wasn’t the younger sibling’s first complaint, nor even the most bitter; as brother of the more famous Jim he had spoken out far more abusively at earlier, similarly “obscure” moments in the Joycean career. Nor was Stanny’s the only such complaint; in fact such allegations and dismissals would become more or less general. This time, the “work in progress” became Finnegans Wake (1939), a book that has defeated most of its would-be readers wholly and all partially, but that same frustrated opprobrium had begun with Ulysses (1922) and in due time would discolour everything that Joyce wrote. To accept the general impeachment of James Joyce is never to know vast delight. The majority has ruled for a long time – Joyce is “difficult,” Prince of the Unintelligibles, out-Steining Gertrude and that’s that, no further argument. If, out of sensitivity, out of respect, you find yourself reluctant to blame the artist himself, you could, if you wished, turn on the academics. Sneer at them, “Well, they certainly took Joyce at his word when he said ‘My work will keep the professors busy for three hundred years’.” Indeed. Hammer them further; didn’t they then make him exclusive, intensify his arcane reputation, isolate him from the common reader because they were hunting down all those recondite doctorates in his thickets? And, as every dog and Derrida knows, the more obscure the thesis the more summa the cum laude. However, why yield to either frustration or cynicism, especially in the face of such great art? Since Joyce believed that his writing both synthesized and transcended other disciplines, specifically painting and music, why not look for him somewhere over there? Indeed, why not wonder whether Joyce only needs a little pathfinding, a little extra scrutiny?

    Joyce playing the guitar in Trieste, 1915. The photograph is by Ottacaro Weiss, a friend who was apparently "scandalized" by his Joyce's guitar playing skills. The guitar is now on display at the James Joyce Museum in Martello Tower.

    There’s a lot to be gained when you (sort of) set a thief to catch a thief. An artist from one discipline can refresh how we see a fellow-artist from another. Shaw on Rheingold; “Let us not forget that godhood means to Wagner infirmity and compromise, and manhood strength and integrity.” Henry James remarked upon Sir Christopher Wren’s “insincere recesses and niches” at St. Paul’s. James Joyce attracted painters. Brancusi painted a portrait of the artist as an older man – one slender whorl and some thin tangential lines (prompting Joyce’s father to say, “Well – Jim has changed a bit since I saw him”). Matisse provided stunning illustrations for an edition of Ulysses (though by taking his inspiration from Homer he annoyed Joyce – who probably didn’t stop to think about Matisse’s language skills). And there was one other artist, admittedly minor, who, for those seeking to understand Joyce, made the greatest of all differences. In 1918, an English painter, Frank Budgen (1882-1971), met James Joyce at a party in Zurich. Both were aged 36 and within their first conversation Joyce responded to Budgen’s natural sensitivity and felt safe with him. Rare compliment, he then showed Budgen his work in progress of the day – the first three chapters of Ulysses, four years before the book would appear in print. If there can be a natural kinship between painters and writers, Budgen, the perfect reader, proved it. To Joyce’s “difficult” material he brought his own sense of how any artist must render life. In a memoir, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (1934), he described the great modernist’s prose from his own artistic vantage: “It is like an impressionist painting. The shadows are full of colour; the whole is built up out of nuances instead of being constructed in broad masses; things are seen as immersed in a luminous fluid; colour supplies the modeling and the total effect is arrived at through a countless number of small touches.” Seen thus, Joyce’s work changes for ever. No longer do we have to read what multiple critics called “tormented prose.” The myriad disdainers, whose negatives ranged from “vulgar” and “foul” to “psychic disintegration” – they fail. As Budgen saw him, Joyce’s higher purpose gleams like dawn. Through Budgen’s lens, not only may we now excuse Joyce the dense layers of reference, often six deep in the use or placement of a single word, we may relish them. Instead of fighting him phrase by phrase, we can trust him image by image as we see one art relating to another – literature rendered as painting. It’s like stumbling into a field of diamonds – hard, brilliant flashes of light everywhere. In short, Frank Budgen alters James Joyce’s state by making him a writer whom we see rather than merely read.

    Sketch of 'Poldy', Leopold Bloom, from Joyce's notes.

    That Joyce was ever thus can be discerned early. The first paragraph of his first generally published work, ‘The Sisters’, in Dubliners (1914) contains this sentence, a painting in itself: “If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse.” Every story in the collection offers similar illustrative prose; “When she got outside the streets were shining with rain and she was glad of her old brown raincloak” (Clay). The head of a man who has fallen lies in “a dark medal of blood” (Grace). Or, straight from Renoir, “She was a slim, growing girl, pale in complexion and with hay-coloured hair.” It’s possible to pass off the many bright phrases in Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) as “Show: Don’t Tell,” the creative writing school ideal. The impressionism doesn’t truly kick in until Ulysses; thereafter it dominates and does so in ways both brilliantly technical and artistically profound – and occasionally parodic. For example, in a technique vital to painting, the shift between light and shadow, Stephen Dedalus, under the sunny daylight of the most famous June morning in literature, walks along Sandymount Strand – with his eyes closed. Once the image is in place, literature then takes the meaning up, up and away – “walking into eternity,” thinks Stephen. And yet, when the book was published in February 1922, and was at the moment the most famous book in the world, that same ‘Proteus’ chapter, with its now-notorious “ineluctable modality of the visible,” was the downfall of so many would-be readers. Why didn’t they ask Budgen? Take the first of his three crucial remarks: “It is like an impressionist painting. The shadows are full of colour; the whole is built up out of nuances instead of being constructed in broad masses.” Use that observation to interrogate a later chapter in Ulysses, ‘The Wandering Rocks’. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. Lunch has been taken, Hamlet has been dissected within the Library and another landscape with figures is about to be painted. We’ve already had strong hints of this kind of canvas; Stephen steps away from a crowded bathing-place; a funeral proceeds across town; Mr. Bloom peregrinates among people and streets towards his lunch. Now, in ‘Wandering Rocks’, we are about to view the city as L.S. Lowry and his stick-figures. Or the Breughels or Averkamp, those Low Countries scenes of teeming villages. Or a Renoir afternoon. Within the first few hundred words, we observe a grave and serious priest, who gives a blessing to a one-legged sailor, meets and greets the wife of an M.P., and chats to three little schoolboys. Across the canvas strides a dancing teacher in “silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots.” Next we see Mrs. McGuinness, “stately, silver-haired,” with “a fine carriage… like Mary, Queen of Scots.” And on it goes; more schoolboys, “satchelled” this time; shopkeepers; a police constable; “two unlabouring men” lounging against the window of a pub; “a bargeman with a hat of dirty straw” – the book at this moment almost ceases to have characters; rather they become members of a painted day.

    Colourised photograph of Sackville Street in Dublin, circa 1900. As I was Going Down Sackville Street was a novel by Joyce's friend (and inspiration for Ulysses' Buck Mulligan), Oliver St. John Gogarty - titled after an Irish Ballad which Joyce sang for Gogarty in 1904.

    In 1920, for Carlo Linati, the Italian translator of his play Exiles (1918), Joyce produced The Linati Schema, a breakdown of the chapter’s nineteen segments, in which many characters recur. He listed the chapter’s concerns as “Objects, Places, Forces, Ulysses,” called the “technic” of the chapter a “shifting labyrinth between two shores,” and defined the “organ” of the piece “as “blood.” All through the ‘Wandering Rocks’ chapter the corpuscles of Dublin’s lifeblood pulse along the veins and arteries of the city. In general, Joyce threw down many deliberate, almost sadistic challenges, not least to the “formal,” that is to say, sequential use of language. But if Ulysses is Impressionism, it can’t drag you back to its old ways. As such, it passes all Budgen’s tests, not least “the whole is built up out of nuances instead of being constructed in broad masses.” Few characters in most chapters receive great dramatic roles, and yet they all tell the story of the sixteenth of June 1904 in Dublin. Yeats wasn’t meaning to condescend when he referred to the book’s content as “the vulgarity of a single Dublin day” – he also meant vulgus, the crowd. Twenty years before Joyce was born, the American painter, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), wrote to a friend, “In a big picture you can see what o’clock it is, afternoon or morning, if it’s hot or cold, winter or summer, and what kind of people are there, and what they are doing, an why they are doing it.” Eakins, not an impressionist, rather a near-complete and Rembrandt-ish realist, might have been writing about all of Dubliners, a great deal of A Portrait of the Artist and many if not most of the eighteen chapters in Ulysses. When Joyce published his two largest works, critical attention went to the monologue intérieur in Ulysses and the dream-capturing of Finnegans Wake. The former settled down as his book of the day, the latter his book of the night. All that dismay at Ulysses gave way to the desperation at “the Wake.” This was truly beyond everything. Yet Finnegans Wake takes care of the rest of Budgen’s observations. The book behaves differently – same painter, different technique; yet again “the whole is built up out of nuances instead of being constructed in broad masses.” Budgen may have thought that he was referring to Ulysses, but the Wake was already under way when he wrote his invaluable memoir. And that novel (if such it is) is truest of all to the third part of Budgen’s opinion – “things are seen as immersed in a luminous fluid.”

    Photograph taken of Joyce by C. Ruf. in Zurich, ca. 1918, the year he was to start work on Ulysses and met Frank Budgen.

    This is where Budgen nails it. There is simply no point in trying to read Finnegans Wake by any conventional methods. Indeed, doing so would dishonor Joyce and his intention to capture the spirit’s nocturnal mechanisms, as Ulysses had the diurnal. Best to take that phrase of Budgen’s at its face value and immerse oneself in the book’s fluid. When you read in the old way, even with conscious sound, the Wake (as Ulysses does) changes before your eyes. It becomes a dreamlike book of the dead, whose power inside Joyce’s spirit was so great that he had no choice but to use a dismembered language. Joyce was putting these sentences down on the page long before he knew of the world’s newest and widest-used language: call Finnegans Wake a binary code of literature. But again, and at the risking of banging the drum too loud and too often, read it not as language; read it as, say, a gift of tongues or as music or as that benighted creature, the “prose poem.” And then as painting – and this time add Abstract to the Impressionists. It’s not just the sounds of the words; it’s the shapes. Here are some examples of the text, plucked at random (Faber, 1975). The opening paragraph: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay…” can be a sweep of colour from the south of France. And who have we here – Jackson Pollock? “The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner- ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthur- nuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.” Let’s have one more, the briefest of glimpses, a corner of a canvas and yet touchingly complete: “My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud. In peace and silence.” Taken together, this admittedly minuscule sample of three quotations is at least a sinew in Budgen’s argument. Finally, poetry is the magnifying glass of literature’s art. Yeats called it “hammering my thoughts into unity.” Though he wrote so few, James Joyce’s verses distil his painterly claim. Read Pomes Penyeach (1927), his collection of “penny apples” (he couldn’t resist punning on pommes) and you can see his brushstrokes. “He travels after a winter sun,/Urging the cattle along a cold red road”. Or, “A birdless heaven, seadusk, one lone star/Piercing the west”. And, hell, he’s almost pre-Raphaelite! “A waste of waters ruthlessly/Sways and uplifts its weedy mane”. In the Carpaccio Room at the Venice Accademia, several gigantic canvases add up to nothing short of a massive literary work. Carpaccio could have called the collection, “Venetian Life and Other Stories.” Apply the same principles to Joyce and there aren’t rooms enough, nor galleries. In the end it may all come down to the practical. Commentators have argued for Love as the one dominant element in everything Joyce wrote. There has even been a thought that if all the typos and misssteps in Ulysses could ever have been corrected, the central word in the text would be “love,” and intentionally so. Perhaps – but Light trumps it. Page by page almost, we are never too far from the sun or the moon or the candle or the lamp or the air itself as a light source. And with good reason. Throughout his life, Joyce suffered from poor and often painful eyesight. His eyes aged faster than he did and by his mid-forties he had endured multiple surgical procedures. In today’s terms, he’d probably qualify as legally blind. Did intensifying glaucoma impel him to his pen-dancing, pointillist-ism? Deformity, too, has its place in art.

    Frank Delaney, writer and broadcaster, lives in the United States, where he deconstructs Ulysses in brief weekly podcasts on his website: www.frankdelaney.com

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    James Joyce’s Chamber Music (1918 American Edition)

    - February 3, 2012 in chamber music, james joyce, love poetry, non-article, poetry, texts


    Chamber Music, by James Joyce; 1918; B.W.Huebsch, New York.

    Collection of love poems by James Joyce, originally published by Elkin Matthews in May, 1907, the same year he refused Joyce’s manuscript for Dubliners. Composed and revised between 1901 and 1906, the bulk of them were written for an imagined love, before he first ‘stepped out’ with his wife to be Nora in 16 June 1904. The title “Chamber Music” was reportedly a pun relating to the sound of urine tinkling in a chamber pot, though this seems to be a later embellishment by Joyce of the title’s meaning.

    Joyce to Stannie, Feb 1907:
    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 some of them are pretty enough to be put to music. I hope someone will do so, someone that knows old English music such as I like. Besides they are not pretentious and have a certain grace. I will keep a copy myself and (so far as I can remember) at the top of each page I will put an address, or a street so that when I open the book I can revisit the places where I wrote the different songs.


    Joyce to Stannie, 11 Feb 1907:
    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. These ideas or instincts or intuitions or impulses may be purely personal. I have no wish to codify myself as anarchist or socialist or reactionary…


    Joyce to Stannie, April 1907, debating cancelling the book:
    All that kind of thing is false… (Ellmann’s paraphrase: …insincerity and fakery… an ironic note to make them modern… essentially poems for lovers and he was no lover).


    Joyce to Nora, 21 Aug 1909:
    I like to think of you reading my verses (though it took you five years to find them out). When I wrote them I was a strange lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that some day a girl would love me. But I never could speak to the girls I used to meet at houses. Their false manners checked me at once. Then you came to me. 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, the woman for whom I wrote poems like ‘Gentle lady’ or ‘Thou leanest to the shell of night’. But then I saw that the beauty of your soul outshone that of my verses. There was something in you higher than anything I had put into them. And for this reason the book of verses is for you. It holds the desire of my youth and you, darling, were the fulfilment of that desire.


    In Nov 1909 Joyce had an elaborate handwritten copy bound as a Christmas present for Nora including this comment:
    Perhaps this book I send you now will outlive both you and me. Perhaps the fingers of some young man or young girl (our children’s children) may turn over its parchment leaves reverently when the two lovers whose initials are interlaced on the cover have long vanished from the earth. Nothing will remain then, dearest, of our poor human passion-driven bodies and who can say where the souls that looked on each other through their eyes will then be. I would pray that my soul be scattered in the wind if God would but let me blow softly for ever about one strange lonely dark-blue rain-drenched flower in a wild hedge at Aughrim or Oranmore.


    Joyce to Gorman, 1931:
    I wrote Chamber Music as a protest against myself.


    Open Library link

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