James Joyce
Relevant Non-Istrians


Pomes Penyeach

After the publication of Chamber Music, Joyce continued to write occasional poems, some of which have Triestine settings (‘Watching  the Needleboats at San Sabba’, ‘On the Beach at Fontana’) or refer to events which occurred during  this period. A number of these poems (‘A Flower Given  to my Daughter’ and ‘Nightpiece’) are clearly related  to Giacomo Joyce or to his relationship with Nora (‘Tutto è sciolto’ and ‘She Weeps Over  Rahoon’), while ‘Nightpiece’ would also have a role in the genesis of Finnegans Wake

There is more of Joyce in these verses, and occasionally we can see a command of language that seems more appropriate to the author of Ulysses. Less lyrical than Chamber Music, these poems have a darker and more somber feel, and more than a few seem touched by a hint of nostalgia. This collection also contains "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight," a sharply drawn piece that ranks up with the best of any poet's work.

Collected as Pomes Penyeach, the poems had been offered to Ezra Pound in 1926, who said "They belong in the Bible or in the family album with the portraits." In March 1927, though, Archibald MacLeish responded very favorably so Joyce went ahead with publication.

They were first published 6 (or 7) July 1927 by Silvia Beach's Shakespeare & Company - to its lone review in the Daily Herald - with a pale-green cover, the color of Joyce's favorite 'Caville' apples (and included his daughter's illustrations?). Fifty copies were printed and sold for one shilling (twelvepence) or twelve francs, according to Ellmann, thus verifying the title, since for twelve pence one would receive a baker's dozen of short lyric poems.

Jeffares and Kennelly explain: "This book cost a shilling, so that we might have expected from its title a dozen poems, but Joyce followed an Irish custom in adding a 'tilly' (from Irish tuilleadh, an added measure), a thirteenth poem, the first poem in the book being titled 'Tilly'. He probably had in mind the custom of Dublin milkmen and milkwomen of pouring an extra amount of milk into the purchaser's receptacle from the small, usually pint-sized, tilly can that accompanied a larger can or churn."

In 1936 Joyce' published his Collected Poems. It included the first public appearance of "Ecce Puere" which was written in 1932. The title meaning "Behold the Boy-child," this poem was written soon after Joyce's father died and his grandson Stephen was born, and it contains that same unguarded honesty of his earlier poems. It shows a man in transition from a son to a grandfather and torn between "joy and grief," finally realizing his need for reconciliation – and forgiveness.

The collection also included two additional poems: 'The Holy Office' (1904) and 'Gas from a Burner' (1912).

"The Holy Office"

This poem dates from 1904, shortly before Joyce was to leave Ireland, and originally took the form of a broadside printed by Joyce and circulated throughout his Dublin circle. Designed to defend and clarify his artistic position, it took a well-aimed swipe at the narrow minded people of Dublin, their refusal to face reality, and their predilection for art in the "Celtic Twilight" vein. Joyce, putting himself squarely in the tradition of Aristotle and St. Aquinas, reckons his writing as a purgative for all Dublin's hypocrisy: "

That they may dream their dreamy dreams
I carry off their filthy streams... Thus I relieve their timid arses
Perform my office of Katharsis."

His unflinchingly honest art is a mirror which reflects the things they would rather not acknowledge. And furthermore, the poem declares that he's perfectly willing to pay the price of his holy office – that he must bear the brunt of their anger and their hypocritical scorn, for that is the task for all artists true to their principles, even if it leaves them "self-doomed, unafraid, unfellowed, friendless and alone."

"The Holy Office" is a delightfully wicked satire, and when one remembers that Joyce had the vast majority of his career ahead of him, it seems a deliciously arrogant spurt of venom, a swift strike from the lucifer match of a morning star.

Returning to the Pomes Peneyeach, unlike the poems in Chamber Music, not much about the poetry is overtly "musical" — yet by the time they were published, Joyce was famous, and his social circle in Paris had expanded to include artists of every stripe, including (not surprisingly) many in the music business. Two of his friends, Herbert Hughes and Arthur Bliss, conscripted 11 other composers to create a book of 13 songs, with each one to write an original setting for one of the poems. The Joyce Book, as it was called, was published in 1933 as a tribute to the author in a limited edition of 500 copies. The following table lists the composers and the respective poems they set to music.

            Composer Poem Date and Place
1 E.J. Moeran: Tilly 1904, Dublin
2 Arnold Bax: Watching the Needleboats at San Sabba 1912, Trieste
3 Albert Roussel: A Flower Given to My Daughter 1913, Trieste
4 Herbert Hughes: She Weeps Over Rahoon 1913, Trieste
5 John Ireland: Tutto è Sciolto 1914 (13 July), Trieste
6 Roger Sessions: On the Beach at Fontana 1914, Trieste
7 Arthur Bliss: Simples 1914, Trieste
8 Herbert Howells: Flood 1914, Trieste
9 George Antheil: Nightpiece 1914 (22 January), Trieste
10 Edgardo Carducci: Alone 1916, Zurich
11 Eugene Goossens: A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight 1917, Zurich
12 C.W. Orr: Bahnhofstrasse 1918, Zurich
13 Bernard Van Dieren: A Prayer 1924, Parisa


Dublin, 1904

[Earlier versions' titles: 'Cabra' (1903, after his mother's death), 'Ruminants' (1919). Cabra is the Dublin district where Joyce was living at his mother's death (also depicted in Ulysses)]This poem was originally written as "Cabra" in 1903, "sometime after the death of his mother [May Joyce] on 13 August. The poem was revised in 1919 and retitled 'Ruminants.' Joyce later rewrote the poem, yet again, renaming it 'Tilly,' and placed it first in his collection Pomes Penyeach (1927)." (Fargnoli and Gillespie) "Cabra" is a name of "a Dublin district where Joyce's family lived at 7 St Peter's Terrace from late October 1902 until late March 1904." (Fargnoli and Gillespie)

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!

Watching the Needleboats at San Sabba

Trieste, 1912

[Published in the Saturday Review (London), 17 September 1913. San Sabba is near Trieste. 'Return no more' is from Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" accoring to Ellmann, which the scullers were singing that day. ]

I heard their young hearts crying
Loveward above the glancing oar
And heard the prairie grasses sighing:
No more, return no more!

O hearts, O sighing grasses,
Vainly your loveblown bannerets mourn!
No more will the wild wind that passes
Return, no more return.

A Flower Given to My Daughter

Trieste, 1913

[Ellmann claims this is about one of Joyce's students, whom he had a crush on, also the subject of Giacomo Joyce. Lucia turned six in July 1913.]

Frail the white rose and frail are
Her hands that gave
Whose soul is sere and paler
Than time's wan wave.

Rosefrail and fair-- yet frailest
A wonder wild
In gentle eyes thou veilest,
My blueveined child.

She Weeps over Rahoon

Trieste, 1913

[This is based on Nora's relationship to Michael Bodkin, also used in "The Dead"]

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 too our hearts, O love, shall lie and cold
As his sad heart has lain
Under the moongrey nettles, the black mould
And muttering rain.

Tutto è sciolto

Trieste, 13 July 1914

[The title translates: "All is unloosed"]

A birdless heaven, seadusk, one lone star
Piercing the west,
As thou, fond heart, love's time, so faint, so far,

The clear young eyes' soft look, the candid brow,
The fragrant hair,
Falling as through the silence falleth now
Dusk of the air.

Why then, remembering those shy
Sweet lures, repine
When the dear love she yielded with a sigh
Was all but thine?

On the Beach at Fontana

Trieste, 1914

[The "Fontana" baths - Molo Maria Teresa (today Molo Fratelli Bandiera)

In the summer Joyce was a regular visitor to the "Fontana" baths. Of the original bathing places only the "Lanterna" (Movie of the baths: 1.3 Mb MPEG - http://www.univ.trieste.it/~nirdange/netjoyce/filmati/pedocin.mpg) baths have survived; they are the only ones to maintain the old tradition of keeping the beach divided into two separate areas, one for the male swimmers and the other for the female. Joyce mentions the "Fontana" baths in the Trieste Notebook, in a passage entitled "Giorgino" dedicated to his newly-born son. "I held him in the sea at the baths of Fontana and felt with humble love the trembling of his frail shoulders: Asperge(s) me, Domine hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me et super nivem dealbalor ". He returned to the theme when Giorgio was older in a lyrical poem called "On the Beach at Fontana" which he wrote in 1914 and later included in Pomes Penyeach .

Joyce's son Giorgio turned 9 years old in July 1914. The opening line faintly echoes Stephen's 'drivel' poem in Portrait V]

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!


Trieste, 1914

[The epigraph translates "O fair blonde, Thou art as the wave!" Lucia turned seven in July 1914.

Wallace Stevens had a similar poem: "Cy Est Pourtraicte, Mme Ste Ursule..." written 1915, published September 1923. (Joyce may have seen it and jotted FW note 2.59 in Sept23: "God annoyed by prayer".) The first verse:

Ursula, in a garden, found
A bed of radishes.
She kneeled upon the ground
And gathered them,
With flowers around,
Blue, gold, pink, and green....]
O bella bionda,
Sei come l'onda!
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.


Trieste, 1915

Goldbrown upon the sated flood
The rockvine clusters lift and sway.
Vast wings above the lambent waters brood
Of sullen day.

A waste of waters ruthlessly
Sways and uplifts its weedy mane
Where brooding day stares down upon the sea
In dull disdain.

Uplift and sway, O golden vine,
Your clustered fruits to love's full flood,
Lambent and vast and ruthless as is thine


Trieste, 22 January 1915

['starknell' should be pronounced with a silent 'k': star-knell not stark-knell.

Joyce used this poem in a very early Finnegans Wake draft. The context seems to suggest that Isolde is shocked by the poet's (Tristan's) heartlessness. (Cf. FW note: "T S Eliot ends idea of poetry for ladies") (I've removed most of the commas, based on this earlier version)

Robert Herrick wrote a poem with the same title. Ellmann associates it with Giacomo Joyce on the strength of the phrase 'sindark nave' (otherwise unlikely).]

Gaunt in gloom
The pale stars their torches
Enshrouded wave.
Ghostfires from heaven's far verges faint illume
Arches on soaring arches,
Night's sindark nave.

The lost hosts awaken
To service till
In moonless gloom each lapses, muted, dim
Raised when she has and shaken
Her thurible.

And long and loud
To night's nave upsoaring
A starknell tolls
As the bleak incense surges, cloud on cloud,
Voidward from the adoring
Waste of souls.


 Zurich, 1916

The noon's greygolden meshes make
All night a veil,
The shorelamps in the sleeping lake
Laburnum tendrils trail.

The sly reeds whisper to the night
A name-- her name-
And all my soul is a delight,
A swoon of shame.

A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight

Zurich, 1917

[Joyce's Zurich theatrical company, the English Players, wasn't founded until 1918 (using money given anonymously by Mrs Harold McCormick in February) so this poem predates it.]

They mouth love's language. Gnash
The thirteen teeth
Your lean jaws grin with. Lash
Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh.
Love's breath in you is stale, worded or sung,
As sour as cat's breath,
Harsh of tongue.

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!


Zurich, 1918

The eyes that mock me sign the way
Whereto I pass at eve of day.

Grey way whose violet signals are
The trysting and the twining star.

Ah star of evil! star of pain!
Highhearted youth comes not again

Nor old heart's wisdom yet to know
The signs that mock me as I go.

A Prayer

Paris, 1924

Come, give, yield all your strength to me!
From far a low word breathes on the breaking brain
Its cruel calm, submission's misery,
Gentling her awe as to a soul predestined.
Cease, silent love! My doom!

Blind me with your dark nearness,
O have mercy, beloved enemy of my will!
I dare not withstand the cold touch that I dread.
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!

Together, folded by the night, they lay on earth. I hear
From far her low word breathe on my breaking brain.
Come! I yield. Bend deeper upon me! I am here.
Subduer, do not leave me! Only joy, only anguish,
Take me, save me, soothe me, O spare me!

  • Poetry - http://www.robotwisdom.com/jaj/pomes.html and http://www.retortmagazine.com/mindcandy/pomespenyeach.htm and http://www.joycean.org/index.php?work=89
  • Image - http://artscad.com/A55A04/Adtel.nsf/plinks/SRVV-66BNSN
  • http://www.james-joyce-music.com/pomes_penyeach.html
  • http://www.readprint.com/author-52/James-Joyce
  • Holy Office notes - http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/joyce_works_other.html

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Created: Monday, February 13, 2006; Last Updated: Monday, December 31, 2012
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