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The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered$

Marc C. Conner

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813039763

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813039763.001.0001

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Joyce's Poetics of Knowledge

Joyce's Poetics of Knowledge

Chapter:
(p.143) 7 Joyce's Poetics of Knowledge
Source:
The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered
Author(s):
Marc C. Conner
Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813039763.003.0007

Abstract and Keywords

This essay engages the questions of knowledge, faith, and authority in Joyce's writings, focusing in particular on the “Gnostic quest” Joyce pursues in Chamber Music. Beginning with the profound struggles over religious authority and knowledge that Joyce presents in Portrait and Ulysses, and that mirror many of Joyce's own personal struggles during the very period leading up to his composition of the Chamber Music poems, the essay examines Joyce's pursuit of alternative means of salvation, in particular the Gnostic hope of knowing one's way to the divine. Studying in detail the Chamber Music poems, following Joyce's original ordering of that sequence, we see that Joyce writes his way through a pattern of Gnostic pursuit, ultimately abandoning love in search of otherworldly wisdom and ecstatic union with the divine unmediated by Church or creed. The dispiriting shift in the second half of the sequence away from consummated earthly love and towards a solitary, wandering, perhaps fruitless quest for visionary knowledge intimates the pattern Joyce foresaw, but ultimately rejected, for himself.

Keywords:   Knowledge, Poetics, Gnosticism, Religion, Chamber Music, Salvation, wisdom

As Stephen Dedalus, aspiring Irish poet, wanders Sandymount Strand midway through the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses, he asks himself the question that will haunt him throughout the day: “What is that word known to all men?” (U 3.435). Although in “Scylla and Charybdis” Stephen will suggest that the word is “love,”1 nevertheless in “Circe” he still seeks the word: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men” (U 15.4192–93). Stephen's epistemological uncertainty and his relentless pursuit of the word of knowledge suggest that among the many roles Stephen assumes in Ulysses, he is preeminently the seeker of knowledge. The elusive “word” he so restlessly seeks is the wisdom that he hopes will deliver him from the bondage of the world. For ultimately Stephen does not seek the creation of art—which is one of many reasons his actual artistic production is so scanty. What he fervently desires is salvation without recourse to faithful obedience. This desire reveals Stephen as an avatar of the young James Joyce, who agonized over this same yearning in the poems of his first book, Chamber Music.

The dramatic “non serviam” that Stephen declares near the end of Portrait, and insists upon, perhaps even to his own destruction, in the “Circe” episode of Ulysses, confirms his refusal to attain salvation through obedience. Yet, as Hugh Kenner points out, Stephen “never expresses doubt of the existence of God … his Non serviam is not a non credo” (127).2 In his climactic conversation with Cranly near the end of Portrait, Stephen states of the Eucharist that he will “neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it,” and when Cranly then asks Stephen if he is “sure that our religion is false and that Jesus was not the son of God,” Stephen responds, “I am not at all sure of it.” In Joyce's Misbelief, Roy Gottfried responds to such passages by concluding that (p.144) Stephen, like Joyce, is neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but rather a “misbeliever,” one who still engages issues of religious belief but “consider[s] them from a perspective, an angle, that is willfully driven just to the outside” (2). Gottfried interprets Stephen and Joyce as definitive heretics, deliberate schismatics, unable to abandon their quest for what the faith promises, but unwilling to surrender to orthodoxy's demand for “assent, self-denial, and submission” (2–3):

Joyce was concerned with religious ideas, never able to break away from their consideration, never able to break their powerful hold on his mind. He turns to them again and again early and late in his works, never able to either disprove or ignore them. Neither a disbeliever nor an unbeliever, but never able to be a believer, he misbelieves continually. His misbelief affords him possibilities of challenge, of openness, that all invigorate his artistic endeavors. (9)

Gottfried's central claim, that Joyce never abandoned the religious quest, is consonant with my approach to the figure of Stephen and the young Joyce himself (even if I take issue with many of Gottfried's claims and his methods of reading Joyce's religious vision).3

Stephen's ambivalence in religion is marked by his inability to comprehend love—when asked by Cranly if he loves his mother, Stephen can only say, “I don't know what your words mean”—and by his overwhelming terror toward “a malevolent reality behind those things I say I fear” (P 240, 243), including the transubstantiated Eucharist. Caught between his terror of the divine and his bafflement by love, Stephen seeks a salvific knowledge that will empower him to attain the heavenly kingdom in which he cannot quite disbelieve. This knowledge will liberate him from the oppressive authority of the Catholic Church, which holds in its grasp the keys to the otherworldly kingdom that Stephen demands. Stephen therefore is a definitive Gnostic seeker, hoping to “progress beyond faith to understanding, that is, to gnosis” (Pagels, Origin of Satan, 167). He desires what Hans Jonas describes as “‘knowledge of the way’—of the soul's way out of the world—comprising the sacramental and magical preparations for its future ascent … reach[ing] the God beyond the world and reunit[ing] with the divine substance” (“Gnosticism,” 340). Although Stephen has rejected salvation through the Church and its required faith and obedience, he cannot reject (p.145) his desire for salvation. Consequently he replaces salvation through faith with salvation through knowledge.

This desire for hidden knowledge drives Stephen to muse in “Proteus” upon the early heretics—“Photius and the brood of mockers of whom Mulligan was one, and Arius, warring his life long upon the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and Valentine, spurning Christ's terrene body, and the subtle African heresiarch Sabellius who held that the Father was Himself His own Son” (U 1.656–60)—all figures who sought to interrogate the relation between the divine Logos and the incarnate Christ, between otherworldly knowledge and an embodied, material God, between the liberated spirit and the prison of the flesh. Yet Stephen's obsession with these issues is less about the subtleties of Trinitarian theology and more about the conflict between liberty and authority. For, as Elaine Pagels points out, “when Gnostic and orthodox Christians discussed the nature of God, they were at the same time debating the issue of spiritual authority,” or who had the authority to define both the divine and the proper human response to the divine (Gnostic Gospels, 34). The Gnostics, in their battle with orthodoxy to claim and define the true path to God, promise to point Stephen toward “knowledge as a way of salvation from this evil world, which was not created by the one true God” (Ehrman 144).4

Stephen's interest in alternative spiritualities is not unlike the inclinations of Joyce himself at about this same age, around twenty years old. Like Stephen, who wants to reject the creed of his youth but cannot embrace mere materialism, Joyce was drawn toward, first, the theosophic movement and then toward study of more serious mystical writers such as St. John of the Cross and Thomas à Kempis, among others. When Stanislaus—whose bitter atheism, by his own admission, always contrasts with his brother's more tolerant ecumenism (Boyle, James Joyce's Pauline Vision, x)—asked James why he insisted on “pottering about with the misty mystics,” Joyce responded: “They interest me. In my opinion, they are writing about a very real spiritual experience. … And they write about it with a subtlety that I don't find in many so-called psychological novels” (S. Joyce, MBK, 131–32).5 In this search Joyce parallels Stephen, who seeks through his poetic imagination to attain the Godhead for which he yearns. As Nathan Cervo summarizes Stephen's thought in Portrait, “for him, epistemology is poetics; poetics is theophany” (54). Through this divine poetics, or poetics of (p.146) knowledge, Stephen, like Joyce in his youth, hopes to surpass the faith of his fathers and to attain not just knowledge of, but oneness with, divinity.

This desire to know one's way to the ineffable forms the very core of Gnosticism, as Jonas explains:

The ultimate “object” of gnosis is God: its event in the soul transforms the knower himself by making him a partaker in the divine existence (which means more than assimilating him to the divine essence).… The “knowledge” is not only an instrument of salvation but itself the very form in which the goal of salvation, i.e., ultimate perfection, is possessed. In these cases knowledge and the attainment of the known by the soul are claimed to coincide—the claim of all true mysticism. (Gnostic Religion, 35, emphasis added)

Or, as the author of the Gnostic “Gospel of Philip” states, the true initiate “is no longer a Christian but a Christ” (J. Robinson 140). Thus, the desire to come to the otherworldly through secret wisdom offers an alternative salvation—even a transcendent salvation—in the mind of Stephen, and, perhaps, in the mind of James Joyce.6

This desire for salvation through knowledge is inextricably linked to poetry. Stephen's first reference to “the word known to all men” in “Proteus” quickly blends into lines from Yeats's “Who Goes with Fergus?”: “And no more turn aside and brood” (U 3.434, 445). The connection between Stephen's quest for a transcendent knowledge and this slender lyric of the early Yeats—a poem Joyce praised as “the best lyric in the world” (JJII 67)—tells us much about Joyce's early concept of what poetry can attain. Joyce, of course, for all his public rivalry with Yeats, greatly admired the poet's work; Ellmann states that “in English there was no one writing verse or fiction whom he admired more” (JJII 98), and Joyce wrote in reviewing Gorman's biography that he “had an immense admiration for Yeats as a poet” (JJII 101). Indeed, Joyce's eventual turn away from poetry toward fiction can be partly explained as his realization that in poetry he could not rival Yeats, whereas in prose Joyce would gain supremacy.7

“Fergus” in particular wielded a powerful attraction for the young Joyce. He set “Fergus” to music, and would sing it to his brother George in a “melancholy chant” during George's fatal illness, as Stephen does to his mother during her dying; it seems the poem had a powerful personal connection for Joyce. Why the attraction to Yeats's Fergus? Joyce likely was drawn to not (p.147) just the Fergus of “Who Goes with Fergus?” but also the Fergus of “Fergus and the Druid,” which first appeared in 1892, the same year that “Who Goes with Fergus?” appeared in The Countess Cathleen (Allt and Alspach, 102–4, 125). In “Fergus and the Druid,” Yeats imagines a Fergus who, weary of his kingship, a “burden without end,” asks the Druid to give him instead “the dreaming wisdom that is yours.”8 Yeats's Fergus seeks the release from the world that Pagels sees as a defining Gnostic impulse: “Realizing the essential Self, the divine within, the Gnostic laughed in joy at being released from external constraints to celebrate his identification with the divine being” (Gnostic Gospels, 144). Yet for Fergus, this otherworldly vision leads not to the desired wisdom, but rather to despair, as Fergus ends having “grown nothing, knowing all,” consumed by the “sorrow” he finds in the created world.

Similarly, the Fergus of “Who Goes with Fergus?” seeks to escape the tedium of existence, to “pierce the deep wood's woven shade” and find a place or condition in which one may “brood on hopes and fear no more,” and particularly escape the necessity to “brood / Upon love's bitter mystery.” Yet this Fergus, for all his claims to lead one to otherworldly rapture, has dominion precisely over the four elements of this created world: the brazen cars, the wood, the sea, and the stars. Thus Yeats's concept of Fergus reveals both the paradigmatic Gnostic seeker, desiring escape from the mundane and initiation into the world of knowing, and the almost cautionary figure who shows the very futility, undesirability, or danger of precisely such a Gnostic quest, and even a paradoxical attraction toward the elements of the created world. Joyce's fascination with Fergus, therefore, may well be precisely a fascination with Yeats's own exploration of the desire for limitless knowledge, and the futility—or even wisdom—of just such a quest.9 Consequently, Joyce's portrait of Stephen Dedalus in both Portrait and Ulysses can be understood as a portrait of the artist as a failed Gnostic seeker.

But before he ever worked through this pattern of Gnostic seeking in the character of Stephen Dedalus, the young James Joyce explored these ideas in his cycle of poems, Chamber Music, published in 1907 but written largely between 1902 and 1904. In this sequence of short lyric poems, Joyce writes his way through a Gnostic pursuit, ultimately abandoning love—the putative aim of the poems—in search of otherworldly wisdom. Like Yeats's Fergus, and unlike Stephen Dedalus, the seeker in Chamber Music ultimately comes to realize the futility of his pursuit, but he is committed to (p.148) it nonetheless—he is unable to resist the Gnostic allure, even though pursuing its fleeting promise of wisdom means abandoning the earthly realm and its possibilities for human love.

Joyce's original aim with his early poetry, which he maintained at least through the initial poems of Chamber Music,10 was precisely to compose flawless love poems—a process that required him not to be in love himself. When Stanislaus asked him, “Have you ever been in love?” Joyce responded: “How would I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love?” (MBK 148). But by the end of the Chamber Music period, when he was debating whether or not to get the poems published and had already abandoned poetry for the prose of Stephen Hero and the Dubliners stories, Joyce rejected his ability and authority to write about love. Hestated to Stanislaus, “‘All that kind of thing is false,’” and claimed that he “was no love ‘pote,’” for “he had never known any love except the love of God” (JJII 260). As Chester Anderson states, in these poems “Joyce's love had only an absent object outside his self” (“Joyce's Verses,” 132). Although Joyce was pleased that “some of the ‘pomes’ had introduced an ironic note into the ‘feudal terminology’ so as to make them modern,” nevertheless by 1907, when they were finally to be published, he felt alienated from them. As Ellmann reports, “essentially the poems were for lovers, and he was no lover” (JJII 260). It would seem that from the outset of the Chamber Music project to its conclusion, Joyce's concept of poetry shifted profoundly, from a desire to celebrate and even embody human love to a rejection of that very principle.

When Stanislaus gave the Chamber Music poems his own arrangement, in an effort to give them what Stanislaus viewed as a more coherent narrative, he focused precisely on the love quest of the poems, which he viewed as “the story of a love which did not last.” In a letter to William York Tindall, Stanislaus describes his own arrangement as “approximately allegretto, andante cantabile, mosso—to suggest a closed episode of youth and love. … I wished the poems to be read as a connected sequence, representing the closed chapter of that intensely lived life in Dublin, or more broadly, representing the withering of the Adonis garden of youth and pleasure.”11 Tindall agrees that this arrangement is more “dramatic,” by which I think he means the poems now follow a more easily comprehended narrative of what Stanislaus termed “the coming and passing of love” (S. Joyce, MBK, 228). But, as Robert Boyle has eloquently argued, there is a tremendous intellectual (p.149) loss suffered in not using Joyce's original arrangement: Joyce's arrangement “furnishes [the poems] with the kind of universal human context that Joyce found important in his works,” ultimately forming “an attempt at a portrait of himself as artist, as a projection of the woman he desired to meet in the world outside himself … and as a large philosophy dealing with human love” (“Woman Hidden,” 7, 28).

Boyle is exactly right in his view that the poems have greater intellectual reach in Joyce's arrangement, and that Stanislaus's order of them is rather limited. Boyle's central claim is that “the woman in Chamber Music” is an ideal, a literary amalgam based not on any real woman with whom Joyce was intimate, but rather on a combination of Joyce's imagination and his assorted and varied reading. The collection resulted in “an arrangement of those songs in a two-part sequence building to and falling from the consummation of an ideal first love” (“Woman Hidden,” 3). This reading is compelling, but I would add that what unseats this idealized love is exactly the desire for Gnostic wisdom. For ultimately Joyce's original arrangement of the sequence reveals a pattern in which human love is pursued, achieved, and then abandoned precisely to allow for the pursuit of otherworldly wisdom. In this pattern we see the defining narrative of Stephen Dedalus all the way through the end of Ulysses; but we also sense the premonition of Joyce's shift away from the Stephen figure toward the much more worldly and encompassing figures of Leopold and Molly Bloom, and ultimately HCE and ALP and the neverending quest patterns of Finnegans Wake, when both love and wisdom are subsumed in larger patterns of cyclic existence. Only after writing most of these poems, and, crucially, after meeting Nora, will Joyce come to balance the pursuit of knowledge and the desire for earthly love. The result of this balance of wisdom and love would be precisely Joyce's great modernist epics.

* * *

A careful analysis of Joyce's arrangement of the Chamber Music poems reveals this dialectic between knowledge and love. Joyce described the first three poems as “preludes” to the suite proper (Letters I, 67). Certainly the initial poem, “He who hath glory lost” (1/XXI), functions as a true prelude poem to the entire sequence, although, as I will discuss near the end of this essay, it has a much more complex relation to the poems that follow. But the second poem, “Strings in the earth and air” (2/I), functions as the real (p.150) start of the narrative—and the Chamber Music poems do ultimately form a narrative, for just as Joyce imitated the Elizabethans in so much of these poems, he also emulated them in trying to make his collection into a true lyric sequence.12 This poem's assertion that “Love wanders there” marks the genesis of the sequence in a wandering love, seeking its ideal companion. The poet begins in the possession of music, but lacking a beloved. Hence Tindall's once mildly scandalous suggestion of a hint of onanism in the final lines—“All softly playing, / With head to the music bent, / And fingers straying / Upon an instrument”—is quite right, to the extent that the lover is isolated, solitary, even narcissistic in this first utterance (Chamber Music, 65). The poem is a poem of making—it thereby previews Joyce's greatconcern in the Portrait with the creation of the work of art—and is chiefly concerned with the production of lyric music; as such, it announces the sequence's fascination with the lyrics of the Elizabethans, when music and poetry were still formally joined (Preminger 467–68), and so is a quest to understand art; but this music is dedicated to the quest for the beloved, as “love wanders” in search of its object. Thus the poem initiates the dual quests of the entire sequence: for the root of artistic creation and the source of companionate love.

The next poem (3/III) continues these quests, similarly seeking to understand the art of music, and also to understand “Love” as both a concept and a relation. Its closing prayer, “Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,” combines the two quests. The speaker is marked by isolation—he addresses the “lonely watcher of the skies,” and it is unclear if this watcher refers to an imagined beloved or to himself; it certainly alludes to Keats's “On First Looking into Chapman's Homer,” in which the experience of the written word transports Keats's speaker into “some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (Keats 45). Such a transport—the ecstasy of the literary experience that Keats compares to the sublime gaze into the heavens—suggests the experience sought by Joyce's speaker. Yet in its echo of Orsino's opening words in Twelfth Night (“If music be the food of love, play on” [I.i.1]), the poem suggests that its speaker similarly occupies an immature station in the pursuit of love, and that the poet is aware of his need for education in love. This poem ends with a suggestion that something is imminent, that the playing of the harps at dawn will usher in a climactic encounter as the heavenly “air above” will mingle with “the earth below” as the “lonely watcher” completes the prelude to human love.

(p.151) For in the following poem, 4/II, the sought-for beloved appears, and the suite of love poems proper truly commences. This poem is marked by the eruption of color into the sequence: “amethyst,” “deep and deeper blue,” “a pale green glow,” all in stark contrast with the complete lack of color words in the first three poems, which employ only “pale” or “dark.” In conjunction with this burst of color, the beloved, the “She” of the poems, is first mentioned—crucially, in conjunction with the making of music: “She bends upon the yellow keys, / Her head inclines this way.” The beloved begins to face the poet, thereby initiating the following thirteen poems, which all treat of their growing relationship up to the climax, poem 17—what Boyle describes as “the poem of consummation,” with its “climactic biblical force” (“Woman Hidden,” 4, 11). Poem 4/II has an envelope structure (common to many of the Psalms), repeating the first two lines in the final two, suggesting it has a completeness that the prior poems lack. The turning of the girl seems to shift the poet's abilities or even vocation to a new level of attainment, as the next poem, 5/IV, confirms; here the girl, initially isolated (“all maidenly, disconsolate”), is called to “hear … one who is singing by your gate,” who “is come to visit you.”

The presence of song and courtship combines the two guiding quests of the poems, and introduces a new element into this quest by the poem's end. Although the poet states, “Nor muse: Who may this singer be / Whose song about my heart is falling?,” this very question—who may this singer be?—suggests that these poems, in addition to being efforts to understand the making of art and the creation of love, are also efforts to understand the self. The final lines—“Know you by this, the lover's chant, / ̓Tis I that am your visitant”—seem a response to Joyce's own crisis of identity expressed to Nora in a famous letter of August 15, 1904 (the very period in which the final Chamber Music poems were composed); here Joyce explains that Nora enables him to “leave aside my contemptuous suspicious nature”—that is, to move from his scornful isolation into companionate love. But away from her presence, he loses his sense of self that is, crucially, connected to his vocation as a writer: “I have been a half-hour writing this thing. Will you write something to me? I hope you will. How am I to sign myself? I won't sign anything at all, because I don't know what to sign myself” (Letters II, 46–47). The hope here seems to be that through the poetry of love, through “the lover's chant,”13 that self-signature can be found.

(p.152) But this new sense of his love comes at a cost, or at least an exchange, which poem 6/V announces. Here the poet responds to the beloved's song—“I heard you singing / A merry air”—with the abandonment of his reading: “My book was closed; / I read no more,” he states; “I have left my book, / I have left my room / For I heard you singing / Through the gloom.” The poet abandons knowledge, “my book,” for the beloved, enamored in particular of her voice, her song. This is a stark contrast with the behavior of James Duffy in “A Painful Case,” who flees from Mrs. Sinico's amorous gestures and retreats back into his closed room and his sterile books.14 Here Joyce begins to weigh the implications of that choice between erotic love and knowledge, and where in this choice the poet's vocation is to be found—a choice he will examine again in “A Painful Case,” in the fifth chapter of A Portrait, and in Stephen's isolation and sterility throughout Ulysses.

And when we consider the association in the Chamber Music poems between poetry and music, the song of the beloved can well be seen as an authentic poetic voice, which suggests that poetry is not equivalent to knowledge, but rather is the antithesis of knowledge. Indeed, poetry and wisdom are opposed in the first half of the sequence—to be a poet is to turn one's back on the Gnostic pursuit of transcendent knowledge. Hence this poem also employs the envelope structure, giving the impression, as Robert Alter describes regarding the Psalms, that “a perfect circle is closed,” “but with the sense accrued through the intervening … lines of what concretely it [the refrain] means” (119). (This pattern of course is in miniature the overarching structure of Finnegans Wake, and I will say more about the correspondences between Joyce's first book and his last below.) The “merry air” that the poet twice emphasizes thus contains this shift from knowledge to poetry, and then to love.

The quickening brought about by the presence of the beloved continues throughout the first half of the sequence. Poem 7/VIII opens with similar bursts of color associated with blossoming nature and an Elizabethan, ballad-like dactylic line that propels the poem forward, in contrast with the dominant iambs and trochees of the first several poems:

  • Who goes amid the green wood
  •   With springtime all adorning her?
  • Who goes amid the merry green wood
  •   To make it merrier?

(p.153) The poem's rhythm does not slow until the final stanza, when Joyce introduces a series of spondees, culminating in three strong beats in the penultimate line—a metrical variant that Joyce favors throughout the Chamber Music poems, and that Anderson credits to “the nice placing of the trisyllable [he] learned from Jonson and the Elizabethans” (“Joyce's Verses,” 137):

  • O, it is for my true love
  •   The woods their rich apparel wear—
  • O, it is for my own true love,
  •   That is so young and fair.

The sustained emphasis—“my own true love”—effects a ritardando upon the pace of the poem and suggests the sense of possession and embodiment enjoyed, or at least sought, by the lovers.

This same enlivening of the natural world is exemplified in 8/VII, “My love is in a light attire,” with a similar emphasis on color and another three-beat phrase (“pale blue cup”) to dramatically slow the poem near the end. Here the beloved and the poet are inserted into nature, relating to the landscape in harmony and without alienation. Even the elements seem to favor their courtship—“the gay winds stay to woo”—and the land is “laughing” as the beloved traverses it. Even if we retain Tindall's reading of the poem's final lines—“My love goes lightly, holding up / Her dress with laughing hand”—as signifying her urination (Chamber Music, 74–75), this is consonant with the poem's overall timbre; for female urination to Joyce connotes fertility, creativity, and eroticism, all elements that fit with the harmonious relation to nature that this poem displays.15

This harmony between the lovers and the natural world receives its strongest emphasis in the following poem, 9/IX, in which the elements of air, water, and earth seem to swirl together (much as they do in “Who Goes with Fergus?”), matching Joyce's rhythmic use of dactyls to produce a poem that is energetic, even erotic in its celebration of human love and nature's bounty:

  • Winds of May, that dance on the sea,
  •   Dancing a ring-around in glee
  • From furrow to furrow, while overhead
  • The foam flies up to be garlanded
  • In silvery arches spanning the air, Saw you my true love anywhere?

(p.154) The poem's first line alludes to the festive fourth act of The Winter's Tale, in which Florizel speaks his praise-poem about Perdita's perfections and how her mortal beauty expresses the culmination of both nature and grace:

  •   What you do
  • Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
  • I'ld have you do it ever: when you sing,
  • I'ld have you buy and sell so, so give alms,
  • Pray so; and, for the ordering your affairs,
  • To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
  • A wave o̓ the sea … (Shakespeare, Norton Shakespeare, 2924)

This figure of the young beloved from romance—grace-filled, in harmony with nature, offering an example of both human love and art perfected—stands for Joyce as a model for the union of love and art that the poems seek, a model that at this point the poet sees embodied in his beloved. He will return to this image most famously in Stephen's vision of the girl on the beach at the end of chapter IV of A Portrait, a scene of even greater moment in Joyce's interrogations of the relations between love and art. (And it is worth pointing out that this figure also echoes Yeats's use of it in “The Fiddler of Dooney,” which opens with “When I play on my fiddle at Dooney / Folk dance like a wave o' the sea.” Joyce may have adopted the phrase from Shakespeare, or from Shakespeare through Yeats; certainly these are the two strongest poets with whom Joyce grapples, both in Chamber Music and throughout his work.)16

The poems that follow initiate the theme of betrayal that surfaces throughout the sequence. Ellmann speculates that both 10/XVII, which accuses, “He is a stranger to me now / Who was my friend,” and 11/XVIII, which states, “A man shall have sorrow / When friends him fail,” are among the last Chamber Music poems composed and are all “probably inspired by Nora,” and likely date to the late summer of 1904, when Joyce agonized over her fidelity and his sense of betrayal by “the ‘trolls’” such as Gogarty and Cosgrave (JJII 165, 174–75). Stanislaus moved these poems, in his ordering of the sequence, after the central poem of love attained (XIV in his arrangement), probably because they seemed to him to detract from the overarching narrative of “the coming and passing of love” (MBK 228) that he identified as the poems' main thrust. But Joyce wanted these poems to be part of the cluster that leads up to the culminating poem 17/XIV, implying (p.155) that his ideal of human love includes betrayal, requires the sacrifice of friends (and perhaps the exile from home) in order to achieve true union with the beloved (a theme he would explore much more fully in Exiles). This is surely the implication of the first poem in the collection in Joyce's ordering (rather bafflingly placed twenty-first by Stanislaus), with its claim that the solitary figure who has only “his love” for “his companion” is the ideal for these poems. For the poems of friendship betrayed lead into more poems of idealized love, such as 12/VI, “I would in that sweet bosom be”; 14/XX, “In the dark pinewood / I would we lay”; and 15/XIII, with its indebtedness to the Song of Solomon and its claim to be an “Epithalamium.” Here the poet embraces the embodied nature of the beloved, rejecting otherworldly wisdom in favor of her bodily, fertile promise.

Poem 13/X brings together both this rejection of dreaming wisdom and desire for erotic love. It opens with yet another example of song, this time a merry, gay, almost insistently cheering image of song and singer:

  • Bright cap and streamers,
  •   He sings in the hollow:
  •   Come follow, come follow,
  •   All you that love.
  • …………
  • With ribbons streaming
  •   He sings the bolder;
  •   In troop at his shoulder
  •   The wild bees hum.

We seem again to be in the lush, springtime world of act IV of The Winter's Tale, with the figure of Autolycus, singing ballads that mingle the frank eroticism of young love with the bursting-forth of springtime and fertility. We might suspect that the “wild bees” arise not only from the Elizabethan convention of bees as a sign of fertility, but also from Yeats's 1890 poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” with its “bee-loud glade.”

But this paean to erotic love is balanced in the poem by the alternating quatrains, which emphasize the necessity to abandon “dreams” in order to possess the beloved:

  • Leave dreams to the dreamers
  •   That will not after,
  •    (p.156) That song and laughter
  •   Do nothing move.
  • …………
  • And the time of dreaming
  •   Dreams is over—
  •   As lover to lover,
  •   Sweetheart, I come.

The double entendre of the final line is certainly intended, as the poem is again a blend of eroticism and natural regeneration—just as Autolycus figures in Shakespeare's play, thereby offering Joyce another model for the poet, a model that is likely more enabling for Joyce than that proffered by Yeats, who ultimately could not reconcile the twin urges for “sexual experience” and “transcendental illumination of consciousness” (Brown 349–50)—a good expression of what Joyce seeks to unite in these poems. For the realm of love glimpsed here is no abstract realm of artifice, hardly the world of, say, Stephen Dedalus or the brooding Shem. (That concept of poetic love is best represented in the “Villanelle of the Temptress,” which Joyce wrote prior to the bulk of the Chamber Music poems, confirming that this idea belongs to his younger thinking; see S. Joyce, MBK, 85–86.)

The ideal of love at this point seems most comparable to Molly and Bloom on Howth Hill, passing a chewed seedcake between them in an earthly communion that finally culminates in Molly's nonironic “yes” at the novel's conclusion. As Maria DiBattista describes Molly's affirmation, it rebukes the entire despairing direction of modernity in its assertion of wholeness and homeness: “It remains for Molly, mute throughout the day, to reintegrate that shattered maternal mirror which alone confers identity, integrity, and direction to the ‘lost’ and dissociated soul of modernity. It is she, novelistic genius and not silent Muse, who teaches us the gift and grace of tongues in her maternal lullaby—love's old sweet song” (191). The first half of the Chamber Music sequence shares this same direction, which looks ahead to Joyce's mature fiction. Already the sterile pursuit of mere knowledge—the Gnostic quest—is rejected for the fructive domain of human love.

Consequently the sequence moves with increased energy to its central poem, number 17 in Joyce's arrangement (of the thirty-four poems in the (p.157) main suite), where the drives toward erotic love, poetic expression, and fulfillment of the self in relation to the other are all fully expressed. Here the poet is entirely confident of his union with the beloved, and indeed it is unclear if the poem is a final call to sexual consummation or an aubade sung to celebrate that consummation:

  • My dove, my beautiful one,
  •   Arise, arise!
  •   The nightdew lies
  • Upon my lips and eyes.
  • ……….
  • The pale dew lies
  •   Like a veil on my head.
  •   My fair one, my fair dove,
  • Arise, arise!

This poem is richly indebted to the Song of Solomon—indeed, it is more of a translation or revision of the Song than an original creation. It shares with the Song the central idea that poetry can only attempt to convey the ecstatic experience of fully realized love; thus, what Francis Landy says of the Song also applies, mutatis mutandis, to Joyce's poem: “Something happens that is beyond speech, and it enters language only through displacement. For this reason sexual interpretations of the Song are both fascinating and boring” (305).

The Song of Solomon is placed among the Wisdom writings in the Christian arrangement of the Bible. Joyce consequently invokes the overall tenor of the Wisdom writings, which, like the Song, emphasize love and fidelity and an awe-filled respect for the creation, as opposed to the outright idolatry of merely human wisdom. The Wisdom books are in fact anti-Gnostic, insisting that true wisdom is, as Proverbs asserts, “fear of the Lord” (1:7) and that, to quote Ecclesiastes, “in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” (1:18). By invoking in his pivotal lyric the central poem of the Wisdom writings, Joyce aligns this moment in the Chamber Music sequence with the rejection of human wisdom expressed in the Old Testament. It seems that the climax of human love, coincident with an apex of poetic expression, is far removed from the Gnostic quest for transcendent knowledge.

(p.158) Boyle calls this the “poem of consummation,” when lover and beloved, poet and singer, come together in bodily union. As Tindall notes, the poem is clearly connected to Joyce's Epiphany 24, in which the poet moves from a physical contact with the beloved to a remarkable poetic rapture that even quotes the Song of Solomon in its Latin version:

I remember a harmony of red and white that was made for one like her, telling her names and glories, bidding her arise as for espousal, and come away, bidding her look forth, a spouse, from Amana and from the mountain of the leopards. And I remember that response whereunto the perfect tenderness of the body and the soul with all its mystery have gone: Inter ubera mea commorabitur. (P&SW 184)

Tindall concludes that this poem is “the most successful embodiment of the girl in all her capacities, those of church, mother, Muse, nation, and soul” (Chamber Music, 198), yet he oddly leaves out the actual body, the true “embodiment,” of the girl. For here “the body and the soul with all its mystery” are joined; the beloved's body is given the biblical comparison to the garden, connoting plenty, fertility, sexual splendor, and generation. This moment, and indeed the entire first half of the sequence, is consistently and insistently rooted in the body. Again, this physicality reminds us of Molly as Gea Tellus, or of ALP's body dispersed into the very landscape and rivers. This part of the sequence is as far removed from the evanescent, bodiless drives of Gnosticism—and Stephen's retreat from the physical realm—as possible.

But at this point, the sequence shifts dramatically. The following poem, 18/XIX, hints at a sadness and loss of honor for the beloved, as the poet urges her to “deny, deny” the “lying clamour before you.” While this may seem to be an acknowledgment of her loss of virginity and hence of “honour,” the shift from rapturous experience in 17 to embattled disappointment in 18 is foreboding. Then follows one of the strongest poems in the entire sequence; 19/XV announces a radical departure from the bodily—now dismissed as “dreams,” rather than celebrated as the height of rapture—and a turning toward the secret realm of otherworldly wisdom:

  • From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,
  •   From love's deep slumber and from death,
  • For lo! the trees are full of sighs
  •   Whose leaves the morn admonisheth.
  • (p.159) Eastward the gradual dawn prevails
  •   Where softly-burning fires appear,
  • Making to tremble all those veils
  •   Of grey and golden gossamer.
  • While sweetly, gently, secretly,
  •   The flowery bells of morn are stirred
  • And the wise choirs of faery
  •   Begin (innumerous!) to be heard.

The shift from poem 17 is striking, as here the poet associates “love's deep slumber” with “death,” as if the quickening of the world that he adumbrated in the first half of the sequence was nothing but “dewy dreams” that he now rejects. In contrast to this anaesthetizing realm of dream, he enumerates a series of Gnostic symbols: the dawn, the “softly-burning fires,” the trembling veils of secrecy, and—most startling of all, given Joyce's condemnation of “the cultic twalette” (FW 344.12)—“the wise choirs of faery” that he now can hear.17 The poet announces that he now intends to flee human, earthly love, in favor of the pursuit of transcendent wisdom. This dramatically reverses the whole direction of the sequence, and it argues for a more complex movement than merely Stanislaus's “love found and lost.” Rather, love itself is being rejected in favor of the Gnostic quest.

The poems that follow continue this movement away from human love and toward unearthly wisdom. The poet in poem 20/XXIII has had sufficient experience with love that his “eyes had learned to weep,” and now he seeks to be “wise” and not to trust in a love that will only “live but a day.” The beloved in poem 21/XXIV has become narcissistic, “combing her long hair / Before the lookingglass,” marked now by her silence, as if the song that inaugurated their love has been muted. The poet now describes her charms as a “witchery” that paralyzes the lover, whose gay motion of the first half of the sequence is now a purposeless “staying and going hence.” Poem 24/ XXII describes their love as the “so sweet imprisonment” that would “woo me to relent / And woo me to detain,” as if the human love imprisons the poet in the earthly realm and impedes his Gnostic response to “the transmundane … call of the other-worldly” (Jonas, Gnostic Religion, 74). He now sees that should he remain in her “interwoven arms,” he would fall further into the state where “sleep to dreamier sleep be wed / Where soul with soul lies prisoned.” This dismissing view of human love parallels Gnostic (p.160) teaching, which, as in the Gospel of Philip, views human marriage as far subordinate to “the final union with the pleroma” or fullness of God's being. “There is” in Gnostic thought, reports Kurt Rudolph, “an explicit contrast between the earthly and the celestial marriage; the latter is the ‘unsullied marriage’” (245).

The increasing skepticism about the possibilities of human love extends to doubt about the possibilities of poetry, or at least love poetry, the very vocation that the poet set out to achieve in these poems. Poem 27/XXVII begins with the same desire that initiated the poems—“to know the rapture of thy heart”—but now he knows the truth of “the malice of thy tenderness,” for it would imprison him and frustrate his Gnostic quest. Hence he concludes the poem with a bitter denunciation of the very project of being what Joyce scornfully called the poet of Chamber Music, a “love ‘pote’” (JJII 260):

  • For elegant and antique phrase,
  •   Dearest, my lips wax all too wise;
  • Nor have I known a love whose praise
  •   Our piping poets solemnize,
  • Neither a love where may not be
  • Ever so little falsity.

The “wise” quality of false love poetry is mocked here, and the poet asserts that the love solemnized by piping poets is unknown to him, just as a love without falsity is also unknown. With the loss of faith in love comes a loss of faith in his very poetic vocation.

These losses inform the poem that follows, 28/XXVIII, which asserts that “love that passes is enough,” and counsels the beloved: “do not sing / Sad songs about the end of love.” The poem concludes with a threnody that asserts both the death of love and the death of poetry:

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

The three-beat foot ending the first line of this final stanza repeats the favored metrical structure of the earlier poems, but now only to reinforce the failure of their hope. The key allusion built into this poem, “do not sing / (p.161) Sad songs about the end of love,” echoes Richard II, when Richard exclaims in despair, “For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings.” His speech that follows—an anatomy of the frailty of all earthly things—culminates in his realization that he himself is nothing more than a frail human body, and that the “vain conceit” and “solemn reverence” he had enjoyed merely masked his all-too-human reality: “I live with bread like you, feel want, / Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, / How can you say to me, I am a king?” (Shakespeare, Norton Shakespeare, 984–85). For Joyce to point his reader toward this moment in Shakespeare's play suggests that he sees a similar realization at work in his lyric; the “sad songs about the end of love” show that the human realm cannot lead the poet to the transcendence he desires—he must escape this flawed and failed world. The poem, then, like Shakespeare's Richard, shares the bleak insight of another Wisdom text, Ecclesiastes, that “all is vanity” (1:2). But now, rather than turn from that pursuit of empty wisdom, the poet associates it with human love, and desires only to leave that earthly domain for the transcendent realm. Again, the poet is embracing the Gnostic impulse away from the created world, for “the pneumatic morality is determined by hostility toward the world and contempt for all mundane ties” (Jonas, Gnostic Religion, 46).

The final three poems of the main sequence, 32/XXX, 33/XXXIII, and 34/XXXIV, complete this movement away from a love that is earthly, human, and bodily, announcing that “Love is past / That had his sweet hours many a one.” Indeed, love is seen now as the plaything of children; 32 begins, “Love came to us in time gone by / When one at twilight shyly played / And one in fear was standing nigh.” The image recalls the childhood world of the early Dubliners stories—the boys' excursion in “An Encounter,” the swiftness of first love in “Araby,” the children at play that open “Eveline.” Now, just as in those stories, love gives way to the grim necessities of the world: “Welcome to us now at the last / The ways that we shall go upon,” concludes poem 32. And poem 33 picks up this same theme in its opening: “Now, O now, in this brown land / Where Love did so sweet music make / We two shall wander, hand in hand.” These lines allude to the final lines of Milton's Paradise Lost: “The world was all before them … / They hand in hand with wand̓ring steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way” (XII.646, 648–49). Joyce suggests that his sequence of love lyrics has presented a fall, not unlike the fall described by Milton, and the lovers are (p.162) now left wandering through a world in which they have been sundered from the divine.

This separation is a paradigmatic experience of Gnosticism, the sense that one is cut off from the divine in this earthly realm, what Jonas describes as “the frightened and nostalgic state of the soul forlorn in the world” (Gnostic Religion, 65). John Shawcross has commented on the affinity between Chamber Music and Milton's epic, arguing that “there is a Miltonic quality—a presence—in Chamber Music which places even these lyrics … into the vatic literary world defined by Dante and Spenser and Milton” (204). To the extent that these poems do seek a visionary poetic expression, this argument is accurate. Indeed Shawcross argues that all of Joyce's mature fiction shows this indebtedness to Milton—“the fictive voice must learn that he is not alone, that the snow or waters bring renewal, and that it is the female who is the agent through whom these things are so” (205).

This Edenic allusion is strengthened by the presence in 33 of “a rogue in red and yellow dress” who “is knocking, knocking at the tree.” Mays suggests that this can be seen as the same jester figure in “bright cap and streamers” from 13/X, but there the figure was a ballad-singing Autolycus who serves to enable and strengthen love. Now he has become a tempter, one who brings the lovers away from their ideal hope and renders it wan and hopeless as the dead leaves “when the year takes them in the fall.” The season has shifted to the fall and early winter, a grave contrast with the “springtide” “adorning the merry green wood” of poem 7. Along with love, poetry too is lost: “Now, o now we hear no more / The villanelle and roundelay!” The song with which these poems began is now a memory. “Roundelay” is particularly intriguing—again, this is both song and poetry, and of the simplest, most folk-like sort, even a carol or a round dance. Thus the poet bids farewell to the very roots of poetry in folksong and magical incantation—for a “roundelay” can also be a fairy circle.

This loss leads into poem 34, which Joyce described as dramatically the last of the sequence, dismissing 35 and 36 as “tailpieces” (Letters I, 67). Boyle describes this poem as the “death of love” (“Woman Hidden,” 19), and it seems indeed to signal the final anaesthetizing of the poem's erotic and poetic energies:

  • Sleep now, O sleep now,
  •   O you unquiet heart!
  • (p.163) A voice crying “Sleep now”
  •   Is heard in my heart.
  • The voice of the winter
  •   Is heard at the door.
  • O sleep for the winter
  •   Is crying “Sleep no more!”
  • My kiss will give peace now
  •   And quiet to your heart—
  • Sleep on in peace now,
  •   O you unquiet heart!

Crucially, the heart is still “unquiet,” unwilling to abandon its desire for fulfillment; but the poet commands it to sleep and to submit to winter's death. It seems that despite the death of love, no satisfaction has arisen. The Gnostic search for knowledge is already profoundly unsatisfying. The echo of Macbeth—“sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more” (II. ii.41, Norton Shakespeare, 2579)—is crucial here. For Shawcross, this allusion confirms the entire sequence's movement into the fallen world: “We know that with the Fall of Adam came the seasons, and that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are infernal manifestations of the grandparents who have killed their Lord” (207). Boyle describes the poem as “almost a lullaby” (“Woman Hidden,” 27), but it is truly a threnody, a lament for the dead. He also notes the allusions to Marvell's broodings on the sleep of love in the grave, and describes this so-called wisdom as “the modern truth.” If indeed the sequence closes here, then it seems to end in a bleak loss of significance, which again is a defining Gnostic experience: to view the mundane existence as an “unconsciousness [that] is … a veritable infection by the poison of darkness” (Jonas, Gnostic Religion, 69). Both love and wisdom have been lost, and only the sleepless, unquiet heart remains. Boyle sees the poet here “speaking once again to himself,” the movement nearly complete from the loneliness of the opening poems, through the joining with the beloved, and now to his separation and isolation again. Thus, he concludes, “the suite ends in some confusion, in frustration, incomplete and uneasy, with a wish for peace stymied by that fateful knocking” (“Woman Hidden,” 27–28).

But if we consider more closely those two concluding “tailpieces,” we find Joyce shifting the ground of the sequence yet again. Poem 35 has little (p.164) apparent connection to the sequence that precedes it, containing no reference to lovers, or to song and poetry, or to wisdom. This is the lyric utterance of a wholly isolated person responding to a natural world that, in Boyle's phrase, is “not really malignant but only indifferent,” a “noise of waters / Making moan,” and for response only “the winds cry to the waters' / Monotone.” This “monotone” signals again the exhaustion of song after the music-filled first half of the sequence. The mood of enervation continues through the second stanza:

  • The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing
  •   Where I go.
  • I hear the noise of many waters
  •   Far below.
  • All day, all night, I hear them flowing
  •   To and fro.

Even the lines seem to run out of energy, as the rhythmic tetrameter alternates with a thudding dimeter line that brings all poetic movement to a halt. The final line suggests a movement that is not purposive, but simply motion, back and forth—a precursor, perhaps, to Stephen's vision of hell, in which brutish animals move through the mundane world “hither and thither” (P 138). The aural and visual effect is most reminiscent in Joyce's work of the final page of Finnegans Wake: “And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father …” (FW 627–28). So, after the whole dialectic between earthly love and otherworldly wisdom, the poems of Chamber Music move at the end toward the death drive of the Wake—which means that the other movement of that drive, eternal recurrence and rebirth, must soon follow.

This reading helps explain, therefore, the powerful poetic conclusion Joyce gives to the entire sequence with the final poem, 36, “I hear an army charging upon the land,” often described as the strongest poem of the collection, and as the only truly modernist composition in the book. It was highly praised by both Pound, who included it in Des Imagistes in 1914, and Yeats, who remarked, “I think that Mr. Joyce has a most beautiful gift. There is a poem on the last page of his Chamber Music which will, I believe, live. It is a technical and emotional masterpiece” (JJII 350, 391). This is a poem of power and plenitude, with strong verbs, violent images, and a driving (p.165) rhythm of six-beat hexameter lines offering a clear contrast to the ennui and enervation of “All day I hear the noise of waters / Making moan”:

  • 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 reins, with fluttering whips, the charioteers.

Although this army is often seen as frightening and foreboding (Tindall describes the poem as the “direct expression of anguish” and a “nightmare” [Chamber Music, 66–67]), there is a delight and verve to its action that the poet perhaps envies, as the soldiers “cry unto the night their battle-name” and the poet “hear[s] afar their whirling laughter.” The ability to proclaim one's own name is an emblem of poetic power to Joyce and is precisely what he seeks during the composition of his Chamber Music poems—his lament to Nora in the famous letter of 1904, “I don't know what to sign myself,” shows his struggle with self-naming and his hope that his love with her will aid him. Similarly, this army cuts through the poet's desire for evanescent, otherworldly wisdom, like the sword of Michael waving above the eastern gate of paradise, forcing humanity to move forward into the fallen, human world: “They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame, / Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.” This too is an image of poetic power, the poet now as smith, like Hephaestus the maker, or even, we might suspect, as an early image of Dedalus.

The poem's final stanza shows the army in all its potency, emerging “out of the sea” as if in direct contrast with the sea-ward, death-driven mode of poem 35—or as if the poet has come to the “end” of the final page of the Wake and has now turned back to its beginning, as the old waters of the sea are quickened in the riverrun of youth and rebirth to “run shouting by the shore.” It seems that the poet has gained his voice, his poetic vocation, by the end (again recalling the near-final line of Finnegans Wake: “The keys to. Given!”).18 But the final two lines return to the sequence's running agon between love and wisdom: “My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair? / My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?” Tindall describes this final poem as “a poem of failure, of the defeat of youth, and of all horrors” (Chamber Music, 70), and Boyle chooses not even to discuss the final two poems, accepting Joyce's dismissal of them as “tailpieces.” Yet these (p.166) concluding poems are crucial to understanding the sequence as a whole; the final poem revises the sequence's reading of “wisdom,” asserting its difference from “despair” and associating it now with “my heart” and “my love.” The concluding couplet enacts a turn from the despair of wisdom to the repeated chant of “my love”—a desire not to be alone. The rhythm of this last line—three iambic feet, then two dactyls with a concluding strong beat—provides a driving, climactic close to the poem (and hence to the entire sequence), again in contrast with the soporific two-beat line with which 35 ends. The quickening of poetry, poetic vocation, and love itself is proffered here, as the poet calls to his love not to despair, but to show a greater wisdom by turning again to his human embrace.

The comparison to the closing lines of Finnegans Wake seems therefore all the more apt—the last word of Chamber Music is nearly the “last” word of the Wake—for now we see that this “final” poem actually wraps back around to join with the opening poem:

  • He who hath glory lost, nor hath
  •   Found any soul to fellow his,
  • Among his foes in scorn and wrath
  •   Holding to ancient nobleness,
  • That high unconsortable one—
  • His love is his companion.

Stanislaus placed this poem as number XXI, rather inexplicably, since it hardly seems to fit with the “failure of love” poems of the second half of the sequence, as he reads the poems. Rather, this poem asserts the potency of the poet precisely because of the companionate love he shares with the beloved (hence it is an odd “prelude” poem, too, since in that sense he has yet to meet, to say nothing of win, the beloved). This poem was in all likelihood the last of the Chamber Music poems to be composed, with “The Tower, Sandycove,” and “Dedication: To Nora, 30-IX-04” at the top of the page in two early manuscripts,19 placing its composition mere weeks before Joyce left Ireland with Nora to begin the life of an exiled writer. And it is a strange poem, for it asserts the poet's power—“holding to ancient nobleness,” “that high unconsortable one”—even while it denies the poet direct activity: there is no main verb in this six-line lyric. Everything is description of the opening third-person pronoun, as if the poet's strength resides precisely in his passivity, endurance, and fidelity to “his love”—which makes (p.167) this figure sound quite a bit like a later Joyce hero, Leopold Bloom. This parallel suggests that even now, in the fall of 1904, Joyce has seen his poetic vocation and realizes the direction his future writings will take as well as the certainty of his life with Nora, the companion who makes possible Joyce's proud exile.

We can read this, then, as the moment when the poetic sequence begins again, to move once more between the borders of love and wisdom, earth and heaven, approach and withdrawal, wandering and home, exile and return, epithalamium and thanatopsis. Ultimately Joyce saw that the lyric impulse was too solitary; Stephen defines lyric as “the form wherein the artist presents his image in immediate relation to himself” (P 214)—a narcissistic impulse that these very lyrics reject. By rendering his poetic sequence as an ongoing dialectic, the poet can proudly hold to his noble singularity in his quest for poetic insight, but at the same time define himself by the presence of the other: “His love is his companion.” Having found the balance of the extremes of solitary pride and mutual love, Joyce now turns to fiction, to the generative domain of “Here Comes Everybody,” to spread his word to the world.

Notes

(1.) The Gabler edition, at least, famously makes explicit the word “love” as the logos that Stephen seeks (U 9.429–30), though as Richard Ellmann and others have long argued, that is clearly the appropriate term. See Ellmann, Ulysses on the Liffey, 147, and also Kimball, 143–44.

(2.) Similarly, Michael Patrick Gillespie notes that “although he ultimately rebels against the institutions that surround him, Stephen can never dismiss or ignore them.… If he is to become the artist who will forge the uncreated consciousness of his race, he must be willing to incorporate the tradition of its beliefs into his art” (Reading the Book of Himself, 96).

(3.) For example, Gottfried relies on a very thin level of Catholic scholarship, primarily the Catholic Encyclopedia; he shows a poor distinction between doctrine and dogma; he elides the crucial differences between Stephen and Joyce himself; and in general he misreads Joyce's criticisms of Catholicism as a rejection of Catholicism. For a telling review of Gottfried's study, see Cóilín Owens, “Review.”

(4.) Stephen also invokes “Sabellius, the African, subtlest heresiarch of all the beasts of the field,” in his effort to disavow physical fatherhood in favor of “a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten,” as he labors (p.168) to establish his principles both of paternity and artistic creation in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U 9.862, 837–39). His artistic theory in this episode is a continued grappling with the Gnostic issues that arise early in the Portrait.

(5.) Joyce's genuine interest in mysticism runs counter to Gottfried's claim that it was “impossible for him to entertain any other transcendent claims (such as the fashionable materialism) because they had no intellectual weight” (7).

(6.) Another compelling instance of Stephen's desire for salvation, but refusal to gain it through submission, occurs in “Oxen of the Sun,” when Stephen refuses to “accept to die like the rest and pass away,” but also resists “that other land which is called Believe-on-Me” (U 14.438–44).

(7.) When Yeats's The Wind among the Reeds (the volume of poetry that would most influence Joyce's Chamber Music) appeared, Joyce confessed to Stanislaus that he was “uncertain about his verse. The principal source of uncertainty … was that he could not rival his countryman Yeats.” Yet in his prose “he had no such modesty” (JJII 83). In August of 1904, when Joyce and Nora were in the early stages of their courtship, he wrote out for her a copy of Yeats's “Down in the Salley Gardens,” which he had sung for Nora, and signed it “W.B. Yeats,” almost as if Joyce were trying to ventriloquize the older poet's powers (JJII 159).

(8.) This is somewhat in contrast to the traditional view of Fergus having abdicated either out of love for Medb or because he is outsmarted by Conchubar, and depends more on Ferguson's romantic nineteenth-century Fergus poem, “The Abdication of Fergus MacRoy.” See MacKillop, 191–92.

(9.) For a discussion of Yeats's fascination with wisdom, and a comparison of this to esoteric, Gnostic, and biblical concepts, see Grossman, 211–12.

(10.) Joyce's early poetry was the Shine and Dark and Moods poems, which Stanislaus reports he wrote “in his last years in Belvedere College”—that is, circa 1897, though he seems to have continued them into 1901 or even 1902. One of these poems became the “Villanelle of the Temptress” in Portrait, and poem 4/II in Chamber Music, “The twilight turns from amethyst.” Thus there is a slight overlap between the early efforts and the published poetry. But it is crucial to keep in mind that Chamber Music is not Joyce's juvenilia—he had worked through such an early period already, before he began the Chamber Music project in earnest (S. Joyce, MBK, 85; see also JJII 80–83).

(11.) Tindall, Chamber Music, 42, 44; see also Conner, “The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered” in this volume, pages 11–13.

(12.) Hence I take issue here with Symons's initial review of the poems, where he claims, “there is almost no substance at all in these songs, which hardly hint at a story” (“Book of Songs,” 639). For a thorough discussion of Joyce's emulation of the Elizabethans, see Paterson's essay in this volume.

(p.169)

(13.) Joyce surely uses “chant” in the sense of chanson, the lover's song that, as A. Jeanroy describes, offers “a new conception of love involving the exaltation of the lady, and a constant striving for perfection and originality of form”—two goals that are clearly cognate with Joyce's principal quests throughout Chamber Music. See A. Jeanroy, Les Origines de la Poesie Lyrique en France au Moyen Age, 3rd edition, 1925 (quoted in Preminger, 112–13).

(14.) For a thorough study of “A Painful Case,” including detailed interpretations of Duffy's retreat from the possibilities of love, see Owens, James Joyce's Painful Case. See also Owens's essay in this volume, which focuses on the interplay between “A Painful Case” and Chamber Music.

(15.) This is often the case with Tindall's suggestive, almost salacious readings of the poems; though many readers have taken his implications to be bawdy or reductive (Russel in particular rails against the “preposterous scatological extremes” of Tindall's “Freudian path” of interpretation; James Joyce's Chamber Music, 34, 36), oftentimes they are quite consonant with many of Joyce's most important ideas. What I resist in Tindall is his sense that his reading is the definitive reading—as when he says of another hint of urination in 25/XXVI, “There are no two ways of taking that” (75), when in fact there are always multiple ways of taking anything in Joyce's work, as much in Chamber Music as in the later fiction.

(16.) After 1894, Yeats amended the phrase to “a wave of the sea.” See Allt and Alspach, 178. The phrase likely originates in the Letter of James, 1:6: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Joyce may well have delighted in this quasi-eponymous source.

(17.) For a thorough overview of the major symbols of Gnosticism, particularly those involving light, such as Joyce here employs, see Jonas, Gnostic Religion, chapter 3, “Gnostic Imagery and Symbolic Language,” 48–99.

(18.) Tindall suggests a similar echo—or rather, foretelling—of the end of the Wake in this poem, that “however menacing the sea in this poem, it may implyrenewal like Anna's ‘cold mad feary father,’ the sea, at the end of Finnegans Wake” (Chamber Music, 225).

(19.) The two manuscripts are a fragment of poem XXI at Cornell and poem XXI at University College, Dublin; see Litz, JJA I, 36 and 38.

Notes:

(1.) The Gabler edition, at least, famously makes explicit the word “love” as the logos that Stephen seeks (U 9.429–30), though as Richard Ellmann and others have long argued, that is clearly the appropriate term. See Ellmann, Ulysses on the Liffey, 147, and also Kimball, 143–44.

(2.) Similarly, Michael Patrick Gillespie notes that “although he ultimately rebels against the institutions that surround him, Stephen can never dismiss or ignore them.… If he is to become the artist who will forge the uncreated consciousness of his race, he must be willing to incorporate the tradition of its beliefs into his art” (Reading the Book of Himself, 96).

(3.) For example, Gottfried relies on a very thin level of Catholic scholarship, primarily the Catholic Encyclopedia; he shows a poor distinction between doctrine and dogma; he elides the crucial differences between Stephen and Joyce himself; and in general he misreads Joyce's criticisms of Catholicism as a rejection of Catholicism. For a telling review of Gottfried's study, see Cóilín Owens, “Review.”

(4.) Stephen also invokes “Sabellius, the African, subtlest heresiarch of all the beasts of the field,” in his effort to disavow physical fatherhood in favor of “a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten,” as he labors (p.168) to establish his principles both of paternity and artistic creation in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U 9.862, 837–39). His artistic theory in this episode is a continued grappling with the Gnostic issues that arise early in the Portrait.

(5.) Joyce's genuine interest in mysticism runs counter to Gottfried's claim that it was “impossible for him to entertain any other transcendent claims (such as the fashionable materialism) because they had no intellectual weight” (7).

(6.) Another compelling instance of Stephen's desire for salvation, but refusal to gain it through submission, occurs in “Oxen of the Sun,” when Stephen refuses to “accept to die like the rest and pass away,” but also resists “that other land which is called Believe-on-Me” (U 14.438–44).

(7.) When Yeats's The Wind among the Reeds (the volume of poetry that would most influence Joyce's Chamber Music) appeared, Joyce confessed to Stanislaus that he was “uncertain about his verse. The principal source of uncertainty … was that he could not rival his countryman Yeats.” Yet in his prose “he had no such modesty” (JJII 83). In August of 1904, when Joyce and Nora were in the early stages of their courtship, he wrote out for her a copy of Yeats's “Down in the Salley Gardens,” which he had sung for Nora, and signed it “W.B. Yeats,” almost as if Joyce were trying to ventriloquize the older poet's powers (JJII 159).

(8.) This is somewhat in contrast to the traditional view of Fergus having abdicated either out of love for Medb or because he is outsmarted by Conchubar, and depends more on Ferguson's romantic nineteenth-century Fergus poem, “The Abdication of Fergus MacRoy.” See MacKillop, 191–92.

(9.) For a discussion of Yeats's fascination with wisdom, and a comparison of this to esoteric, Gnostic, and biblical concepts, see Grossman, 211–12.

(10.) Joyce's early poetry was the Shine and Dark and Moods poems, which Stanislaus reports he wrote “in his last years in Belvedere College”—that is, circa 1897, though he seems to have continued them into 1901 or even 1902. One of these poems became the “Villanelle of the Temptress” in Portrait, and poem 4/II in Chamber Music, “The twilight turns from amethyst.” Thus there is a slight overlap between the early efforts and the published poetry. But it is crucial to keep in mind that Chamber Music is not Joyce's juvenilia—he had worked through such an early period already, before he began the Chamber Music project in earnest (S. Joyce, MBK, 85; see also JJII 80–83).

(11.) Tindall, Chamber Music, 42, 44; see also Conner, “The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered” in this volume, pages 11–13.

(12.) Hence I take issue here with Symons's initial review of the poems, where he claims, “there is almost no substance at all in these songs, which hardly hint at a story” (“Book of Songs,” 639). For a thorough discussion of Joyce's emulation of the Elizabethans, see Paterson's essay in this volume.

(13.) Joyce surely uses “chant” in the sense of chanson, the lover's song that, as A. Jeanroy describes, offers “a new conception of love involving the exaltation of the lady, and a constant striving for perfection and originality of form”—two goals that are clearly cognate with Joyce's principal quests throughout Chamber Music. See A. Jeanroy, Les Origines de la Poesie Lyrique en France au Moyen Age, 3rd edition, 1925 (quoted in Preminger, 112–13).

(14.) For a thorough study of “A Painful Case,” including detailed interpretations of Duffy's retreat from the possibilities of love, see Owens, James Joyce's Painful Case. See also Owens's essay in this volume, which focuses on the interplay between “A Painful Case” and Chamber Music.

(15.) This is often the case with Tindall's suggestive, almost salacious readings of the poems; though many readers have taken his implications to be bawdy or reductive (Russel in particular rails against the “preposterous scatological extremes” of Tindall's “Freudian path” of interpretation; James Joyce's Chamber Music, 34, 36), oftentimes they are quite consonant with many of Joyce's most important ideas. What I resist in Tindall is his sense that his reading is the definitive reading—as when he says of another hint of urination in 25/XXVI, “There are no two ways of taking that” (75), when in fact there are always multiple ways of taking anything in Joyce's work, as much in Chamber Music as in the later fiction.

(16.) After 1894, Yeats amended the phrase to “a wave of the sea.” See Allt and Alspach, 178. The phrase likely originates in the Letter of James, 1:6: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Joyce may well have delighted in this quasi-eponymous source.

(17.) For a thorough overview of the major symbols of Gnosticism, particularly those involving light, such as Joyce here employs, see Jonas, Gnostic Religion, chapter 3, “Gnostic Imagery and Symbolic Language,” 48–99.

(18.) Tindall suggests a similar echo—or rather, foretelling—of the end of the Wake in this poem, that “however menacing the sea in this poem, it may implyrenewal like Anna's ‘cold mad feary father,’ the sea, at the end of Finnegans Wake” (Chamber Music, 225).

(19.) The two manuscripts are a fragment of poem XXI at Cornell and poem XXI at University College, Dublin; see Litz, JJA I, 36 and 38.