Personal Choice 91
(From) The Dead - The Dubliners
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It
had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver
and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had
come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the
newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was
falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills,
falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly
falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too,
upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael
Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and
headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly
through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their
last end, upon all the living and the dead.
James Joyce (1882 - 1941) was an Irish novelist, poet and literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde movement and is regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century. Joyce's novel Ulysses (1922) is a landmark in which the episodes of Homer's Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, particularly stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portraitof the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, letters, and occasional journalism.
The Dead (1914) a short story is most remarkable for its ruminations on Irish culture and history and its insights about the trials of growing old. The Dead, along with the other stories in Joyce's Dubliners, takes place in Dublin, Ireland in the early 20th century. It is winter, and the characters are attending a holiday party at the home of the main characters' aunts.
We have all read prose that in times crosses over into poetry. It is still part of the narrative, but it displays all of the characteristics of the poem and can stand alone. These few lines from Joyce’s short story simply take my breath away as poetry and I have often quoted them as the best in our Western canon.