James Joyce

James Joyce’s writing, although prose, has a very poetic quality.  Like many modernist poets, Imagism was a key element for Joyce.  As I read these two short stories, there were many places that struck me as particularly poetic, usually because of his treatment of images.  For instance, near the beginning of “Araby,” Joyce describes spending time outside in the evenings.  He writes, “When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre.  The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.  The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed” (2219).  This whole passage felt very poetic to me.  Joyce is so descriptive that he creates an image that, like much in modernist poetry, can stand on its own.

There were several places where the narrator describes Mangan’s sister, and also his feelings for her.  These places also seemed as if they could be poetry, rather than prose.  He writes, “Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side” (2219).  It’s a very simple, elegant description, that again seems to stand on its own.  The descriptions of the narrator’s own feelings seemed very poetic to me as well.  “Her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood” and “My body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”  I was particularly intrigued by these similes, and thought them to be very poetic.  The image of the harp is easy to picture as it is, but it also creates the image of the effect the girl has upon the narrator.  There were other examples as well, but these were the ones that struck me as showing how Joyce’s writing embodied Imagism and was very poetic in his prose.

 

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3 thoughts on “James Joyce

  1. Thinking of Imagism as an efficient and concrete poetic style, the kinds of “poetic” emotionality you describe are actually quite Romantic. Your comment reminded me that Joyce was using an Imagist style to contain and convey (and supersede) a more flowery one from the literary tradition.

    • You’re right. I realized during our discussion in class today that I had kind of misinterpreted it in that respect. I was really struck by the poetic emotionality, and I think that it’s an important part of the story, but after our class discussion, I agree that he seems to be bringing about the death of the Romantic style with this Imagist style.

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