Poetry in Prose

James Joyce’s style was poetic, even in his prose. In “Araby” the descriptive imagery sounds as if it could come from a poem, “The space of the 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. Our shouts echoed in the silent street.” (Joyce, 2219). The description uses poetic devices such as personification (feeble lanterns) and alliteration (silent street). The scene is described in great detail as it would be in a poem. 

The last line of the story is a reflection, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” (Joyce, 2222) The blunt imagery is a trademark of modernist poetry. Joyce described himself exactly as he saw. He did not seek to create anything, but rather to record. Modernist authors did not hesitate to portray the world in all of its ugliness. They were more concerned with making something real rather than making something beautiful. Self-evaluation and deep reflection was common in modernist poetry. The speaker in the story saw the vices that were controlling his actions, and he was disgusted. He was so disgusted that he resorted to dehumanizing himself and referring to himself as a “creature”. There is contrasting imagery in this sentence. He sees himself in the “darkness” and then his eyes “burned”. This imagery is hell-like and can lead one to conclude that the narrator is so unhappy with himself that he compares himself to the devil. He is a creature with burning eyes in the darkness, all of these are hell-like images. 

The ending to “Eveline” is also very poetic. It embodies the modernist tradition of having an unexpected or unsatisfying ending. The personification and sea-like imagery employed by Joyce is very similar to what one would expect in a poem, “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her.” (Joyce, 2225). Poetry often uses vast imagery to describe emotions. What Eveline is feeling is given much importance, “all of the seas of the world tumbled about her heart”. Her feelings are so strong, that it takes something as powerful as the sea to describe them. “He would drown her” incorporates a healthy amount of fear into the writing. Modernist poetry could never be absent of fear, since there is no chance of escaping fear in real life.

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3 thoughts on “Poetry in Prose

  1. I really enjoyed your post and the way you compared Joyce’s prose fiction to modern poetry! I also noticed how the stories just seemed to end abruptly, which is different than the Victorian and Romantic works we have read so far. I hadn’t picked up on the comparison of the boy in Araby to a hell-like creature, but with that in mind, I am more able to understand Joyce’s message about the world the character lived in.

  2. I love the way you emphasized the recording of events without passing any real judgment on them. Joyce does not tell the reader what he feels about the boy in Araby’s revelation or the decision that Eveline makes at the end of the work. He leaves it up to the reader to form his or her own opinion. This is an innovation in modern literature, as it is not concerned with morals in the way that literature from the Victorian Period was, and I appreciate that you mentioned it. Modern prose and poetry are definitely allied in the goal of showing things as they are without the element of judgment.

    • Modernhelen, that’s a really excellent point! I definitely didn’t think about the fact that Joyce casts no judgement on either the boy or Eveline, but now that you mentioned it, it seems so obvious and significant. Reading these short pieces was a completely different experience than reading works from the Victorian Period, and the lack of judgment is one huge aspect of the difference. I’m really glad you pointed it out.

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