by: Shirley Satterfield
James Joyce: Ireland’s Premiere Artist
James Joyce was born in February of 1882 the Irish city of Dublin and became one of the 20th century’s foremost writers of the Modernist Movement. He was an innovative writer who was the father of a new form of writing called stream of consciousness narrative in which the author describes a stream of random thoughts that pass through a character’s mind as if in real time, but not necessarily in a logical order.
In his autobiography “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” Joyce writes about himself in the third person, essentially becoming both the narrator of the book and the main character whom he calls Stephan Dedalus, a young student in a boarding school who was also his alter-ego and he records the childlike thoughts as if thoughts of a young child, almost in baby talk.
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming
down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a
nicens little boy named baby tuckoo… He was baby tuckoo. The moocow
came down the road where Betty Byne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place
He sang the song that was his song.
O, the green
Although his father failed in business and his family of two parents and nine siblings fell into deep poverty and dark squalor, Joyce attended a private Roman Catholic Boarding school and another private Parochial anyway as a child. His family made the necessary financial sacrifices to educate him because of the self-evident intellectual and academic gifts he demonstrated early in life. Joyce became a devout Catholic as a child and even became quite religious for a while, but as he became a young man he became disillusioned by a church corrupted by politics and demanding of unquestioning conformity by its parishioners, a kind of mind-numbing conformity deemed bad for society by Joyce.
Finally Joyce left Ireland altogether to live with his wife and two children as an expatriate in the countries of Italy and Switzerland where unfortunately his ballet dancer daughter Lucia was diagnosed with the mental illness of schizophrenia by famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, his daughter eventually becoming a permanent resident of an institution, inspiring Joyce to write this poem:
A Flower Given to my Daughter,
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.
Notice the profound simplicity of this poem. J oyce describes both the woman that gives the flower and the precious daughter that receives it as being frail, even using the image of a blueveined child to describe his child which conjures up images in this reader of what the “old wives” used to call a blue baby, a child that is dying of a heart defect. Yet she receives the gift “in gentle eyes” denoting compassion. Perhaps both frail women were residents of the same hospital.
James Joyce, a giant of a writer, was probably one of the darkest and most complicated personalities in the literary world, and writing as though he was standing afar-off from his characters and peering down a tunnel of time, and the thing that made him so different was that not only did his writings engage the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture, but also Joyce could appeal to the sixth sense of the human intuition.