A memory of the players in a mirror at midnight

August 13, 2006 at 4:14 am 1 comment

James Joyce


They mouth love’s language. Gnash
The thirteen teeth
Your lean jaws grin with. Lash
Your itch and qualing, nude greed of the flesh.
Love’s breath in you is stale, worded or sung,
As sour as cat’s breath,
Harsh of tongue.

This grey that stares
Lies not, stark skin and bone.
Leave greasy lips their kissing. None
Will choose her what you see to mouth upon.
Dire hunger holds his hour.
Pluck forth your heart, saltblood, a fruit of tears.
Pluck and devour!

There’s a line in Joyce’s Stephen Hero [1] which goes:

“What the flamin’ hell does it matter what it’s apropos of?”

It’s a line that always makes me think of this poem. I’m not quite sure what to make of this poem – there are days when I ‘m all admiration for it, and others when I think it’s the most arrant nonsense.

I’ll say this for it though – as an exercise in sound it succeeds marvellously – the rhymes are clever and surprising, and the phrases flow well. There’s also a salty, decrepit air to the poem, a fleshiness, a sense of old and decaying skin. It’s an unshaven, carious poem, an exercise in gritty realism. Stephen Dedalus, tired as he was of ardent ways, would, I think, have approved.

Oh, and don’t you just love the title?


[1] Which later grew into Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, James Joyce, Prose Writers.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Facetious Feline  |  August 13, 2006 at 6:42 am

    I think it’s an awful poem, title apart. What’s “nude greed of the flesh”? Sounds like Pound’s cautionary “dim lands of peace”…

    Joyce is indeed good with rhythms. Critics can be rather patronising about “Pomes Pennywise”, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there. It’s a successful “apprentice” book, as “Harmonium” was for Stevens. This poem isn’t from there, is it? Where?


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