James Joyce

Happy Bloomsday!

As promised my choice of James Joyce’s verse today will mark today’s event (though Bloomsday seems to have begun to stretch out over a few days as though it refuses to be confined by a mere twenty-four hours). I probably won’t actually be doing anything Bloomsday-ish though, as I will be at the Dalkey Book Festival for a couple of the Kids’ events. I just hope the weather is kind to us. But back to James Joyce…

For this poem I am returning to one of the anthologies I have used before, selected by Kaye Webb from children’s suggestions of their favourite poems.

Chamber Music

book cover of I like this Poem by Kaye Webb

Another #Poetryinjune choice


Lean out of the window,
Golden hair,
I hear you singing
A merry air.

My book is closed;
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.

I have left my books:
I have left my room:
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.

Singing and singing
A merry air.
Lean out of the window,
Golden hair.

I was surprised to see that this poem was from James Joyce; it doesn’t strike me as the sort of piece he would write. It has such a gentle, tender story book quality. But then I have to confess to not being a very experienced Joycean so perhaps my impression is wide of the mark. The poem was originally the title poem of a collection of love poems published in 1907 by Elkin Matthews.

Joyce later said to his wife, ‘ When I wrote [Chamber Music], I was a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me.’  There is also a more earthy tale about a connection with chamber pots which may or may not have any basis in fact. Appropriately enough, considering the date today,  In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom reflects, ‘Chamber music. Could make a pun on that.’

The young reader who put forward this choice in the anthology said it was, ‘because it reminds me of the best fairy tales, such as Rapunzel singing from a turret window at dusk…It is reassuringly old-fashioned and chivalrous…quietly inspiring and my favourite poem’. (Charlotte Woodward in I like this poem). One of the aspects I love about this collection is reading the comments made by the children (I wonder where they all are now – do they still read poetry?) showing their engagement and enthusiasm with the written word.

I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your weekend, wherever you are. Regards to all James Joyce aficionados celebrating Bloomsday.


Letters and Trains: Auden

The Night Mail by W.H. Auden (1907- 1973) combines two of my favourites things, letters and train journeys. It was written to accompany a General Post Office (GPO) film made in 1936 about a London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train from London to Scotland. In the film, the music was composed by Benjamin Britten and The Night Mail was recited by John Grierson.

As the poem was written to tie in so closely with a train journey it has a great rhythm for reading aloud.  At this point in the poem, the Night Mail train has almost reached Glasgow, with postal workers beavering away on board all night. My dad used to be a postman (though he never worked on the night mail train) and I ordered the DVD of the film for him a couple of years ago (see a clip below) as a Father’s Day gift.

Of course, the fascinating thing about this poem is that it shows just how much people would have relied on the post for all sorts of things that we receive digitally these days. But where’s the romance in an email?

I’ve taken this poem from a collection that I picked up in a charity shop in Dublin a few years ago. It’s an interesting collection in that the editor Kaye Webb (1914- 1996) made her selection from around 1,000 recommendations from children so it is genuinely a children’s poetry book. I may return to it later in the month as it contains a few old favourites of mine.

The Night Mail (part III)

book cover of I Like this poem

Puffin Books, 1979

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands,
Notes from overseas to Hebrides –

Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and printed and the spelt all wrong,

And I love the last lines – they always make me a little teary –

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I thought I’d include a clip from the original GPO film that features the poem. This is the final section of the film:

Credits: clip taken from YouTube with thanks (uploaded June 2008 by Stephen Dowd)

Now, go on – write a letter to someone today!