The Words of James Joyce


James Joyce (1882 – 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet who contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer's Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, particularly 'stream of consciousness'. His short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939) established his reputation, as well as three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.

Born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin, Joyce was a brilliant student who went on to attend University College Dublin. In 1904, in his early twenties, Joyce emigrated to continental Europe with his partner (and later wife) Nora Barnacle, living in Trieste, Paris and Zurich. Joyce's fictional universe, though, centres on Dublin. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of that city. He said, 'For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.’

Here is a small selection of quotes from his works:

'Life is too short to read a bad book.'

'Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.’

'Shut your eyes and see.'

'One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.’

'Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.'

'Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.'

'Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.'

'And then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.'

'Her lips touched his brain as they touched his lips, as though they were a vehicle of some vague speech and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odor.'

'His heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide. He heard what her eyes said to him from beneath their cowl and knew that in some dim past, whether in life or revery, he had heard their tale before.'

'I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.’

'Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.'

'History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.'

'Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.'

'I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use -- silence, exile, and cunning.'

'The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.'

'You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.'

'and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.'

'Love loves to love love.'

'Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’

'Why is it that words like these seem dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?'

'A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.'

'But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.’

'He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.'

'All Moanday, Tearday, Wailsday, Thumpsday, Frightday, Shatterday.'

'Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.'

'A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.'

'They lived and laughed and loved and left.'

'Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.'

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