Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Irish I could write like James Joyce

Writer and friend of the blog, Bill Pearse, and I were touching on James Joyce the other day in the context of one of Bill’s posts over at pinklightsabre. Dubliners, specifically. Something he said reminded me of the end of the last story in that sublime collection, “The Dead.”

Later, when I couldn’t find my old paperback, I landed on this online edition, which offers a clickable table of contents and highly readable text, unlike so many web-based longreads. It’s a very book-like design and gives you the experience of reading the actual book instead of a computer page with too-narrow margins. Nothing’s more tiring than tracking a sentence all the way across your browser and back. Especially when it’s a James Joyce sentence. You can also increase the font size if you’re so inclined.

I don’t read Joyce that often anymore, but when I do it’s easy to get caught up in it. Just look at this passage that Bill reminded me of:

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.

Now that is some sweet piece of brilliance. Stuff like this can change everything.


13 comments on “Irish I could write like James Joyce

  1. pinklightsabre
    March 9, 2017

    Reblogged this on William Pearse | pinklightsabre and commented:
    Sharing this piece by my friend Kevin, not only because he name-drops me alongside JAMES JOYCE but because it includes one of my favorite passages of Joyce, I’d love to share…thanks Kevin!

  2. pinklightsabre
    March 9, 2017

    There are times in his writing it seems he can go so obtuse, or ‘out there’ with his linguistics or the subject matter of Irish history/religion, but the times he uses more simple language like this are my favorites. And I like how he uses word repetition deliberately. So glad you shared this, I hadn’t read it in a while…and I’m lucky, I have a special memory of my own I always associate with this…of hearing the snow fall walking home alone late at night as a teenager from a dance, after I’d reconnected with an old flame, and had that to keep me warm. Best, Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 9, 2017

      So right. I’ve never tackled Finnegan’s Wake because the first frickin’ page is so crazy. And I only made my way through Ulysses because I used one of those companion books that guides you through.

      Yes, the repetitions. Slowly falling, falling slowly. Then faintly. Awesome.

      Thanks for the reblog, too, Bill! Always glad to link to the lightsabre.

      • pinklightsabre
        March 9, 2017

        One ring to bind them. Sorry, mixing lit references. Felt appropriate, appropriate it felt.

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 9, 2017

        Good one. You sound like Yoda in the comment, though.

      • pinklightsabre
        March 9, 2017

        I know, man nothing gets by you?!

      • Em
        March 10, 2017

        You owe it to yourself to read it. It’s grade A proof that Joyce was the greatest linguistic genius who ever lived. Even Vladimir Nabokov who considered it a tragic failure admitted that it had “heavenly intonations.”

        Joyce turned language into LSD, he exploded it, atomized it, and everything in between. A very hard read but immensely high in entertainment value and more alliteration than you can shake a stick at.

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 10, 2017

        Maybe I’ll try in my old age. Or at least I’ll look at the pages … 😉

  3. walt walker
    March 9, 2017

    I’ve tried to read a bit of Joyce here and there, mainly as a student many years ago, and never appreciated him. I was halfway through this paragraph, still not appreciating him, until the line “It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried.” That’s where it turned a corner for me, or I turned a corner, maybe, and suddenly appreciated the artfulness of the whole paragraph.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 10, 2017

      He’s probably an acquired taste, for sure. And you always get the feeling there’s much more going on than you’re getting. But the language … wow, the language.

  4. 1WriteWay
    March 13, 2017

    It is a lovely paragraph, but, like Walt, it was the line “It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried” that arrested me. Having grown up in an area that saw it’s fair share of “snow falling faintly,” felt the utter loneliness of a dark world covered in snow, and often passed by any number of graveyards, the naming of Michael Furey (although I haven’t read the novel and so don’t know who the character is) gave me such a bittersweet sense of loss and sadness. The alliteration in the last sentence is so sweetly musical and right and natural. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      I read a paragraph like that and go, I haven’t really been writing, have I. This is like the BIG big leagues.

      • 1WriteWay
        March 13, 2017

        Yes, I wonder how many times he had to revise to make the paragraph so eloquent. I remember reading a comment by John Kenneth Galbraith’s son, saying his father had to write many drafts before his writing would sound easy.

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