The Waltz of Song & Poetry: CHAMBER MUSIC by James Joyce


There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there.

– James Joyce, Chamber Music

The Waltz of Song & Poetry

It is common for well-loved songs to find their inspiration in poetry. Some are written with the goal of being transformed into music, including Chamber Music by James Joyce.

Our culture is laden with songs that underwent this transformation. We’ve all heard some of them–classics such as “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song derived from a poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796). “America the Beautiful” was the work of Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929).

Secular music has also been touched by poetry. A collection of songs exist based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. (Listen to Annabel Lee by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame). We can’t forget songs inspired by novels or poems about music and its power.

Seeking the link between music and poetry sends a person down a literary and musical rabbit hole.


The Words of James Joyce

Joyce himself was not very romantic when he spoke of the title Chamber Music. He said of it that he referred to the sound made by a lady using a chamber pot. Most literary experts consider this mere off-color humor.

When composer Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer (1882-1957) composed a tune for Chamber Music, Joyce was pleased with the outcome. Palmer was not the only one who gave a tune to Joyce’s verses, though Palmer’s was Joyce’s favorite attempt. Other composers took up the challenge, including Moeran, Bliss, and Charlotte Milligan Fox.

Joyce said in a letter to Palmer regarding the work, “(…) you may set all of Chamber Music in time. This was indeed partly my idea in writing it. The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them myself.”

While casual readers can enjoy Chamber Music and the imagery within, it was not received with enthusiasm on its publication in 1907. Joyce was criticized for using many styles and forms, making the piece difficult to label.

What’s more, Chamber Music was published during a year of political turmoil in his native country of Ireland. Fellow Irish writers scorned that it did not “serve the cause.” Compatriot poet Yeats complained that Joyce had no interest in Irish politics.


What Happened in Ireland?

I wondered while researching why it was such an issue to Yeats that Chamber Music was not political. What was this strife in Ireland capable of turning talented writers against each other? IrishRep summed up nicely:

After nearly eight centuries under forced British rule, the late 1800s brought a wave of Irish nationalism in the form of The Gaelic Revival, which encouraged the reemergence of the Irish language, and the Irish Literary Renaissance, which revived Irish folklore and other storytelling tradition through new works by famed authors including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and more.

read more

We then understand that it was a literary issue. Joyce’s apparent indifference in Chamber Music may have been labelled treason. We can’t forget that he was unique with his writing–anyone who has glanced at Finnegan’s Wake knows what I mean.

Ponder for a moment that this poem can be linked to pop-culture today as well as old political spats. A poem is never just a poem, a book never only a book! The poem’s troubled history is part of its legacy. All things considered, the imagery remains beautiful.

I’ve read a few literary essays by professors, but cannot agree that there is a flaw in Chamber Music. It makes me want to try my own hand at composing music for a few stanzas.

Enriched by the history of Chamber Music, we can enjoy it in all its depth. I live to dig up the “story behind the story.”

How do music and poetry mingle in your life? The two have waltzed for centuries as if in a forbidden romance. Search your Spotify playlist for tracks where they embrace for three magical minutes.

Poem: Avonlea


Five monarchs flutter in a row–
They’re grace on wings,
And as they go,
Time stops. Am I in Avonlea?
Though Avonlea has never seen
Five monarchs in a row!

They make no sound to my own ear,
Yet my heart makes out
Music here.
Five monarchs make a chord of light.
It will ring clear into the night.
What dark have I to fear!

To Whom It May Concern


Let it be said of me
That my words waded
Where the waves
Devour,

Intent on saving you
For a new Day,
For it was not
Your Hour.

I don’t believe
I will meet you;
I shall not Know
Who you are,

Yet my words,
Relentless, found you,
Be it near or far.

For those who found my work long aft I’ve faded like a flower,

I hope you found a verse or two, to last another hour.

xx

Prologue


Let it be said of me,
“She was open, like a book.”
& like a book,
Some people can’t get much
Further than page 1.
I am a poem-volume
Amidst documents of war;
The thrill explorers felt as
Their schooners left the shore.

One day I’ll be a Favorite Book
Read ‘neath the setting sun.
For now, I’ll stay true to myself
And whisper my page 1.

Shared with dVerse Open Link Night. Check them out for great poetry!

Creativity in Quarantine


I would love to say that I am #StayingAtHome, but I found this situation more complicated—and emotionally loaded.

When we first arrived in Peru, we were staying in a hotel. This was where we were when, halfway into our trip, a quarantine and curfew were set; all of the stores closed. Any place that we might have gone to have fun has been shut down for weeks.

After that, we left the hotel to spend the remainder of our trip at our grandmother’s house; there is still nowhere to go except for the grocery store.

Boredom can be painful.

I expected that quarantine of such a nature would give me inspiration to finish a book. Instead, I’m writing a few chapters, but they are good ones.

It’s hard to focus on creative writing when the media makes you so hyper aware of the bad things happening in the world. We are all feel a little out of place. We are all celebrating small victories, like finishing a chapter or reading a long book.

As we wait out the last three days, hoping the U.S. Government will get us home, I’m allowing myself to feel the negative feelings. They can lead to clarity. They can serve as inspiration. Ultimately, they can guide us.

I hope you’ve found something to keep you sane during this time. We are all seeing the world in a different way; how have these events changed your viewpoint?

Imagine Success


2020 is young, and sweet progress is being made. I’ve written 10,000 words towards my first novella of the year. I am hoping for four of them.

As I wade through the tale of Isolde and Gareth, I can’t help reflecting on how my writing process has changed since I began. It’s more mature; for instance, though I do not outline much, I need a checklist of events. I sort through scenes in my head, and try to pick those that are absolutely necessary.

With a goal of 30-33,000 words max for The Price of a Unicorn, it is important to choose the most necessary scenes.

My writing prompt app said today, Imagine success. That sent a wave of excitement through me. Though success comes in many forms (for instance, writing 10k is success) the prompt made me think of what I want from my stories.

I have a mermaid series in the works, and a fantasy trilogy loaded with magic; now, I have my side project of novellas. These novellas play out in my head like television shows, more than my books did. I might rewrite them in screenplay form.

When the new year began, I made plans for the next ten years. I want to read all the classic novels, including obscure ones you won’t find in bookstores. I want to be decent at the piano.

Most importantly, by the time 2030 comes around, I want to have plenty of stories published. I have all that I need to succeed as a storyteller; until this year, I only lacked motivation.

You ask me to imagine success; I see a shelf full of books with my name on them. I see journals of poetry. I see memoirs of my travels, articles, and anthologies.

The next ten years, God willing, shall be full of ambition and learning. It’s possible, when I quit procrastinating. It’s possible, when I believe in myself. I have so many stories to tell!

When you imagine success, what do you see?

Nine Ladies Dancing: Clinging to Youth


It’s frightening to grow up. Taking on responsibilities, leaving old habits behind, speaking of childhood in the past tense—it’s no wonder so many people take their time, whether or not they realize it. The world is a scary place, after all.

I believe this message was the strongest theme for Nine Ladies Dancing, the fourth novella in the Belles of Christmas collection, which I have been enjoying thoroughly.

Add to my above list the future inheritance of a grand estate and title. It’s no wonder the male protagonist, Matthew, has not yet grown up, seeking comfort in the things that make him feel free…such as horses. His parents have noticed, though, that he isn’t getting any younger, and neither are they.

With this in mind, his mother strikes a deal with him: he must get to know nine ladies before Twelfthnight. If he does not fall in love with any of them, she will finally stop telling him what to do with his life. To make the deal sweeter, his father promises him a new horse if he doesn’t fall for any of them.

As a reader, I laughed quite a bit at the horse detail. He prefers a horse to true love! But, back to the review.

It sounds easy to not fall in love, so Matthew accepts the deal with his mother. The catch, which he does not realize until several embarrassing incidents later, is that he was already in love…but with the last person he could have imagined. Meg does love him, though, and puts up an admirable fight.

Too bad he’s so obsessed with the new horse that, eventually, Meg gives up. When Meg gives up fighting for him—well, something doesn’t feel quite right with his head…or is it his heart?…he cannot decide. Suddenly, though, he’s far more interested in her and what she’s doing—and the gentlemen she’s talking to.

Eventually, the horse is no longer so enticing.

My heart ached many times over the course of this book for Meg and for silly Matthew. It’s a well known truth that you do not know what you have until you lose it; however, this book has a happy ending, which soothed that ache. Matthew finally does grow up.

I waited eagerly for this book to release, and finished it in a day. All of the novellas in this collection have me enchanted, and I’ll be sad when there are no more. Also, I think the cover for Nine Ladies Dancing is the most beautiful of the five. However, they all make me dream.

I’m already reading the final novella, A Duke for Lady Eve. Thankfully, there are more sweet Regency novels from these authors, and I won’t have to say good-bye to the magic that is in this collection. I am so glad to have found it; every book was worth the read!

Dwelling-Place of Storm


I am a poet,
Keeper of flowers
Dwelling-place of storm.

My emotions
Manifest in
Terrifying form.

I can destroy you
With my words,
Feeling no remorse,

Or I can calm you,
Fighting battles
For you at the source.

I’ve learned there is
No middle ground:
Believe me, I tried.

I am a dwelling-place
Of storm;
Friend, I never lied.

Hundred-Acre Grave


Yesterday, the blue and gray
Skies rolling overhead,
Sighing, seemed to me to say
The rivers had turned red.

Treading gentle on the grass,
I sought peace but found none.
April, she had come to pass,
Her faithful weeping done.

Musical, the ancient trees
Groaned with the bluegray sky.
Their duet, a mournful sound,
Spoke of a world awry.

One persistent hummingbird
Called, as if I could save
Her home from the fate I heard,
A hundred-acre grave.

As I trekked an ancient trail,
Trees around me died.
Had April seen her tears fail,
Longer she’d have cried.