Thursday, January 06, 2005

"But yet," continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, "there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here to-night. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours."

And

"The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. 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. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live."

--James Joyce, "The Dead"

I have a tendency to read the most wonderful books, the most wonderful stories, for the oddest of reasons. I read Middlemarch for the first time because, in Lorrie Moore's Anagrams, Benna Carpenter's imaginary friend Eleanor was prone to yelling out to joggers from car windows: "Go home and read Middlemarch." Now I'm reading Heir to the Glimmering World because I heard, somewhere, that its main character is quite fond of Middlemarch.

And what does any of this have to do with James Joyce's "The Dead?" I put off reading "The Dead" for the first time (hey, the longer I put off Dubliners the longer I can put off Ulysses) until I heard a thirtysomething episode had been based on the story.

"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, father 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 throught the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Happy Twelfth Night.

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