The Minor Arcana

"Such a colossal self-conceit with such a Lilliputian literary genius I never saw combined in one person."
–W. B. Yeats (A remark about Joyce made in 1902.)

The Works: Minor Arcana
The following page contains information on Joyce's "lesser" works. This includes his poems, Stephen Hero, Exiles, Giocomo Joyce, and a few other tidbits of possible interest.

Poetry & Satire
Although primarily known for his novels, Joyce produced a fair bit of poetry, most of it written during his early days in Ireland. Indeed, his first published work was a collection of poems called Chamber Music, a volume that earned him a place in the Imagist Anthology and brought him the attention of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. He was also fond of satire, and occasionally responded to his critics by circulating broadsides among his Dublin associates. As a poet, Joyce favored the lyrical, and the works of his early days are blatantly patterned after songs, particular the simple airs of the Elizabethan period. As he matured as a writer, his poems took on a more modern tone, and they grew somewhat more complex in rhythm, language, and meaning. As Finnegans Wake began consuming all his time and creative energy, his poetic output declined; and his last poem hails from 1932, almost a decade before his death.
As a novelist, Joyce remains an undisputed genius, and his lofty place in the annals of literature is quite secure. But as a poet, Joyce's position is a little shaky, and he may be fairly placed behind the great talents of his day – or, to be blunt about it, Yeats, Pound, and Eliot have nothing to fear from this particular Irishman. It's not that Joyce was a uniformly bad poet; on the contrary, he has written a few poems which can proudly stand next to the masters, and his few satires show a wit and deftness that approach Swift. But taken as a whole, his poetry only rarely reflects that insightful genius which so brightly illuminates his prose.
So...what can I say about Joyce the poet? Was he a great poet? Perhaps not; but he was certainly an honest poet. There is a guileless openness to his poetry that shows a side of Joyce rarely glimpsed in his novels. This heartfelt simplicity, when coming from a naïf or ingénue, might be easily dismissed or even disdained; but when coming from a Joyce, it seems almost endearing. Joyce's poetry surely invites criticism, but I think only non-Joyceans could actually be cruel about it. At their worst, they sound like forgettable airs, best sung to the accompaniment of a lute and allowed to drift away on a Spring breeze. At their most average, they sound like Yeats rushing to meet a deadline. But at their best – and there are a few very good ones, most notably "Poem XXXVI," "Nightpiece," and "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight" – one can clearly sense the master who penned Ulysses.
If you are interested in reading his poems, I suggest you pick up the Penguin Portable James Joyce, which reprints all his poetical works.

The Portable James Joyce

The Portable James Joyce, Penguin Books, ISBN: 0-14-015030-7, Paperback $16.95. [Browse/Purchase]

"The Holy Office"

This poem dates from 1904, shortly before Joyce was to leave Ireland, and originally took the form of a broadside printed by Joyce and circulated throughout his Dublin circle. Designed to defend and clarify his artistic position, it took a well-aimed swipe at the narrow minded people of Dublin, their refusal to face reality, and their predilection for art in the "Celtic Twilight" vein. Joyce, putting himself squarely in the tradition of Aristotle and St. Aquinas, reckons his writing as a purgative for all Dublin's hypocrisy: "That they may dream their dreamy dreams/I carry off their filthy streams... Thus I relieve their timid arses/Perform my office of Katharsis." His unflinchingly honest art is a mirror which reflects the things they would rather not acknowledge. And furthermore, the poem declares that he's perfectly willing to pay the price of his holy office – that he must bear the brunt of their anger and their hypocritical scorn, for that is the task for all artists true to their principles, even if it leaves them "self-doomed, unafraid, unfellowed, friendless and alone."
"The Holy Office" is a delightfully wicked satire, and when one remembers that Joyce had the vast majority of his career ahead of him, it seems a deliciously arrogant spurt of venom, a swift strike from the lucifer match of a morning star.

Chamber Music

Released in 1907, Chamber Music is a collection of 36 untitled poems of a generally short, unpretentious, and highly lyrical nature. (Indeed, many have been set to music over the last century, and Joyce penned them with a tenor's vocal range in mind.) Selected from the bulk of poems he wrote in his Dublin days, these pieces are arranged to form a sequence depicting a love affair progressing from innocence to experience and on to dissolution. And like Shakespeare's sonnets, Chamber Music is largely autobiographical, with Joyce playing the role of the poet and Nora Barnacle the role of his beloved. And as usual, the part of the wicked friend is played good old Oliver St. John Gogarty, who would later be fictionalized as Buck Mulligan.
As a whole, the poems of Chamber Music represent Joyce's poetry at its most basic. And even though they were collected in an Imagist anthology, they have precious little in common with Pound or Eliot. Indeed, the whole collection is colored with a – dare I say it? – a Celtic Twilightish feel, and at times Joyce even invokes faeries. (No kidding. And utterly without irony.) But there are still some very "Joycean" elements to the pieces, however. They may begin as very simple and innocent songs, but as the poet's feelings for his beloved grow more complex, the poems evolve in structure and language, and when love is lost, their former innocence is drowned in a cold river of melancholy. And of course, there are typical Joycean words sprinkled throughout, ranging from Elizabethan archaisms to such treats as "plenilune" and "Epithalamium." (Well, Joyce will be Joyce, as me mutter yeats essay.)
The poems begin with an enchanting musical prelude (Poems I – III), three poems which invoke themes of nature, music and love. As the poet goes on to woo his love, the poems grow a little more detailed, occasionally shifting into an Elizabethan mode. After finally winning her in Poem XI, especially notable for the use of the words "snood," "unzone," and "maidenhood" in the same verse, we sense that Celtic twilight descending as the poet and his lover wander across dark starry lands and dewy gardens, in love, harking to the wise choirs of faery. Ah, but this is Joyce, after all, and trouble rears its head as the poet's jealous friend confounds their love throughout Poem XVII – XVII. There is a split, and the young maiden is dishonored (Poem XIX) until the poet declares his love above all else (Poem XXI). After that, however, their love loses some of the lyrical innocence that marked its beginning, and the poems grow increasingly more bittersweet. Eventually – and here we split from autobiography, for Nora remained with Joyce – the poet's lover drifts apart from him, and by Poem XXVIII things are looking pretty grim. By Poem XXX it is all over, and the poet muses on his lost love as the year winds to a chilly end. The last three poems find the poet alone, crying his melancholy to the winter and the unquiet sea. Finally, in Poem XXXVI, this despair is voiced in a very Yeatsian vision of an onrushing army. This final poem – a very good piece, and perhaps the best in the collection – is as far away from the first poem as a mournful Irish lament is from a merry Elizabethan air.

"Gas From A Burner"

This dates from 1912, and originally took the form of a broadside printed by Joyce and circulated among his friends and enemies. It is another satire, written to lampoon his publisher Maunsel & Co. of Dublin. Although they first promised to print Dubliners, its sensitive subject matter made them grow increasingly more cagey, until an offended printer finally smashed up the type in 1912. Outraged, Joyce wrote "Gas from a Burner," a savage diatribe against printers and publishers which takes the form of an imaginary monologue delivered by the printer himself. In the poem, the printer defends his actions because he saw it as his duty to protect Ireland's honor from such filth – and more so, from any writer who would have the vulgarity to mention actual Irish locations by name! The satire has a broader aim than just the printer, however, and portrays him as just a symptom of Ireland's deeper problems – her habit of betraying her leaders, bowing down to foreign powers, and sending her artists into exile.

Pomes Penyeach

Published in 1927, Pomes Penyeach is a collection of 13 poems, a gathering of works written while Joyce was busy working on Ulysses. The collection is so named for its price – one shilling, or 12 pence – with a thirteenth "tilly" thrown in to round the baker's dozen. While similar to Chamber Music in theme – love, regret, loss, etc. – the poetry in this collection shows a distinct improvement in language, style, and imagery. There is more of Joyce in these verses, and occasionally we can see a command of language that seems more appropriate to the author of Ulysses. Less lyrical than Chamber Music, these poems have a darker and more somber feel, and more than a few seem touched by a hint of nostalgia. This collection also contains "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight," a sharply drawn piece that ranks up with the best of any poet's work. (And I say this not just because it uses the word "quailing.")

"Ecce Puere"

Written in 1932, this poem was first made public by its inclusion in Joyce's Collected Poems of 1936. Meaning "Behold the Boy-child," "Ecce Puer" was written soon after Joyce's father died and his grandson Stephen was born, and contains that same unguarded honesty of his earlier poems. It shows a man in transition from a son to a grandfather and torn between "joy and grief," finally realizing his need for reconciliation – and forgiveness.

A dedicated fan of Ibsen, who he defended all through his life, Joyce translated several foreign plays into English and wrote two of his own. The first, a very early work entitled A Brilliant Career, was arrogantly dedicated to the artist's "own soul." A "lost work," today it is almost completely forgotten. The second, Exiles, is usually only known to Joyceans and rarely performed.


1. The Portable James Joyce, Penguin Books, ISBN: 0-14-015030-7, Paperback $16.95. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Prometheus Books, ISBN: 1-59102-075-1, Paperback $14.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Written in 1914, the year that saw the completion of Portrait and the beginning of Ulysses, Exiles was not published until 1918. Very obviously inspired by Ibsen, this play features an artist who must choose between a career that satisfies his wife and friends, or a life of alienation in the pursuit of his muse. Although there are certainly a few autobiographical elements present in the basic structure, the play quickly veers off into fiction as the characters begin to orient themselves into the corners of a bizarre love triangle. Though these troubled relationships form part of the dramatic tension, the real source of stress is caused by the inability of the artist's wife and friend to understand him, and his reciprocal inability to really care about their lives.
Of all Joyce's work, this is the one that comes under the most deserved criticism. It has been accused of having a mechanical plot, a serious lack of objectivity, underdeveloped characters, and a theme too derivative of Ibsen. Additionally, the dialogue is far too elaborate to really sound authentic – the characters make lovely speeches, but their words make better reading than they do theater. The main character is meant to appear intellectually complex and heroically dedicated, but too often comes across as arrogant and self-pitying, and his weird desire to be cuckolded has a much more believable manifestation in the later Leopold Bloom. Regardless of its flaws as a dramatic work, however, it still has the Joycean elements of lyricism and self-disclosure; two elements which make it an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Drafts, Letters, Criticism & Translations
Joyce was a proofuse notetucker, an allconsumate draftsman, a wordwary letterbug and an untowering onstopbabel tranceliker of fireyn longushes. (Heh. Sorry, that.) So it 's only natural that a full collection of his works would include some of these fragments, letters, and curiosities – after all, to quote Stephen Dedalus, "a man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery."

Stephen Hero

W. W. Norton & Co.: New Directions, 1969, ISBN 0-8112-0074-4, Paperback $11.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Probably composed around 1906, Stephen Hero is an early draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The book as published is incomplete, for after it was rejected by twenty publishers on the grounds of indecency, Joyce reportedly threw the manuscript into a fire, leaving Nora to salvage its remains. But since pages have turned up years later, and no surviving pages show any sign of fire damage, many regard this story as apocryphal. (Personally, I think its so charming it just has to be true.)
The text as published follows the adventures of Stephen Dedalus, the name Joyce uses to more or less represent himself. It is a largely autobiographical work, showing young Stephen's rebellion against his family, his country, and the Roman Catholic Church, as he struggles to assert his identity as an individual and as a writer. It contains much of the material found in Portrait, but it is told more as a straight-forward narrative, quite heavy on dialogue. While lacking that spark of creative genius found in its final version, it has often been remarked that the dialogue and family scenes in Stephen Hero provide some of the most vivid windows into Joyce's early life, and it stands as one of his most personal works.

Giacomo Joyce

Faber and Faber, ISBN 0-571-13164-6, Paperback $9.95. Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]

A very short work composed in 1907, Giacomo Joyce is sort of a free-form love poem in the guise of a series of notes. It is composed of short phrases, some poetic, some dream fragments, some like journal entries, and some just simple sentences or questions. His attempt to penetrate the mind of a dark lady, the object of an illicit love affair, this work has a melancholy, disillusioned feel that is sadly haunting.

On Ibsen

Sun & Moon Press: Green Interger Books, 1999, ISBN 1557133727, Paperback $8.95. [Browse/Purchase]

This short book contains the two essays written by Joyce about the great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen.

The Critical Writings of James Joyce

Ed. by Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellman

1. Faber & Faber: 1959. Out of Print.

2. Cornell University Press, 1989, ISBN 0801495873; Paperback $16.95. [Browse/Purchase]

The information below is adapted from information located in Anthony Burgess' ReJoyce. Anybody who would like to submit additional information, or perhaps a small review, is welcome to contact me through email.
This book is a collection of critical writings, reviews, lectures, and letters of protest. Some of the more noteworthy pieces include literary criticism about Mangan, Ibsen, and Blake, writings on Nolan, musings on Home Rule, and even a bullockbefriending piece called "Politics and Cattle Disease." Although Joyce was only a second-rate critic, some of these pieces are of interest because Joyce uses his critique as a springboard to launch some of his own aesthetic and political ideas. Another piece – a passionate defense of a Irish-French tenor named John Sullivan – is notable because it contains some foreshadowing of the prose style used in Finnegans Wake.

Letters of James Joyce, Vol. I, II, & III

Vol. I: Ed. by Stuart Gilbert; Faber & Faber: 1957. Out of Print.
Vol. II and III: Ed. by Richard Ellman; Faber & Faber: 1966. Out of Print.

Selected Letters of James Joyce

Ed. by Richard Ellman; Viking: 1967. Out of Print.

Three collections of his letters to friends, family, and publishers and the later "greatest hits" mix.

The Cat and the Devil

1964. ISBN 1550810014. Illustrated by Richard Erdoes. Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]

In the August of 1936, James Joyce wrote a letter to his grandson Stephen, and in that letter he told an amusing story. According to

It is fable about the overnight construction of a bridge that the devil builds in exchange for the soul of its first traveler, taking place in Beaugency, France, a small town on the Loire River. Outwitted by Monsieur Alfred Byrne, the Lord Mayor of Beaugency, the Devil must settle for the cat that crosses first.

The story was extracted and published as a children's book in 1964. Illustrations were provided by Richard Erdoes.

Translation: Before Sunrise

By Joyce and Hauptmann; PSP Graphics, California: 1978; Hardcover $7.50; Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]

This entry was sent in to me by a reader, but I lost their name and email address. The below entry is not mine, and if its author will contact me, I will give him/her the credit they deserve.
"This is a translation of Gerhardt Hauptmann's Vor Sonnenaufgang, an Ibsenesque play, that Joyce made while he was still in college. Much of the interest lies in the numerous missteps and mistakes the young Joyce, new to the German language, makes. Joyce, the story goes, was annoyed that this manuscript ever made it out of his hands, so buying this book is a little like printing up pre-Nine Stories Salinger stories from Saturday Evening Post microfilm. Personally, I think Stephen's unholy mania for biography-based criticism – of the shady figure of Shakespeare, no less – warrants a reading of this play. At any rate, it might be a difficult to find this in print. My copy was a used hardcover–$7.50–copyright 1978 by Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, printed in the U.S. by PSP Graphics, Canoga Park, California."

The "Joyceworks" Pages

Book through eternity junction – Back to the "Joyceworks" main page.

The Artfull Eye – "Why read James Joyce?" A somewhat fanatical essay on Joyce, his works, his importance, and why people write somewhat fanatical essays about him.

Quailigans Quake – A small essay on Joyce's narrative technique, and a few general words of advice on how to first approach to his work.

The Essential Canon – Joyce's major works:

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man
Finnegans Wake

Lash/Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

Spiral-Bound – Click here for information about Spiral-Bound, The Modern Word's monthly electronic newsletter. From this page you can read about Spiral-Bound, browse archived past editions, sign up for the Spiral-Bound e-group, and subscribe to the newsletter itself.

–Allen B. Ruch
19 June 2003