Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the snowy ending to The Dead by James Joyce

Snow seems to be everywhere this winter: Atlanta, Georgia; London, England; Europe, India . . . I expect to hear the Aussies are getting snow when their winter returns or Honolulu or Death Valley in California. In commemoration of this crystalline phenomenon (and recall that no two snowflakes are the same and images of them are used in books created for fashion designers and interior decorators) I have included here one of the strongest and most poetic endings to any story, James Joyce's The Dead (a film version of which was released in 1987). Since, in the Dublin author's tale, this snow falls on Ireland in the early 20th century, it shows you that this occurrence is not unheard of in the Islands - in fact, if you look at old Victorian/Dickensian era prints, you will see folk skating and mounds of snow. And remember Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates? The canals used to freeze in Holland during the icy Dutch winters and were used for skating on a regular basis.

Love it or hate it, I have to tell you, snow in the woods on a winter's evening (think Robert Frost) is one of the most beautiful experiences on earth, especially under a waxing moon and sparkling stars. Walking my Malamutes in the woods near our home, and our home is near the Rockies, we regularly see the winter magic of running or resting mule deer, fox, coyote, and yesterday a wolf with an incredible coat of fur. The snow offers up the tracks that permit me to read the nocturnal travels of man and beast like a holy book.

And now Joyce's gentle ending:

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.

1 comment:

EMP said...


"... the snow carefully everywhere descending" to use e. e. cummungs's phrase.

How lovely.