Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Portrait of the the Artist

as a Young Man is certainly not one of my favorite books, but I remember a certain passage inside of it so well that it feels like yesterday when I first read it, or savored it or hung, suspended, in it. Today, in 1916, James Joyce published it, his first novel.

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and faint flame trembled on her cheek.

"Heavenly God!" cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.


  1. Wow. I whined and skimmed my way through this book when i was in high school, and clearly i missed this. I had no idea there was such as this inside. it was all tedium at the time. obviously i was too young and unformed. you make me want to pick this up again.

  2. That picture is absolutely breathtaking.Really and truly.

  3. If I'd paid attention when forced to read the book, I might have come away remembering this lovely passage--almost as lovely as the photograph!


  4. Such beauty. Your son's care for his sister, her grace against the sea. The words that all of us but you so obviously missed.
    You know you are a creator of and a channel for beauty. I wonder if that is one of your main tasks here on earth. If it is, you fulfill it.

  5. The photograph is just beautiful. I haven't read that book, but I might now :) Jen

  6. oh, Elizabeth.

    I know I say that so often, don't I .
    And I mean so much by it.

  7. this photo simply knocks me flat. and your beauty. and the beauty and fire inside you and your family. you amaze me. you are a burning church.

  8. You're just the coolest.

    Funny, I have passages from Ulysses that I feel the same way about. I slugged my way through it, as if on a dare, but there are passages that I still remember with passionate, visceral intensity.

  9. Those words, your image. Tugs at this old heart.

  10. This passage perfectly expresses the beauty you see and reveal to us, of your little mermaid, and her knights in shining armor.



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