For Claire … end of ‘The Dead’

[posted originally on MyT] Today Cymbeline mentioned a story from James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914); coincidentally I had been thinking about another one earlier – ‘The Dead’.

In 1987 John Huston made this exquisite story into a beautiful film, starring his daughter Anjelica and Donal McCann. It was the veteran director’s last movie; he died later that year. McCann, a wonderful actor, died in 1999 aged just 56.

The end of the story is especially poignant. After a party in his elderly aunts’ house, Gabriel Conroy discovers that his wife has always harboured a love for a boy she knew in her native Galway when she he was young – he died at the age of 17, heartbroken at her imminent departure to Dublin. After she has fallen asleep, Gabriel remains awake with his thoughts:

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.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

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.

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22 Comments

Filed under Literature, Philosophy of life

22 responses to “For Claire … end of ‘The Dead’

  1. Jan

    Such good writing. Thanks Brendano. I should read it properly.

  2. Hi Jan … nice to see you. You look so much better without the ‘h1’. 🙂

    I would recommend Dubliners as a whole, if you have an opportunity to read it … all the stories are written simply but beautifully.

  3. jaimeatdnmyt

    I thought the Irish actors in this film were splendid.

  4. Yes, I thought so too, Jaime … their performances seemed to be pitched just right, even in the minor parts, which made the whole thing very credible …

  5. The novel character had the name Michael Furey. In real life Nora Barnacle had been close to Michael Feeney. Joyce changed the surname to spare (?) her blushes.

  6. Hello RB. I seem to remember that from Ellman’s biography of Joyce, which I read a long time ago.

    I don’t think Nora was inclined to blush too easily. 🙂

  7. claire2

    Ooh! Sends a shiver down my spine Brendano! THanks for posting this. The lyricism is breathtaking; almost impressionistic I’d say. That writing is so good it almost flies away…
    Put it up on MyT – go on I dare you… 😉

  8. I liked it.
    Strange. When I searched my memory about the things I’ve heard from your about Ireland, I noticed we have talked a lot about death.

  9. Kate

    Hello Brendano, this blog site looks interesting and I really enjoyed reading your post. I haven’t read Joyce since Uni and had forgotten what a wonderful writer he was. I think this seems like a much better place to ‘hang out’, I love your content here. By the way, I’m not even sure I’m doing this comment thing correctly and I’m Flavia now Kate.

  10. Kate

    Oh, B, I’m going to try and set up my blog page. Thank you for directing me here.

  11. Hello B. Thanks for directing me to your blog site from MyT. It looks much more interesting and I’ve enjoyed skimming through your posts. I especially enjoyed this one on Joyce, I haven’t read Joyce since Uni and had forgotten what a wonderful and at times difficult writer he was.
    Anyway, it looks like a good place to ‘hang out’ after MyT. Flavia, now Pellegrina. 🙂

  12. Hi Claire, Levent, Kate … will reply properly a bit later; have to go out now.

    Kate/Pellegrina, it’s good to see you and you’re very welcome. Sorry, I had to approve your first comments … that’s why they didn’t show up right away.

  13. Kate

    Hi B I was really confused by how to post a comment and the approval of them. I thought my first two comments were lost, so excuse the mix up with username and crossover. My username is Pellegrina1. It’s going to take a while to get used to this blog site. Have a great day.
    🙂

  14. Hi folks … back now. I was singing and playing the guitar with the church choir … my younger, more anticlerical self would be disgusted with me, but it’s good fun and a good community thing.

    Yes, Kate, I realized that you didn’t know why your first comment hadn’t appeared. There won’t be any problem from now on. Let me know when you set up your own page, and I’ll certainly visit. It’s nice to have complete control, even if it means less traffic and less – how shall I put it – cut and thrust than on MyT.

    I’ve a lot of work on at the moment and various other projects that I should be attending to, so I probably won’t be able to post as much stuff here as I’d like to, but I hope that all the good people who have commented so far will continue to look in. I’ll try to make it interesting.

    You’re very welcome, Claire. 🙂 I actually tried to post it on MyT yesterday, but I have this problem now where it won’t let me do line breaks, etc., so I’ll probably mainly comment there and post here.

    Interesting that you should say that, Levent. I’m not sure why it is; must have a think about it. As I get older I suppose death does become more of an issue … don’t forget that all of you are younger than me. 🙂

    As Yeats wrote in the poem Claire posted on MyT a few days ago:

    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is

  15. claire2

    BRendano, those lines are even more beautiful when taken out of context.
    Will retun later; busy busy busy… but good blog 😉

  16. Thank you, Claire. I have to go to a ‘confirmation’ party in a while … must write something on the anomalies of a society where many lapsed Catholics, certainly in rural areas, observe the Catholic rites of passage, having their children baptised and being initiated through other sacraments.

    On what Levent was saying about Ireland and death … I live in an area where the population 15 years ago was a quarter of what it had been before the famine of the 1840s. It has since doubled, due largely to incomers like myself, but is still just half of what it was in the 1830s. There are many old, tumbledown cottages about the place. Perhaps these serve as a reminder of inpermanence.

  17. Hello Brendan,

    The Yeats poem reminded me an old Turkish poem by Yunus Emre.

    ….
    god isn’t found through this mind and reasoning
    what a wound this is that no ointment is found

    souls are sold at the market of love
    i sell my soul, no buyer is found

    it’s announced that yunus is dead
    it is animals that die, lovers don’t die

  18. Hi Levent … thanks for that; I like it a lot.

  19. Levent, coincidentally I just came across this extract from Yunus Emre that I copied and pasted last year … probably from a blog or comment of yours.

    God permeates the whole wide world,
    Yet his truth is revealed to none.
    You better seek Him in yourself,
    You and He aren’t apart – you’re one.

    Mystic is what they call me.
    Hate is my only enemy;
    I harbor a grudge against none.
    To me the whole wide world is one.

  20. Yes I remember you said you liked it when I posted.

    Will it be too much if I add one more?

    Leave behind this fear of death,

    Lovers don’t die, but eternal.

    What is this death to the lover?

    The lover will meet God’s divine light.

    What is this fear of death?

    You will meet Haqq.

    Without doubt you will find eternity,

    And death is the fear of wicked ones.

    Turn your gazes to this essence,

    This hidden treasure and light,

    This light never vanishes,

    I am now He.

    When we were not gathered in the beginning,

    We were still with Him,

    Now come and understand

    Who the origin of this servant is.

    We were together in the beginning,

    We were in union with Him,

    Any being other than His becomes separated,

    His Being is the cradle for the soul.

    The twoness of this world never destroys

    This eternal unity,

    Our heart is one with Him,

    The soul is tied to His Power.

    Whoever knows this is no longer a guest to Him,

    Whoever comes here falls into trap of living.

    And the path to become union with Him

    Is certain to the one who looks for.

    He rules His sovereignty,

    Only He knows His acts.

    And He created all,

    His sovereignty is the house for His Being.

    Yunus, good news arrived to you,

    You are ordered to go to the Friend,

    It is the invitation of the One, who says,

    “Everything will return to Him.”

  21. I promise this is the last.

    Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
    Knowledge means to know yourself, heart and soul.
    If you have failed to understand yourself,
    Then all of your reading has missed its call.

    What is the purpose of reading those books?
    So that Man can know the All-Powerful.
    If you have read, but failed to understand,
    Then your efforts are just a barren toil.

    Don’t boast of reading, mastering science
    Or of all your prayers and obeisance.
    If you don’t identify Man as God,
    All your learning is of no use at all.

    The true meaning of the four holy books
    Is found in the alphabet’s first letter.
    You talk about that first letter, preacher;
    What is the meaning of that-could you tell?

    Yunus Emre says to you, pharisee,
    Make the holy pilgrimage if need be
    A hundred times-but if you ask me,
    The visit to a heart is best of all.

  22. Thank you, Levent. I like Emre’s poetry and the ideas in it a lot. I have just read these and will read them again later.

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