GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 6 (Spring 2006)



"Adrift with adraft": A Genetic Reading of Pomes Penyeach


Ilaria Natali


This article is the result of a genetic study on Joyce's Pomes Penyeach: it is my intention to propose here first a few theoretical considerations, then focus on Joyce's writing methods in verse, and on the most common procedures that can be traced in the dossiers.[i]

Joyce's second collection, Pomes Penyeach, was published in Paris, on 5 July 1927 by Shakespeare & Company. The author specifies place and date of composition for each of the thirteen poems, which appear widely scattered both in space and in time (Dublin 1904, Trieste 1912-15, Zurich 1916-18, Paris 1924). The available documentation on Pomes Penyeach, including both manuscripts and typescripts, is essentially distributed in three collections:[ii]

·      Cornell 54 gathers the 'Triestine poems', eight poems Joyce composed in Trieste between 1915 and 1916.

·      Buffalo IV.A.I contains the first numbered sequence of Pomes Penyeach, drafted in the so-called "Zurich Notebook". The poems are dated 1916 -                1919.

·      Huntington, Slocum and Cahoon E.6.b. collection includes later manuscripts and typescripts, dated about 1927.

·      Other single folios are also preserved in Texas, at the Yale University, and in London, at the British Library.

The chronology of the genetic dossier shows that Joyce composed and reworked the poems for at least thirteen years before publishing them as a collection. Furthermore, the creative process of Pomes Penyeach under-ran that of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake: the study of the documentation reveals reciprocal influences and relationships, which offer different perspectives on this 'minor' work.


A few theoretical remarks

The theorization of genetic criticism concerns primarily the analysis and documentation of narrative works; thus most procedures or classifications can be but partially applicable to the study of verse. Processes of modification such as substitution, addition, elimination and dislocation are more complex in poetry, where, in most cases, lexical microchanges involve alterations in meter, rhythm and accent.

In the analysis of Pomes Penyeach, new categories were needed both to describe phenomena which cannot be observed in prose writing and to outline procedures which characterize this specific creative process. Here I would like to briefly examine two kinds of modification, typical of this collection, which represent interesting variations to standard schemes: I have identified them as 'interchange' and 'contraction'.

a) Interchange [iii]

While in dislocation one or more words are cancelled from their original co-textual position and moved into a different co-text, in interchange two words merely exchange places. In order to exemplify this phenomenon, two texts of "She Weeps over Rahoon" are quoted here: a typescript dated 1915 and a manuscript dated 1919, the latter corresponding to the printed text.[iv]


TYP 1915 (Cornell 54), lines 1-8

MS 1919 (Huntington E.6.b), lines 1-8


Rain on Rahoon falls softly, softly falling,

Rain on Rahoon falls softly, softly falling,


Where my dark lover lies

Sad  is his voice that calls me, sadly calling,


Soft  is the voice that calls me, softly calling,

Where my dark lover lies.


At grey moonrise

At grey moonrise.





Love, hear thou

Love, hear thou


How sad,  how old the heart is, ever calling,

How  soft,  how sad his voice is ever calling,


Ever unanswered – and the dark rain falling,

Ever unanswered, and the dark rain falling,


Then as now.-

Then as now.




In the 1919 text, "soft" is moved from line 3 to line 6, while "sad" takes its place. Through the interchange of "soft" and "sad" and the substitutions of "softly" and "sadly" (line 3), the relations between the words become remarkably different in the two texts. In the 1915 poem the first stanza is characterised by the repetition of "soft" and "softly", which qualify the sound of both "rain" and "voice", and establish a direct relationship between the two nouns. The 1919 poem shows a more complex web of connections; the feeling of sadness is anticipated in line 3, and the tone of voice – perceived as 'soft' – is substituted by an adjective expressing an emotion ("sad"). The relationship between "voice" and "rain" is re-established only in the second stanza, through the repetition of both "soft" and "sad" in line 6.

 b) Contraction

In contraction, two words are combined in one compound term, without any substitution of their constitutive elements. This phenomenon can be well exemplified by two texts taken from the dossier of the poem "Simples": a typescript dated 1915 and a manuscript dated 1919, which also corresponds to the published version.


TYP 1915 (Cornell 54), lines 5-6

MS 1919 (Slocum and Cahoon E.6.b) lines 5-6


The moon's dew stars her hanging hair

A moondew stars her hanging hair


The moon's light touches her young brow

And moonlight kisses her young brow

Although its occurrence is not as noticeable as that of substitution, contraction gains interest in light of the number of compound words that can be traced in Pomes Penyeach. Compounds appear in nine poems out of thirteen, and in the title as well: nearly all these terms are Joyce's neologisms.

Many compound words are introduced in the later stages of rewriting, especially in 1919 and 1927: in these years, Joyce was writing his 'major' works. The creation of compound words seems, then, to reflect the stylistic experimentation of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, where the combination of different terms is a common procedure. Contraction represents only one of the phenomena which points to associations with the composition of the prose works; later stages of re-writing of the poems share not only similar stylistic choices with Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but also some of their themes and motifs.

Such relations emerge primarily through the study of the writing procedures which characterise Pomes Penyeach. It is possible to highlight two main tendencies in the creative process: the first interconnects the poems and Joyce's novels, and can be therefore defined 'intertextual'; the second concerns internal aspects of the texts, which tend to progressively become more ambiguous, and can be described as 'obscuring'.


Intertextual procedure

In the whole compositional process of Pomes Penyeach Joyce seems to progressively open the poems to a range of connections, particularly to his other writings, but also to external sources.

The genetic dossier of "Tutto è sciolto" well exemplifies this phenomenon: modifications introduced in the 1927 texts establish intertextual references to both opera lyrics and Ulysses.

"Tutto è sciolto" was first drafted in Trieste in 1914, but the earliest documentation available traces back to about 1915, and consists of three typescripts (Cornell 54). The other surviving documents include a manuscript dated 1918-19 (Buffalo IV.A.I), and a manuscript and a typescript dated 1927 (Huntington, Slocum and Cahoon E.6.b). One of the 1915 typescripts and the 1927 manuscript are quoted here:


TYP 1915 (Cornell 54)

MS 1927 (Huntington E.6.b)


Tutto è Sciolto

Tutto è Sciolto





A birdles heaven, seadusk and a star

A birdless heaven, seadusk, one lone star


In the dim west–

Piercing the west,


And thou, poor heart, love's image, faint and far

As thou, fond heart, love's time, so faint, so far,








Her silent eyes and her soft foamwhite brow

The clear young eyes' soft look, the candid brow,


And fragrant hair,

The fragrant hair,


Falling as in the silence falleth now

Falling as through the silence falleth now


Dusk from the air.

Dusk of the air.





Ah, why wilt thou remember this or why,

Why then, remembering those shy


Poor heart repine

Sweet lures, repine


If the sweet love she gave thee with a sigh

When the dear love she yielded with a sigh


Was never thine?

Was all but thine?

The title, "Tutto è Sciolto", can be translated as "All is lost now", and is a quotation from the opera The Sleepwalker (La Sonnambula) by Vincenzo Bellini. The same musical reference appears in the "Sirens" episode of Ulysses: the opera piece is mentioned when Bloom and Goulding are eating together in the Ormond dining room. Leopold seems to notice that the theme and tone of this air deeply harmonise with his thoughts; he is aware of Molly's unfaithfulness, just like Elvino in The Sleepwalker feels deceived by his future wife. The obsessive idea of Molly and Boylan committing adultery intertwines with the opera to such an extent that Bellini's play becomes a leitmotiv in Bloom's thoughts and in the whole episode:

- Which air is that? asked Leopold Bloom.

- All is lost now.

Richie cocked his lips apout. A low incipient note sweet banshee murmured: all. [...] Is lost. Rich sound. Two notes in one there. [...] All most too new call is lost in all. Echo. How sweet the answer. How is that done? All lost now. Mournful he whistled. Fall, surrender, lost. [...] Yes, I remember. Lovely air. In sleep she went to him. Innocence in the moon. Still hold her back. Brave, don't know their danger. Call name. Touch water. Jingle jaunty. Too late. She longed to go. That's why. Woman. As easy stop the sea. Yes: all is lost.

- A beautiful air, said Bloom lost Leopold. I know it well.

(U 351: 13-32)

Leopold recollects the opera plot, speculates on somnambulism as a pathology and refers to some common-places regarding sleepwalkers. Entangled in these reflections, "Bloom lost Leopold": he experiences a partial 'loss of identity'. Through La Sonnambula a link between Leopold and Elvino is established; betrayal is the unifying element and the reason for the relationship between the two characters.

Probably in light of this connection with Ulysses, in 1927 the first line of the poem was modified, and a new intertextual reference was introduced. The expression "one lone" creates a link with another opera, Martha, by Friedrich von Flotow, which in the second act reads: "I'll not leave thee, thou lone one" (Kobbe). In addition to The Sleepwalker, Martha is one of the musical allusions in the "Sirens" episode: Simon Dedalus intones it in the Ormond dining hall. As the expression "thou lone one" suggests, a main function of this song in Ulysses is to emphasise Bloom's state of melancholic loneliness. Furthermore, the piece is again related to the theme of adultery, Martha being the name of the woman with whom Bloom is keeping up a clandestine correspondence; as a consequence, the hypothesis of the theme of unfaithfulness being latent in the poem is substantiated.

A subsequent reference to the 'sirens theme' is included in line 10. The term "lures", introduced in the 1927 manuscript, implies seduction and entrapment; it frequently occurs in the "Sirens" episode of Ulysses, thus reinforcing the link between the two texts.

Therefore, it is very likely that the poem was modified with Ulysses in mind. The 1927 text of "Tutto è Sciolto" includes intertextual allusions that invest the poem with additional meanings; through the opera quotations and the connections with "The Sirens" episode, the theme of unfaithfulness is insinuated in "Tutto è Sciolto".


Obscuring procedure

The study of the documentation shows that later texts of the poems progressively become more ambiguous and polysemous: this effect is mainly a result of extensive modifications in pronouns and articles, which characterise the later drafts.

"Tutto è Sciolto" again exemplifies this phenomenon; on lines 5-6, the possessive pronouns are substituted with definite articles. In the 1915 text, 3rd person pronouns specify the gender of the referent, which is left unspecified in the 1927 text: here, the ambiguity is solved only in line 11, where the pronoun "she" appears. Possessive pronouns are substituted with definite articles in three lyrics of Pomes Penyeach. In all these cases, ambiguity is added both to the figures in the poem and to the meaning of the whole text.

In other cases, particularly in "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight", pronouns are abruptly added in the line; however, the referents of these pronouns are by no means easy for the reader to identify. This procedure can be observed comparing the 1917 manuscript and the 1919 typescript of "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight": 


MS 1917 (Buffalo IV.A.2, fragment), lines 10-11

MS 1919 (Huntington E.6.b), lines 10-11


This grey that stares

This grey that stares


Will choose what you see to gaze upon

Will choose her what you see to mouth upon.


In line 11, a referent is not easily identifiable for the pronoun "her", which adds ambiguity to the whole line. "Her" could mean 'for her' or be the direct object of "choose"; "what you see" could also be the direct object of "choose", while "to mouth upon" could relate to both "choose" and "see". The interpretation of this line is much more difficult in the 1919 text, and opens to a broader plurality of readings.


Similar effects of ambiguity and polisemy appear also in "On the Beach at Fontana", "Alone", "Nightpiece", "A Prayer". Most of these changes were introduced in the 1919 and 1927 manuscripts and typescripts, when Joyce was working respectively on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Thus, the multiple layers of meaning which characterise the later drafts seem to represent a trait d'union between Pomes Penyeach and the prose works.

The analysis of the genetic dossier of Pomes Penyeach shows that some modifications of the poems can be better interpreted in light of the entire activity of the author, of the whole of his works and of the interferences between texts. Even interferences between different stages of different works prove to be important: a number of documents testify to the veiled connections between the progression of Pomes Penyeach and Finnegans Wake. Four poems, "Alone", "Nightpiece", "A Prayer", and "Tutto è sciolto" are partially or wholly drafted on the same manuscripts where Joyce was taking notes for Finnegans Wake; moreover, the title of the collection was experimented on notebook Buffalo VI.B.18, and the 1917 manuscript of "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight" includes notes for Ulysses.

These observations also lead to a general and theoretical conclusion: the concept of 'genetic dossier' can broaden and comprise even the totality of the author's writings up to a certain moment.  Creative impulses proceed through multiple connections and influences, which can create a web of intertextual connections among different dossiers of the same writer. As I have tried to demonstrate, investigating such relationships is essential in order to characterise the dynamism of the writing process and reveal new insights into the texts.


Works cited:

U         Joyce James, Ulysses, Annotated Student's Edition. London: Penguin, 1992.

Groden, Michael ed., The James Joyce Archive. Chamber Music, Pomes Penyeach & Occasional Verse; a Facsimile of Manuscripts, Typescripts & Proofs. New York: Garland 1978.

Kobbe, Gustav, "The Complete Opera Book: the Stories of the Operas, Together with 400 of the Leading Airs and Motives" (1919), in Opera World,

[i] I wish to thank Prof. Donatella Pallotti (University of Florence) and Dr. Fritz Senn (Zurich James Joyce Foundation) for their precious support.

[ii] All the manuscripts of Pomes Penyeach have been studied from the facsimiles in The James Joyce Archive.

[iii] In illustrating these phenomena, I will limit myself to observe the processes without entering into interpretative details.

[iv] My emphasis here and in all subsequent quotations.


[Back to Notes & Articles] [Back to Genetic Joyce Studies]