Last night's fitful sleep granted me a remarkable number of dream vignettes. One of them haunts me.
Dressed in a suit and standing alongside an unknown companion, I contemplated the soil at my feet, made hard by winter's bitter touch. I thought particularly about the difficulty of digging a grave in frost baked ground.
Looking up to survey the landscape, I realized that my macabre musing was only appropriate. My mysterious friend and I were in a vast cemetery; headstones freckled the gently rolling topography. My gaze returning to the hard soil in front of me, I recited the closing words of James Joyce's short story, "The Dead."
"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."As if the Joyce lines were an invocation, snow began to fall.
Over the course of fifteen years, I've read "The Dead" several times. Never have I been especially moved by the story's mundane events, but the closing paragraphs stay with me. Even after reading my favorite of Joyce's works, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," and later happily slogging through the rather self-conscious "Ulysses," it is the final words of the short story that first come to mind when someone mentions Joyce.
It's a curious thing that the art most significant to our unconscious is not always held in high regard in waking life.
Photo credits: Old Jewish cemetery from Bygning's Flickr photostream