Tuesday, January 27, 2009


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


Oly said...

Have I ever told you about my "Pony sandwich" dream with David Letterman as the cafeteria lady?

Your dreams are much more high class than mine, sir.


Hungry Hyaena said...


I assure you, no, they aren't usually so "high class." If only. This one, though...guilty as charged. But it was a lovely dream.

andiscandis said...

"frost baked" = excellent

I'm using it. Don't worry, I'll put up my index finger and say, "Hungry Hyaena, 2009" afterward.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Yes, please be sure to credit me. (If I learn that I am not being duly credited, I will seek legal recourse.)

Living in Cleveland, you'll be able to use "frost baked" more often than many people!

andiscandis said...

Today I'm going with snow encapsulated.

Josh Dooley said...

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

-- W.H. Auden

Hungry Hyaena said...


"Funeral Blues" is a great poem. I interpret it as a rather Nietzschean lament, the bells ringing for the patriarchal, creative God, but it seems as though even Auden would reject that reading.

But, hell, if my unconscious and conscious have different artsy preferences, who's gonna stop me from overruling the creator's intent, hm? ;)

Josh Dooley said...

Point well made. The feelings that are expressed in "Funeral Blues" are larger than the story told, and larger than I have ever experienced. I've always found its mournful tone to be perfect for summoning an image of loss--- without despair, somehow. I can't read it without tearing up, but not with sorrow, exactly. Just emptiness. Your post yesterday reminded me of it. Some feelings have no name and no description.. Though I think Auden comes close.

Hungry Hyaena said...


It's interesting that you read Auden's poem "without despair." That emotion is not absent in my reading, but I like that you distinguish between despair and emptiness. My dream was dominated by the latter. I was not aware of any deep sadness, though the setting, snow and anonymity of my companion produced a rather hollow feeling.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and sharing the poem.