My words….Those quiet cold fingers….an odourless flower….dark languor-flooded eyes
Joyce spreads fewer than fifty words across four tiny cantos. In the latter three cantos, he looks back, recalling facets of the loveliness that created his obsession, but first, he sinks his wasted wooing in a bog of regret. Nearing the end of his composition, Joyce squeezes three recollections about his love and his statement of failure onto sheet thirteen of sixteen. Sparse wording here, a flood of text follows on the remaining pages.
The poet writes: “Those quiet cold fingers have touched the pages, foul and fair, on which my shame shall glow for ever. Quiet and cold and pure fingers. Have they never erred?” He looks back to his sharing of A Portrait, her ostensible disapproval, and his secret hope that she was coy and privately excited by his novel. This canto recalls his earlier words when imagining that he would help her to dress: “Fingers, cold and calm and moving …. A touch, a touch (p.7, ll. 1-13).” Fingers that might be his might have also been her reply to his touch. If hers, they are now cold and unwelcoming.
Secondly, Joyce recalls the sadness of her eyes. “On the stairs. A cold frail hand: shyness, silence: dark languor-flooded eyes.” This line casts a backward glance to: “I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope (p.11, ll. 24-25).” Joyce hoped that Amalia’s vulnerability would make her turn toward him. Instead, his presence offers her no release from pain, and her hand remains unresponsive.
The blossom of adoration for Amalia has proven to be sterile “Her body has no smell: an odourless flower” The flower has been given to her by Lucia and recalls the child’s role in the attempted seduction (“A flower given by her to my daughter.” p.3, l.1). The seduction has failed, and Joyce’s unholy interest turns from Signorina Popper onto young Miss Joyce. Lucia was little more than an infant when Joyce saw Amalia Popper for the last time in 1909. But dates, characters, and places all float freely in Joyce’s construction. Ellmann, among others, suggests there may have been more than one Amalia, more than one obsessive love for Joyce.
In these cantos, the would-be seducer concludes that his game is lost. “My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire.” He pursued her with carefully selected phrases forged, hammered, and polished to pierce her defenses. He coated a cutting edge with the second layer of alloy, his published work, heartfelt, confessional, but also titillating. He hoped that her heart would welcome his promises and devotion. Instead, they sunk into the morass, all to no avail, and lost forever.
don ward October 1, 2020