Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Revelation on a snowy morning in Bellingham, Washington / January 17, 2024 / "... snow was general all over Ireland ..."

When I first read "The Dead" I was a freshman in college at University of California at Irvine.  The year was 1967.  That short story, especially the last lines with their reference to a snowy day in Ireland, has stayed with me.  

During my years growing up south of San Francisco, I had seen snow only a few times in my life.  At 17 years old, so much of my life was still ahead of me and yet I related to the experience of Gretta Conroy, Gabriel's wife.  I was shaken emotionally by the story.  I know I'm not the only woman who was.  Now I'm thinking, too, of the men who were shaken by that story.

Having lived in Washington State for nearly 50 years, I have had somewhat more exposure to snow.  Not all that much, because we rarely have more than a week total of snow here.  And yet, when it does snow here, I look out my window at Scudder Pond and remember being 17 years old, reading "The Dead," and coming to the last paragraph which focuses on Gabriel's experience:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard 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.

At age 74, revisiting the story, I see how my life has unfolded in a way mostly unlike the lives of Gretta and Gabriel.  This morning I feel compassion for Gretta and Gabriel and James Joyce who wrote that melancholy story.  Perhaps reading that story as a 17 year old made it possible for me to have a different life than I would have had otherwise -- a life not without deep sorrow but with a growing wellspring of inner joy and peace, against all odds, that I don't take for granted.


Sabine said...

I must admit that I never read this story but I have watched the film several times.
It rarely snows in Ireland, maybe more so inland but the coastal regions and Dublin are too mild for snow to stay. In the 12 years I lived there I have experienced maybe five days with real heavy snow that made transport and city life difficult. Usually, these days could be hilarious as people are not equipped for snow and often become quite silly. I remember my mother-in-law using a bin lid to slide down the hill with my daughter and her dogs would chase after them. Together with about 50 others using pot lids, frying pans or kitchen trays or what-have-you.

I always wondered why Joyce would have the snow play such a role in this novella.

am said...

Love the image of Irish people playing in the snow that hardly ever comes to Ireland.

Many years ago, I met a young woman who came from Dublin to live here in Bellingham so that she could finish college as a theater major. She said that our climate and coastal proximity reminded her of Dublin. With a little googling, I learned that she now lives in Hawaii.

Linda said...

I am convinced that many times it is the choices we make within our deep sorrow that make the difference. That being said, all too often, it seems like there is very little choice when we are in the dark. Some make it out and some don't. I, too, am grateful for the little light that has always been there beckoning to me to move somewhere better.

I'm going to pick the book up.

Thank you.