“Nightscape” by James Joyce, 1915

Gaunt in gloom
The pale stars their torches,
Enshrouded, wave.
Ghostfires from heaven’s far verges faint illume,
Arches on soaring arches,
Night’s sindark nave.

The lost hosts awaken
To service till
In moonless gloom each lapses muted, dim,
Raised when she has and shaken
Her thurible.

And long and loud,
To night’s nave upsoaring,
A starknell tolls
As the bleak incense surges, cloud on cloud,
Voidward from the adoring
Waste of souls.


Irish novelist and poet James Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2nd, 1882, and became known as one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. This narrative innovator is admired for his novels Ulysses (1922), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), and Finnegans Wake (1939), as well as his short-story collection Dubliners (1914). Joyce also wrote several books of poetry, including Pomes Penyeach (1927) a collection of short lyrics in which “Nightscape” appeared.


James Joyce’s illustrates the evening sky in “Nightscape” as a reverent and mysterious place, accompanied with religious images. Joyce uses the night sky as the “sindark nave” (6) or physical space of worship that the angels, or “Seraphim” (7) and “hosts” (8) exist in, with only the stars as torches to provide light. The word “sindark” is one of Joyce’s neologisms that he is known to insert into his work, providing character and unique translation to his sentences. “Nightscape” contains images of Joyce’s Catholic upbringing, such as an angel shaking a “thurible” (12), an apparatus used to spread incense, or in this case, clouds across the night sky. Joyce’s religious illusions do not create a completely joyous tone, however, as a “moonless gloom” (10) surrounds the heavenly imagery. The dissonance apparent throughout the poem is perhaps an illustration of Joyce’s view of the vast disconnect between earth and the heavens. Joyce places himself among the stargazers upon earth, the group that he describes as “the adoring waste of souls,” extending the contrast between the power of the holy night and the meekness of the earth.

Eleanor Haeg is an English major and Creative Writing minor at Washington and Lee but hails from Minneapolis.