There are few pieces of writing so elegant and perfect to me as James Joyce’s The Dead. It’s funny, because with many writings by Joyce my immediate reaction is to make a face, but The Dead is the big exception to that rule. I re-read it every Christmas, and each year I honestly feel like I get more and more out of the experience. It’s one of those rare pieces of writing where I admire everything about it; both the sentiment and ideas behind it, as well as the wordsmithing itself and Joyce’s usage of language.
If you’ve never read it before, I do invite you to do so at this link. It’s not terribly long and it’s a genuine treasure of the English language. It’s about a holiday party, and politics, and desire, and love, and being both at home and out of place with one’s own family. Do take a look for yourself if you have the time; consider it a gift, as you will.
It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. 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.