By Nevin Ulusoy

When there is yearning in our hearts for the attainment of deeper meanings of things, of what is going around us, we are sad and restless. It is usually difficult to calm ourselves until we understand what we must do and it is also difficult to gain that knowledge of ourselves. It is the call of art, to make new things out of the known, not for anybody, but for ourselves maybe. The restlessness of the heart never stops, because the search for more never ends. But the heart knows its duty, why it is here and now, the toil is not in vain, it feels in the deep. The demands of the ongoing world is of no importance as long as the demands of the soul is satisfied. The heart smiles and life is sweet as balm, because our hearts show the way to us, we follow them.

James Joyce was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, no doubt. He had a hard struggle to become what he was, to see what he had to do in his life in this universe. He was born in 1882, in Dublin, to a middle class family. When he was a little child his family was prosperous, but things changed greatly later. He had nine bothers and sisters, he was the oldest. He attended to two Jesuit schools, a college and graduated from University College, Dublin. Then he left Dublin, never to come back again, except for a brief stay at his mother’s funeral. We can track all these and his artistic struggles in his highly autobiographical novel, “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.” He wrote poems first, examples of which we can see in this novel. His stories were published under the title “Dubliners” in 1914. “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man” was his first novel and it was published in 1916. As we can see in his stories, he always wrote about Dublin and the people there. He had a better view of things and people in Dublin when he was away from Dublin. He fled from Dublin to avoid becoming one of the people in his stories in a way, to become what he was meant to be. Dublin had a universal meaning for him. He lived in Europe, taught English for sometime. His later novels “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake” are masterpieces of the “stream of consciousness” technique and for this reason nearly impossible to read, also because of his clever playing with the words.

The heart smiles and life is sweet as balm, because our hearts show the way to us, we follow them.

“A Portrait of the artist As A Young Man” starts with the childhood impressions of “the young man”, Stephen Daedalus. St. Stephen the Deacon was the first martyr and the park of University College was called St. Stephen’s Green. Daedalus was an unbelievable craftsman in Greek mythology, who built the famous labyrinth for King Minos of Crete and to escape from it made wax wings for himself and his son Icarus. Icarus went too near the sun, wax melted and the Aegean Sea swallowed him. Starting from his childhood, there were problems between the church and the Irish nationalists, Ireland being under the yoke of Britain. When he went school, he admired the priests, wanted to be one of them, to live and die there, die as a child maybe. As he grew older, he started to see things in a different light, to ask questions he could not answer and could not ask to his olders. His taste for literature was also questinable for others, he liked Byron but when he stated this, he was said that Byron was a “heretic”. That was the measure for literature, whether the artist was pious or not and Stephen was not happy about this measure. As he grew older, he wandered in streets, all alone, struggling in his search for the way of his life and having desires he could not stop. There was a kind of religious programme and he was to help the younger ones, with his secret burden of sin. One of the priests gave a long sermon and the main theme was how immensely horrible hell was, beyond imagination:

-“A holy saint,… was once vouchsafed a vision of hell. It seemed to him that he stood in the midst of a great hall, dark and silent save for the ticking of a great clock. The ticking went on unceasingly; and it seemed to this saint that the sound of the ticking was the ceaseless repetition of the words-ever, never; ever, never. Ever to be in hell, never to be in heaven; ever to be shut off from the presence of God, never to enjoy the beatific vision;… ; ever to suffer, never to enjoy.”

He “had to fly by… nets”, family was one of the nets, he had to take this journey alone, all alone. He was not afraid, he knew his purpose, the call of art could not be neglected. 

Stephen was filled with terror, he repented, those images of everlasting suffering made him tremble with unimaginable fear for himself. But he was not satisfied deep down, images of terror of that kind could not make him follow the doctrines of religion. This frightening language could not have a very long effect, because one could be moved by holy love only actually. Later on, he was asked whether he would like to be a priest, he was said that he could be one, he could try for it. The priest explained to him what it meant to be a priest, the immense power they had, here in this world and in heaven:

“No king or emperor on this earth has the power of the priest of God. No angel or archangel in heaven, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, has the power of a priest of God: the power of the keys, the power to bind and to loose from sin, the power of exorcism, the power to cast out from the creatures of God the evil spirits that have power over them; the power, the authority; to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar and take the form of bread and wine. What an awful power, Stephen.” Yes, power was everything, then, to be the most powerful, the ultimate purpose. Stephen was affected but he felt that he had a different way:

-“His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders… He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world.” He shares his ideas, the others want him to work for the independence of Ireland. He gives his opinion, asserting the artistic spirit he had and explaining what this spirit asserted:

-“When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”

A friend of his asked him whether he was a believer at school. He talked about the journey of the self, that our selves in the past and present are different:

-“… I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become.”

He felt the artistic call in a tremendously deep way when he saw “a girl… in midstream”. He looked at her for sometime and his whole being absorbed “her image.” That was why he was born, why he was in universe, why he was breathing: “Her eyes had called him and his soul leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!… On and on and on and on!”

  He knew that he had to leave, fly away to follow the demands of his heart. His family was in need, they had expectations of him. When his mother, who was a pious woman, a Roman Catholic, told him he” have a queer mind and have read too much”, he did not agree. “Have read little and understood less.” He “had to fly by… nets”, family was one of the nets, he had to take this journey alone, all alone. He was not afraid, he knew his purpose, the call of art could not be neglected.     

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.