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Featured Poem: At That Hour by James Joyce

Written by Beth Pochin, 13th January 2014

Today is the anniversary of the death of established and influential writer, James Joyce. It feels fitting therefore, to post a poem written by him, and this morning, I’ve been newly inspired, when coming across At That Hour, which I have chosen for today's featured poem.

At That Hour inspired me to consider the connotations that are often associated with the word loneliness, how it makes me feel, and I realised I am accustomed to negative associations, of boredom, fear and darkness and I wondered if this is something we all have a tendency to do. Rarely is loneliness referred to in a positive light. But interestingly, it is in this poem.

When reading, I felt that the phrase, 'That hour' refers to a moment we can all recognise, a moment of loneliness. This made me think about the fact that ironically, we all experience loneliness, it is an inevitable part of life. Joyce helps us to think of loneliness in a new light, as an opportunity to 'Awake to hear the sweet harps play', to notice a beauty that remains present ‘When all things have repose’, even in the darkest moments of a night, and to be comforted by the familiarity of things such as the dark sky and the sound of wind, rather than to fear it. The references to our surroundings as ‘soft’ and full of ‘sweet music’ are comforting, and make the prospect of loneliness feel much more soothing. Perhaps then, rather than to fight against loneliness, to see it as a negative, intimidating prospect, we ought to accept it, as part of life, and to use it to our benefit, to look to enjoy the simple things that are around us by embracing the beauty of an opportunity to repose.

At That Hour

At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing unto Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?

When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?

Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.

James Joyce

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