Twining stresses

Twining stresses

In Brief

"Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucked the harpstrings, merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide." Joyce’s prose lushly imitates the sounds coupling within his protagonist’s mind.

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The "twining stresses, two by two" that Stephen recalls from Yeats' paired spondees (white breast, dim sea) open out to generate more couplings linked by sense (inshore/farther out), alliteration (water/whitened/wavewhite wedded words, hand/harpstrings), assonance (whitened/lightshod/white breast/twining/wavewhite/tide, spurned/hurrying/merging), and rhyme (chords/words, shimmering/dim).

The mysterious ways in which words combine to make patterns of beautiful sound occupy Stephen’s thoughts throughout A Portrait and Ulysses. Proteus will show him writing down snatches of a poem generated almost entirely by sounds—as the villanelle in Portrait did more impressively. In Aeolus he thinks about Dante’s gorgeous rhymes as beautiful girls in harmonious colors; “But I old men, penitent, leadenfooted, underdarkneath the night: mouth south: tomb womb.” At the end of Aeolus he takes a different tack, trying out a fragmentary story.

JH 2011
North Coast of the Dingle Peninsula, oil pastel by Helene Brennan. Source: