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: www.helene-brennan.com.