from the great short story, The Dead...
It was in the winter,’ she said, ‘about the beginning
of the winter when I was going to leave my grandmother’s
and come up here to the convent. And he was ill at the time
in his lodgings in Galway and wouldn’t be let out, and
his people in Oughterard were written to. He was in decline,
they said, or something like that. I never knew rightly.’
She paused for a moment and sighed.
‘Poor fellow,’ she said. ‘He was very fond
of me and he was such a gentle boy. We used to go out together,
walking, you know, Gabriel, like the way they do in the country.
He was going to study singing only for his health. He had
a very good voice, poor Michael Furey.’ ... ...
She stopped, choking with sobs. Gabriel held her hand for
a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding
on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully
on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her
deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life:
a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think
how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He
watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never
lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long
upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what
she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish
beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul.
He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no
longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face
for which Michael Furey had braved death.
Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved
to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes.
A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright,
its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its
side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before.
From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper,
from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the
merry-making when saying good night in the hall, the pleasure
of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia!
She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick
Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon
her face for a moment when she was singing ‘Arrayed
for the Bridal’. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting
in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat
on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate
would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and
telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his
mind for some words that might console her, and would find
only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very
The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself
cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his
wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass
boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion,
than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how
she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many
years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told
her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt
like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such
a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in
his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the
form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other
forms were near. His soul had approached that region where
dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but
could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence.
His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world:
the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared
and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling. A few light taps
upon the pane made him turn to the window. 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. James Joyce