On this day…15 February

On 15 February 1932 Joyce wrote ‘Ecce Puer’

After the birth of his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, on 15 February 1932, Joyce wrote the poem ‘Ecce Puer,’ in which he reflects on his father’s death the previous December and on his grandson’s birth.

The death of his father left Joyce feeling guilty that he hadn’t gone to Dublin during his father’s last illness or for his funeral in January. Joyce also wondered how he could continue writing about a city that he didn’t dare visit at such an important time.

Joyce’s own birthday on 2 February 1932 had been a subdued affair despite being his fiftieth birthday and the tenth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses. To add to the sense of gloom, Lucia had to be taken to an asylum after throwing a chair at Nora.

This gloom lifted considerably with the birth of his grandson on 15 February. The new-born was given the names Stephen James in honour of his grandfather. Joyce sent a telegram to his brother Stanislaus which read (with misspelling) “GRANDSON BORU TO DAY NAME STEPHEN JAMES.”

Joyce’s poem alludes to the birth and death of Christ, as well as the cycle of birth and death in general, and more specifically to the birth of a child and the death of an old man, to which is added Joyce’s plea to his father for forgiveness:

A child is sleeping;
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son.

‘Ecce Puer’ was published for the first time in New York in the New Republic at the end of November 1932.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

– – : Poems & Exiles, edited with an Introduction and Notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.