On 5 July 1927 Pomes Penyeach was published.
Joyce’s second and last book of poetry, Pomes Penyeach was published by Sylvia Beach under the imprint of Shakespeare and Company. The book contained thirteen poems, though most of them had already appeared in print before 1927.
Pomes Penyeach was a collection of twelve poems and a ‘tilly’ – making a baker’s dozen (thirteen poems). The book sold for one shilling (twelve pennies) or twelve francs, so the poems were a penny each. But ‘pomes’ is also a pun on pommes: the light green colour that Joyce wanted for the cover of the book was the colour of his favourite apple, the Calville.
The poem ‘Tilly’ which opens the volume was the oldest of the poems, a reworking of a poem called ‘Cabra’ that Joyce had written about the time of his mother’s death in 1903 when the Joyce family were living in Cabra in north Dublin. Most of the rest of the poems date from between 1912 and 1924, though Joyce re-dates some of the poems to suit the sequence in which they appear. Eleven of the thirteen poems had already appeared in print before 1927.
Many of the poems can be traced to specific biographical moments, but Joyce is not so much writing poems about moments in his life as using those biographical moments as vehicles for poetic ideas or images.
Critical reaction to Pomes Penyeach was hardly enthusiastic. George Russell claimed that the poems did not live up to the lyricism of Joyce’s first collection of poems, Chamber Music, published in 1907. Edmund Wilson, on the other hand, felt that Joyce had outgrown the imitation which marked the poems of Chamber Music and had come up with something original instead.
The composers Herbert Hughes, Eugene Goossens and Arthur Bliss came up with the idea of getting composers to set each of the poems in Pomes Penyeach to music, and the completed sequence had its first performance on 16 March 1932 in London. The compositions were published as the Joyce Book, edited by Herbert Hughes.
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Poems and Exiles, edited with an introduction and notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.
– -: Poems and Shorter Writings, edited by Richard Ellmann, A Walton Litz, & John Whittier-Ferguson, London: Faber & Faber 1991.