All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters

James Joyce


James Joyce

Nationality: Irish

James Joyce was an incredibly important Irish writer.

He completed short stories, novels, and poetry throughout his life.

‘All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters’ is a poem featured in James Joyce’s Chamber Music. This poetry collection is Joyce’s first published book. Chamber Music is a compilation of lyrical love poems, which were intended to be set to music. The poems found in this poetic collection enliven the styles of the Celtic revival with Joyce’s own touch of playful irony. James Joyce is a lyrical poet and he based most of his poems on songs. Therefore, his poems are not only inspired by song but also built as songs. This musical affinity can be traced to Joyce’s musical training. The use of words in his poems can be described as Elizabethan, and the meters established in them are similar to those of Herreck. However, Joyce uses this tradition in order to alter it and be innovative. The lyrics found in Chamber Music are light and fresh enough to serve as the basis of songs. After the publication of the book, several musicians appreciated the poems’ suitability for musical interpretation. The first one was Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer and then others followed him; Ross Lee Finney being one of the most distinguished.

Chamber Music has 36 poems of various lengths and forms, united by the thematic content of the poetry. The poems don’t have titles and only have roman numbers as headings. Consequently, the poems are blended together and they encourage the reader to approach the collection as a flow, pleasing expression of pure sound. Many of the poems of Chamber Music talk about the lamentation of lost love, typical of the period in which it was written. However, Joyce satirizes French Symbolists and English Romantics, who abstained from normal life in order to achieve an aesthetic ideal. These ideas are questioned by the author but not rejected, as he often refers in his poetry to weariness or sadness, the favorite time as dusk or night, and the stance of retreat. These little poems that form Chamber Music convey the weight of the themes developed more completely in Joyce’s later work.

‘All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters’ focuses on aquatic images to portray sadness and grief. The poem has two stanzas with six lines in each case. The rhyme scheme is ABCBAB, which is not very conventional in English poetry. The poem creates a rhythmic pace by inserting short lines between bigger poetic lines. These shorter lines build an echo that generates a song-like rhythm.

All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters by James Joyce


All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters Analysis

Stanza One

All day I hear the noise of waters

Making moan,

Sad as the sea-bird is when, going

Forth alone,

He hears the winds cry to the water’s


This first stanza opens with a declaration from the lyrical voice. The lyrical voice focuses on the repetition of the sound of the water and how this particular sound equates to the sadness and loneliness of the sea-bird. According to the lyrical voice, this animal also hears a monotonous sound, which can be compared to the one that the lyrical voice is describing. This circular form, established through narrative meaning, is also accompanied by the rhythmical form in the rhyme and form. The lines throughout the stanza create a song-like rhythm found in the rime and the contrast between shorter and longer poetical lines. The lyrical voice, therefore, depicts in this natural and aquatic image a sort of grief and longing in his way of approaching the “all day … noises of waters”.


Stanza Two

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing

Where I go.

I hear the noise of many waters

Far below.

All day, all night, I hear them flowing

To and fro.

In this second and final stanza of ‘All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters’, the lyrical voice continues to use landscapes and natural images to refer to him/herself. The wind is linked to the lyrical voice’s direction and the motif of the sound of the water is repeated. The final two lines reinforce the beginning and the entire poem by referring, once again, to the sound of water constantly flowing. The images portrayed in both stanzas are similar and focus on the relationship between nature surrounding the lyrical voice. The form and the rhythm of the first stanza is repeated and reinforced by this repetition. This song-like rhythm makes the poem very lyrical and musical, creating a particular connection between the images portrayed and the sound of the poem itself.


Historical Context

Joyce first started working on Chamber Music when he was a student in college in the late 1890s. This poetry collection was published after he had moved to the continent in 1907. In Chamber Music, several influences can be detected. For example, Victorian love ballads, Irish songs, W.B. Yeats, Paul Verlaine, and Horace are the main influences in Joyce’s first poetry work. Most of the poems of this collection are short and formed as songs. When Chamber Music first came out, it received mixed critical reviews. Some recognized the lyrical qualities of the poems, but assured it lacked innovation and emotion. Nevertheless, as Joyce’s reputation grew, some critics reassessed the verses comprising Chamber Music. Hence, Chamber Music was a commercial failure: during the first year only 127 were sold and by 1913 only 200 copies had owners.


About James Joyce

James Joyce is considered one of the most prominent literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in 1882 and died in 1941. Despite his poetic success, Joyce is better known for writing novels, and by 1932 he had ceased to write poetry. His most famous novel is Ulysses, which is based on Homer’s Odyssey and parallels its structure but with a Dublin setting. Moreover, James Joyce is also well known for his prominent use of stream of consciousness, contributing to the modernist avant-garde.

Julieta Abella Poetry Expert
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.

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