‘At that hour when all things have repose’ is the third poem found within James Joyce’s first poetry collection, ‘Chamber Music.’ Its opening poem ‘Strings in the earth and air’ introduces the love-stricken youth who appears throughout, as well as his lyrical and yearning passion, while the second poem ‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ offers an intimate glimpse of the woman he is smitten with.
Yet what connects all three is Joyce’s ability to conjure an intoxicating atmosphere of charged and simmering emotion. He relies on his vivid auditory and visual imagery to conjure up musical rhapsody and magnificent illustrations of meteorological phenomena.
At that hour when all things have repose James Joycestrong>At that hour when all things have repose, O lonely watcher of the skies, Do you hear the night wind and the sighsOf harps playing unto Love to unclose The pale gates of sunrise?When all things repose, do you alone Awake to hear the sweet harps play To Love before him on his way,And the night wind answering in antiphon Till night is overgone?Play on, invisible harps, unto Love, Whose way in heaven is aglow At that hour when soft lights come and go,Soft sweet music in the air above And in the earth below.
Explore At that hour when all things have repose
‘At that hour when all things have repose’ by James Joyce addresses the moon and asks if it hears the passionate music of love that resounds this evening.
‘At that hour when all things have repose’ begins by revealing that night has fallen as “all things” are now asleep. The only thing that’s not is the moon — which the speaker refers to as the “lonely watcher of the skies.”
The speaker then asks the moon if they’ve heard the wind and music of love that plead for sunrise. Another question follows: asking if while all others sleep they alone “awake to hear” this music that’s being played.
Suddenly, the speaker addresses the “invisible harps” attributed to producing the music that’s heard within the poem, telling them to continue playing. The “soft sweet music” they create is imagined as rising toward the glow of heaven even as it still radiates amidst the “earth below.”
Structure and Form
‘At that hour when all things have repose’ is three stanzas long, and each one contains five lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme is ‘ABBAB CDDCC EFFEF’. Resulting in a lyrical cadence that Joyce intended not to be solely read but also sung and set to music. It also serves as a peak in the crescendo of rhyme that occurs across the first two poems of ‘Chamber Music.’
‘At that hour when all things have repose’ contains examples of the following literary devices:
- Metaphor: The “invisible harps” (11) that play throughout the poem aren’t literally invisible. Rather Joyce uses the image to highlight both the ethereal quality and origin of the music.
- Personification: “O lonely watcher of the skies / Do you hear? (2-3) addresses the moon in a way that implies it has the ability to hear music, while “the night wind answering in antiphon” (9) imagines the breeze as voicing a reply.
- Auditory Imagery: Joyce fills the poem with aural illustrations of music, from “the night wind and the sighs / Of harps playing” (3-4) to “hear the sweet harps play” (7) and the “soft sweet music in the air above” (14).
- Visual Imagery: a mental picture created by the poet, as with “the pale gates of sunrise?” (5) and the description of “heaven…aglow” (12).
At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing unto Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?
‘At that hour when all things have repose’ alludes to the second poem of Joyce’s ‘Chamber Music.’ In the previous poem, the speaker narrates the passage from twilight to dusk. This detail removes the ambiguity surrounding the identity of the “lonely watcher of the skies” (2) that’s mentioned in this poem and reveals it to be a reference to the moon.
Joyce subsequently personifies that familiar nighttime celestial body as the speaker asks if it heard the “night wind and the sighs / Of harps playing” (3-4). As the moon is the only one awake because the rest of the world lies in “repose” (1).
The music is also described as being played for “Love” (4) — its capitalization and treatment as a proper noun serve to personify it — the instruments imploring it to open the “pale gates of sunrise” (5). Invoking a scene in which the music is played for the purpose of love’s exaltation and worship in the hopes it will usher in the dawn.
When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?
In the second stanza of ‘At that hour when all things have repose’ the speaker makes more inquiries of the moon. Joyce further develops this motif of solitude that appears throughout the poem — again underscoring the characterization of the moon as a “lonely watcher” (2) who sits “alone / Awake” (6-7) while all others lie asleep.
As in the opening poem of ‘Chamber Music,’ the personification of love is regarded as being male. The moon watches with forlorn voyeurism as the “sweet harps play / To Love before him on his way” (7-8). Joyce subtle insinuating a cosmic romance between the two. This sentiment is further reinforced when the speaker describes the way the “night wind” (9) answers love’s devotional music all through the night.
Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.
The third stanza of ‘At that hour when all things have repose’ ends with a soaring array of ethereal and sublime imagery. As the speaker commands the music to carry on with its devotional — “Play on, invisible harps, unto Love” (11) — their attention turns toward the sky once more. Their eyes follow the music’s ascent toward “heaven…aglow” (12).
Its refulgence is possibly owed to the radiance produced by the music or the dim presence of the stars. This understanding is bolstered when Joyce repeats a variation of the poem’s first line, remarking on the “soft lights [that] come and go” (13) at this hour.
The poem ends with an image of this ravishing and enchanting music as sounding not just high “in the air above” (14) but also within the “earth below” (15). Its ubiquity fills the earth’s nighttime atmosphere with a gushing overflow of music of love.
The poem explores themes of solitude and the entwining of music as a sublime communicator of love.
All the poems Joyce wrote for ‘Chamber Music’ were intended to be sung. This accounts for both its musical motifs and its highly lyrical quality. This isn’t surprising given the musical upbringing he received from his father, who was a respected singer, and his mother, a widely regarded pianist. Many of his writings heavily feature or occur adjacent to musical performances and his first collection of poetry is defined by it.
The opening poems of ‘Chamber Music’ set the stage for the speaker’s passionate praise of the woman they desire and profess to love. In ‘Strings in the earth and air’ Joyce envisions love as a pastoral youth who is followed around by music. One interpretation is that the poet wanted to parallel the speaker’s eventual invocation of love with this enchanting personification of it.
- ‘Night’ by Anne Brontë – This poem also muses over the solitude and comfort of the night.
- ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ by T.S. Eliot – This famous poem examines the barrenness of modern life.
- ‘The Vast Hour’ by Genevieve Taggard – This poem similarly delves into the changes that undergo the world when night falls.