James Joyce

On the Beach at Fontana by James Joyce

‘On the Beach at Fontana’ by James Joyce is a poem about paternal love and protectiveness. Read the poem with, a summary and complete analysis.

James Joyce’s poem ‘On the Beach at Fontana’ is the narrator’s expression of deep paternal love and protectiveness towards his son. The world surrounding the two of them is cold and violent. The father grips his son protectively and feels a deep sense of love and warmth despite the cold and bleak environment. Fontana beach is symbolic of the world we live in, which can be dangerous and unforgiving. The narrator wishes to protect his son from these dangers, as his love for him is a beacon of warmth in a harsh world. 

On the Beach at Fontana
James Joyce

Wind whines and whines the shingle,The crazy pier-stakes groan;A senile sea numbers each singleSlime-silvered stone.From whining wind and colderGrey sea I wrap him warmAnd touch his trembling fine-boned shoulderAnd boyish arm.Around us fear, descendingDarkness of fear above;And in my heart how deep unendingAche of love.
On the Beach at Fontana by James Joyce


On the Beach at Fontana‘ is a poem about paternal love and protectiveness. In the poem, the narrator expresses his deep affections for his son as he takes in the gloomy and terrifying world around them.

The poem begins with the narrator describing the scene at Fontana beach. It’s cold and windy, and overall it feels very gloomy. The wind violently shakes the pier, and the water crashes against the shore. The narrator is with his little boy, who trembles because of the strong cold winds. He wraps his son up in warmer clothes, and tenderly touches his arm in a show of affection. He gently holds onto his son protectively, shielding him from the harsh atmosphere. The poem ends with the narrator feeling that the darkness is closing in on them, but he can only think about the deep love that he feels for his son.


The themes of the poem mainly focus on paternal love. The narrator of the poem can see that the world around him is scary and dangerous, and he feels a deep desire to shelter his son from it. This poem is meant to be symbolic of the fear that a father feels raising his son in such a harsh and unforgiving world. Children are vulnerable, and often parents find themselves wrestling with anxiety for their child’s safety. However, this parental love is what drives them to protect their children from the world around them.

Structure and Form

The poem is 3 stanzas long, with each stanza being 4 lines long. The poem follows an alternate rhyme scheme. This means that it rhymes alternately throughout in an ABAB CDCD EFEF pattern. This gives the poem a singsong-like quality which contrasts with the serious subject matter. The poem also utilizes a lot of detailed imagery to paint a clear picture in the mind of the reader.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pier-stakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slime-silvered stone.

The first stanza of the poem characterizes Fontana as a cold and dangerous place. The narrator uses words like “crazy” and “senile” to further emphasize the chaos that surrounds him and his son.

Both the wind and the sea are personified, which further characterizes their actions as deliberately terrifying. This is intentional, as the poem is trying to use these forces of nature to symbolize potentially dangerous people and situations that may threaten the narrator’s son.

Stanza Two

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fine-boned shoulder
And boyish arm.

In the next stanza of the poem, the narrator carefully shields his son from the wind and sea. It is clear by this point in the poem that the wind and ocean represent the evils and dangers of the world.  The narrator shielding his son from the cold symbolizes his desire to protect him from the harsh world around them.

The narrator also uses very descriptive language to paint an image of his son in the mind of the reader. He is fine-boned, trembling, and boyish, which emphasizes that his son is vulnerable and frail. This makes his protectiveness towards him feel much more justified.  

Stanza Three

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above;
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love.

In the final stanza of the poem, the narrator describes the feeling that the darkness around him and his son is closing in on them. The “darkness” symbolizes all of the ills of the world. In addition, the poem intentionally uses the word “fear” twice to demonstrate that the narrator is concerned for his son’s safety. The narrator is wrestling with the fear that danger is around every corner and that it will descend upon him and his son.

The poem ends with the narrator expressing an “unending ache of love” towards his son, which greatly overwhelms any fear that he may have. The word “ache” is significant: the narrator’s love for his son is so powerful that it is almost painful. ~

About James Joyce

James Joyce was an Irish writer and poet and is one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. He is best known for his short story collection Dubliners, as well as his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. He also wrote two poetry collections; Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach. Joyce’s innovation and impressive grasp of the English language has solidified his works in the hearts of readers around the world.

Similar Poetry

If you like ‘ On the Beach at Fontana,’ you may want to check out these similar poems:

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Christina Marando Poetry Expert
Christina studied a degree in English Literature with a Minor in Professional Writing at Concordia in Canada. She is deeply passionate about the world of literature, with a particular affinity for poetry.
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