The twilight turns from amethyst

James Joyce

‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ by James Joyce is a poignant piece of vibrant and romantic poetry by the modernist Irish novelist.


James Joyce

Nationality: Irish

James Joyce was an incredibly important Irish writer.

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

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: An illustration of a solitary lovelorn desire

Themes: Beauty, Desire, Love

Speaker: An omniscient observer

Emotions Evoked: Nervousness, Passion, Sadness

Poetic Form: Ballad

Time Period: 20th Century

Jame Joyce's poem offers an alluring and enchanting glimpse into a twilight scene of unguarded intimacy and obscured but bold emotion.

‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ appears in ‘Chamber Music,’ the first collection of poems published by Irish writer James Joyce in 1907. One of thirty-six love poems that reveal the author of the modernist masterpiece ‘Ulysses’ as not just a magnificent writer but a more than competent poet as well. Some of his other collections include ‘Gas from a Burner’ (1912), ‘Pomes Penyeach’ (1927), and ‘Ecce Puer’ (1932).

All the poems found within ‘Chamber Music’ follow the professions of love made by a young man. The opening poem begins by introducing both the youth and the musical motif Joyce weaves throughout. While ‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ acquaints the reader with the woman he’s hopelessly enamored with. It’s also the second poem chronologically, loosely but convincingly linking all thirty-six poems together in the same way a symphony has different movements.

The twilight turns from amethyst
James Joyce

The twilight turns from amethyst To deep and deeper blue,The lamp fills with a pale green glow The trees of the avenue.

The old piano plays an air, Sedate and slow and gay;She bends upon the yellow keys, Her head inclines this way.

Shy thought and grave wide eyes and hands That wander as they list—The twilight turns to darker blue With lights of amethyst.


‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ by James Joyce observes a quietly intimate scene fixated on a solitary woman playing the piano at twilight.

‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ begins with a description of the transition from dusk to nightfall. The poem focuses particularly on the splendorous change in color witnessed in the sky and the foliage’s effect on the lamplight’s gloam. The sound of an “old piano” is introduced — it is both calming and unhurried but also happy.

Its player is revealed to be a woman who moves passionately along to the music, her head moving this way and that. The speaker goes into greater detail, focusing on the movements of her eyes and hands as she plays. They also unveil a little of what’s going through her head as “shy thought[s].” Attention then returns to the shifting in light and color occurring in the sky,

Structure and Form

‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ is comprised of three quatrains. The first sequence of three poems in ‘Chamber Music’ all follow this structure. The second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme, which creates a lulling and solemn cadence that mirrors the piano’s music.

Literary Devices

‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ contains examples of the following literary devices:

  • Auditory Imagery: the poem conjures up the sound of music when the speaker recounts how “the old piano plays an air” (5) and it is “sedate and slow and gay” (6).
  • Kinesthetic Imagery: imagery related to movement is also present, as when the speaker describes the way the woman “bends upon the…keys, / Her head inclines this way” (7-8) and again when focusing on the way her “hands / …wander as they list—” (9-10).
  • Visual Imagery: the poem is framed by the transition from dusk to night and focuses specifically on the color of the sky: “The twilight turns from amethyst / To deep and deeper blue” (1-2). Another example comes in the poem’s depiction of the lamplight, “The lamp fills with a pale green glow” (3).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

The twilight turns from amethyst
    To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with a pale green glow
    The trees of the avenue.

In the first quatrains of ‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ Joyce focuses on setting the scene. Using visual imagery and the emotive connotations of certain colors to create this dolorous atmosphere the pervades all three stanzas. The change in the twilight’s hue “from amethyst, / To deep and deeper blue” (1-2) mirrors the poem’s descent into an increasingly pensive mood. The “pale green glow” (3) of the trees illuminated by lamps on the street instills the image of a sickly and somewhat ethereal glimmer within the encroaching night.

Stanza Two

The old piano plays an air,
    Sedate and slow and gay;
She bends upon the yellow keys,
    Her head inclines this way.

The second quatrain of ‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ introduces the sole character found within this sad scene. As the night sky grows dark, the speaker points out the sound of an “old piano play[ing] an air” (5). This nocturne is saturated by a reeling mix of emotions: “sedate and slow and gay” (6).

Joyce’s decision to withhold the identity of the piano player until the last two lines heightens the poem’s surreal and murky atmosphere. While also accentuating the vivid focus with which he adorns each of the various portraits and still-lifes within.

That elegance is reflected in the diction used to characterize the nameless woman. Offering no illustrations of her physical appearance, the speaker instead hones in on the way she moves her body to the music.

Stanza Three

Shy thought and grave wide eyes and hands
    That wander as they list—
The twilight turns to darker blue
    With lights of amethyst.

The last quatrain of ‘The twilight turns from amethyst’ continues the speaker’s description of the woman as she plays the piano. We’re even allowed a glimpse into her mind as they refer to an ambiguous but compelling “shy thought” (9) hiding within her tilting head and behind her “grave wide eyes” (9). That wistful and perhaps melancholic image is juxtaposed by a paced flurry of movement as her hands move over the piano keys, “wander[ing] as they list” (10).

The poem is also framed by the transition from day to night. Just as it begins with the purples of twilight changing to a bolder blue, it ends in a much similar way. This time, Joyce inverts the line to indicate that dramatic shift: “The twilight turns to darker blue / With lights of amethyst” (11-12).


What is the theme of ‘The twilight turns from amethyst?

The poem explores a number of themes, such as the poignant beauty of music and romantic longing. Many of the poems in ‘Chamber Music’ are best understood when read as a sequence, though all express these in some ardent way.

Why did James Joyce write ‘The twilight turns from amethyst?

Joyce wrote this poem as a part of his first collection of poems entitled ‘Chamber Music.’ Although the title was possibly originally conceived as an irreverent innuendo, poems like this one showcase a lyrical depth devoted to a youthful invocation of love.

What is the tone of the poem?

The poem’s tone is sober and reflective, at times becoming forlorn and even melancholic. This is heavily influenced by the diction and imagery Joyce uses to create the mood as well.

What is the significance of color in the poem?

Joyce fills the poem’s scenery with splashes of color that catalyze a variety of moods. There’s the somber and somewhat melancholy “amethyst” and “deeper blue” of the darkening evening sky; the eerie “pale green glow” of the lamps; and the aged “yellow keys” of the piano.

Similar Poems

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The twilight turns from amethyst

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James Joyce

This poem by James Joyce illustrates a scene of loving intimacy, one encompassed by the evening's deepening dark and the sound of a solitary woman at the piano. It's also the second poem that appears in 'Chamber Music' — the collection in which it was first published — as well as introducing the object of the speaker's amorous emotions.
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20th Century

James Joyce was a famous modernist writer of the 20th century. This poem first appeared in his 1907 poetry book 'Chamber Music,' a collection of passionate and lofty lines of verse that overflow with a youthful obsession with love. Here, that sentiment is focused on an unknown woman who sits playing the piano.
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As one of the more famous Irish writers of the last century, James Joyce stands at the pinnacle of creatively incisive and irreverent minds produced by the country. His works provide a stunning immersion into the lives and toils of the citizens of places like Dublin. Poems like this one reveal his talent for conjuring up scenes of radiant emotion.
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An evocation of beauty exists as one of the themes of James Joyce's poem. His use of imagery and figurative language serves to highlight every sensory detail as either resplendently vivid or quietly marvelous. There's the change that undergoes the sky as twilight becomes night, as well as the descriptions of the woman's concentrated playing.
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Throughout the poems within 'Chamber Music,' the speaker's desire for their beloved varies greatly. In these first poems, it's just a simmering insinuation, one that's only hinted at in their descriptions of the scenery. But a sense of this yearning is afforded in the juxtaposition of symbols of love, like the music, alongside one's of melancholy, such as the dark night sky.
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One of the central themes of this poem by James Joyce is love. Although it's not expressed directly by the speaker in this poem (other poems in 'Chamber Music' are more explicit about their feelings), that love is directed at the woman introduced in the second stanza. Making the poem a deeply intimate glimpse by a lover upon the nighttime activities of the person they desire.
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One of the emotions that this poem by James Joyce expresses is mild nervousness. This feeling is found in the characterizations by the speaker of the woman they are admiring and observing. Their diction describes her as having "shy [thoughts]" as she plays the piano, implying the music is inspiring or inspired by intimate memories or feelings.
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An emotion that appears in James Joyce's poem is passion. Yet, it is a passion that's ironically both subtle and reserved. One that is expressed through the descriptions of the music and the longing implied in the speaker's observations of the woman in the poem. All of these contribute and develop to this moving warmth that crescendos across the poems in 'Chamber Music.'
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Sadness is experienced in this poem by James Joyce. In the last two stanzas, as the speaker describes the scene featuring the woman at the piano, their diction reveals a certain pensiveness. The music she plays is happy but also slow, while her eyes are referred to as being "grave."
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One of the main topics this poem by James Joyce deals with is music. Many of the poems in 'Chamber Music' reveal the beauty with which he conjures up these sublime and ethereal tones. Using them as a symbol for love's rapturous effects and illustrating them with vibrant imagery.
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A topic touched on in James Joyce's poem is this alluring scene of night. The poem is framed by this transition from twilight to a "deep and deeper blue," using the image of this growing dark as a means of influencing the poem's atmosphere. In such light, the speaker's beautiful descriptions are rendered melancholic and wistful.
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The poem wrestles with an imposing sense of solitude that exists between its various characters. The speaker, although able to observe their beloved, is separated from them. While the woman who is the object of their fancy is found alone as well, playing music for no one and nothing but the growing dark of night.
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James Joyce's poem opens with the speaker describing the after-effects of sunset on the sky. Twilight is quickly passing, and night is nearly upon them when the poem begins, a phenomenon that can be interpreted as inspiring some of the poem's more somber images and emotions. It's also one of the more compelling and radiant visions described in the poems of 'Chamber Music.'
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James Joyce was a writer known for his experimentation with language, point of view, and style. His most famous work 'Ulysses' remains an astounding feat of modernist innovation. Ironically, his poetry was uniquely structured in traditional forms like the ballad. Yet, as is evident in this poem, that didn't prevent him from penning truly beautiful scenes through his verse.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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