Quotes from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce ·  329 pages

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“His heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide. He heard what her eyes said to him from beneath their cowl and knew that in some dim past, whether in life or revery, he had heard their tale before.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use -- silence, exile, and cunning.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Her lips touched his brain as they touched his lips, as though they were a vehicle of some vague speech and between them he felt an unknown and timid preasure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odor.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man



“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“And if he had judged her harshly? If her life were a simple rosary of hours, her life simple and strange as a bird's life, gay in the morning, restless all day, tired at sundown? Her heart simple and willful as a bird's heart?”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“You can still die when the sun is shining.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Have read little and understood less.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man



“When a man is born...there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“A day of dappled seaborne clouds.

The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how, but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured.
He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man



“He thought that he was sick in his heart if you could be sick in that place.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother's love is not.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man



“What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell forever? Forever! For all eternity! Not for a year or an age but forever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness, and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of air. And imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all. Yet at the end of that immense stretch time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been carried all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals – at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not even one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time, the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would have scarcely begun.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“I am proud to be an emotionalist.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“To discover the mode of life or of art whereby my spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“if it is thus, I ask emphatically whence comes this thusness.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man



“The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“By his monstrous way of life he seemed to have put himself beyond the limits of reality. Nothing moved him or spoke to him from the real world unless he heard it in an echo of the infuriated cries within him.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


“Her room was warm and lightsome. A huge doll sat with her legs apart in the copious easy-chair beside the bed. He tried to bid his tongue speak that he might seem at ease, watching her as she undid her gown, noting the proud conscious movements of her perfumed head.

As he stood silent in the middle of the room she came over to him and embraced him gaily and gravely. Her round arms held him firmly to her and he, seeing her face lifted to him in serious calm and feeling the warm calm rise and fall of her breast, all but burst into hysterical weeping. Tears of joy and relief shone in his delighted eyes and his lips parted though they would not speak.

She passed her tinkling hand through his hair, calling him a little rascal.

—Give me a kiss, she said.

His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.

With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.”
― James Joyce, quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


About the author

James Joyce
Born place: in Rathgar, Dublin, Ireland
Born date February 2, 1882
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