25 Unforgettable James Joyce Quotes

Passages From Some of the Irish Writer's Greatest Books

Author James Joyce (left) looks at a set of papers
Author James Joyce (left) looks at a set of papers.

Bettmann / Getty Images

James Joyce was one of the most famous and controversial writers of the 20th century. His epic novel, "Ulysses" (published in 1922), is widely considered one of the greatest books in Western literature. However, it was criticized and banned in many places upon its release.

His other key works include "Finnegans Wake" (1939), "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (1916), and the short story collection Dubliners (1914).

Joyce’s works are often known for using a "stream of consciousness" literary technique, through which Joyce gave readers insight into his characters’ thought processes. Below are some famous quotes from James Joyce.

Fast Facts: James Joyce

  • James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882 and died in Zurich in 1941.
  • Joyce spoke numerous languages and studied at University College Dublin.
  • Joyce was married to Nora Barnacle.
  • Although most of Joyce’s works are set in Ireland, he spent very little time there as an adult.
  • Joyce’s famous novel "Ulysses" was considered controversial when it was first released and was even banned in many places.
  • Joyce’s works are considered an example of modernist literature, and they use the “stream of consciousness” technique.

James Joyce Quotes About Writing, Art, and Poetry

"He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet's soul." (Dubliners)

"Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance." (Ulysses)

"The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails." (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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why." (letter to Fanny Guillermet, 1918)

"Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality. It speaks of what seems fantastic and unreal to those who have lost the simple intuitions which are the test of reality; and, as it is often found at war with its age, so it makes no account of history, which is fabled by the daughters of memory." (Selected letters of James Joyce)

"He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring." (Ulysses)

"The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question." (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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"[A writer is] a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life." (Selected letters of James Joyce)

James Joyce Quotes About Love

"I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood." (Dubliners)

"I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." (Ulysses)

"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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"Love loves to love love." (Ulysses)

"Why is it that words like these seem dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?" (The Dead)

"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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires." (Dubliners)

James Joyce Quotes About Fame and Glory

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." (Dubliners)

"A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery." (Ulysses)

James Joyce Quotes About Being Irish

"When the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove." (James Joyce, lecture: Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages)

"No God for Ireland! he cried. We have had too much God in Ireland. Away with God!" (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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"The soul ... 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." (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart." (Selected letters of James Joyce)

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Lombardi, Esther. "25 Unforgettable James Joyce Quotes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/unforgettable-james-joyce-quotes-740277. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 29). 25 Unforgettable James Joyce Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/unforgettable-james-joyce-quotes-740277 Lombardi, Esther. "25 Unforgettable James Joyce Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/unforgettable-james-joyce-quotes-740277 (accessed May 28, 2023).