Josef Čapek & James Joyce’s Chamber Music

(& the Czech & Hungarian reception of James Joyce)

Apparently Karel Čapek did not involve himself with James Joyce. He died in 1938, but his brother Josef did, under the most horrendous circumstances:

In the early 1940s, the modernist painter and writer Josef Čapek, brother of Karel Čapek, translated several poems from CM, some of which were done during his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, where he eventually died (only numbers XXXV and XXXVI have been preserved) (Joyce 1945a).

CM = Chamber Music.
Čapek, Josef (1980) Ohen a touha, Prague: Odeon.
Joyce, James (1945a) ‘Komorni hudba’, trans. Josef Čapek, Hlas osvobozenych, 1.2: 3, reprinted in Čapek 1980, 260.
Joyce, James (1980b) ‘Komorni hudba’, ‘Pfistalych vojsk’, trans. Josef Čapek, in Čapek 1980, 260-61.

SOURCE: The Reception of James Joyce in Europe, 2 vols., edited by Geert Lernout and Wim Van Mierlo. London; New York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004. v. 1. Germany, Northern and East Central Europe. v. 2. France, Ireland, and Mediterranean Europe.

Note the chapter on Czech and Slovak reception, e.g. the translation problem and treatment of ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’.

See also: Chamber Music (poetry collection) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

From James Joyce’s Chamber Music (1907)


All day I hear the noise of waters
         Making moan,
Sad as the sea-bird is when, going
         Forth alone,
He hears the winds cry to the water’s

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing
         Where I go.
I hear the noise of many waters
         Far below.
All day, all night, I hear them flowing
         To and fro.


I hear an army charging upon the land,
         And the thunder of horses plunging, foam about their knees:
Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand,
         Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the charioteers.

They cry unto the night their battle-name:
         I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter.
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame,
         Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.

They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:
         They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore.
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
         My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?

Vol. 1 lacks a chapter on Hungary. Note this in the preface:

Some authors achieve the status of fictional characters in other writers’ works; in other cases, their characters do, like Sterne’s uncle Toby and his own alter ego Yorick; or even their characters’ extended family members, as in the memorable novel by a major Hungarian contemporary writer chronicling the early career of the (Hungarian) grandfather of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom.

The baleful influence of Georg Lukács’ hostility to Joyce in the Stalinist countries appears, detailed in the chapter on East Germany (GDR), not surprisingly, as Lukács wrote mostly in German rather than in Hungarian, though he also caused problems with Hungarian literature. For more information on Joyce & Hungarian, see:

James Joyce & Hungary: Selected Bibliography

For various reasons, Czech and Hungarian are the first places I look for reception histories. The development of modern literatures in these languages involved much translation from West European nations, and some of the greatest writers were also translators. A multitude of nationalities were imprisoned within the Austro-Hungarian empire, in which German was the coin of the realm, but writers in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in creating a modern literature, translated much French literature. (This was a two-way street, as Frigyes Karinthy’s work, which takes much work to ferret out in English and only a fraction has been translated—especially not the language-dependent parodies of other authors’ styles—but most of it can be found in French translation on one web site.) Prague and Budapest were world class-cultural cities and leaders in the avant-garde and cultural modernization.

Karel Čapek: Selected Bibliography & Web Links

James Joyce & Hungary: Selected Bibliography

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation in the Work
of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

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