“The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than wither and fade dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover`s eyes when he had told that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel`s eyes. He had never felt like that himself toward any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, and was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
~~ The Dead (extract), from Dubliners by James Joyce ~~
The Dead is the closing story of Dubliners, and takes place at a house party on Ushers Island over a century ago on the quays in Dublin on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany and the last night of Christmas. Gabriel and Greta Conroy are among the many guests enjoying the night`s festivities, when, as they are leaving, Greta hears a folksong, The Lass of Aughrim, sung by another guest, and remembers the night, long ago, when another young man had sang to her as she looked out the window as the snow flakes silently fell.
When they return to their hotel room, Gabriel stands and watches the snow flakes fall, disillusioned at the way his life and marriage have turned out.
The world is full of dead souls; they walk and talk, and act out their days as if they were alive, but inside there is only an empty space where the warm, beating heart of youthful expectation of the future once resided. The enveloping snow of the passing years, covers a multitude of sins, as well as the swooning dreams and aspirations that once were.