Golden Hair – James Joyce and Syd Barrett

2 Jun

1858. William Powell Frith - The signal1858. The signal – William Powell Frith


Lean out of the window,
I hear you singing
A merry air.

My book was closed,
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.

I have left my book,
I have left my room,
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.

Singing and singing
A merry air,
Lean out of the window,

Poem ‘Golden Hair’ is part of the collection of poems ‘Chamber Music’ by James Joyce, published in May 1907. Chamber Music is a collection of lyrical meditations. Main motifs of the thirty-six poems that the collection contains are yearning for love, disappointment, and beauty and universality of music. Poems are also characterised by their musicality, for they were written more like lyrics for songs than the usual poems.

syd 115

It’s not surprising that Syd Barrett was inspired by this beautiful poem – Golden Hair – and decided to put it to music. Even though it appeared on Syd’s debut album ‘The Madcap Laughs‘, which is part of Syd’s solo work after the Pink Floyd, Golden Hair is one of Syd’s first songs, made at the time he experimented with setting poetry to music, during the cannabis idyll at Earlham Street in 1966.

In ‘Golden Hair’, culled from Chamber Music, a slim verse Joyce wrote in 1907, a troubadour yearns for a Rapunzel locked in a tower. With simple barre chords, Barrett conjured a solemn air akin to a medieval madrigal. Its cadence is pure plainsong, chanted words over bare chords, with the first of his thrilling downward octave leaps at the end.‘ (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd – Dark Globe by Julian Palacios)

Syd’s rendition of ‘Golden Hair’ leaves the listener engulfed in a world of shadows, longings and mysticism, in a wistful and melancholic mood, denuded of earlier psychedelia and its vividness; decadence of the 1960s finally exposed.

6 Responses to “Golden Hair – James Joyce and Syd Barrett”

  1. Frank Hudson 23rd Mar 2018 at 6:54 pm #

    Barrett’s “Golden Hair” is lovely, and it was the way I found out that James Joyce even wrote poetry. I linked to this post in my post today about combining another Joyce poem with music


    • Byron's Muse 24th Mar 2018 at 1:25 pm #

      Hey, thanks for putting a link to my post! Much appreciated. It was also the way I found out that Joyce wrote poetry, how much we owe to Syd Barrett. I like your ideas of writing about poems and music, really interesting and unique.


  2. Y Brawd 15th Aug 2020 at 5:29 am #

    See also Strings in the Earth and Air by the redoubtable Robin Williamson. He also catches the numinous spirit of things albeit more luminous than tenebrous.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Rotasi Konsumsi ; To Sit Alone – sesikopipait - 2nd Mar 2017

    […] digubah lebih panjang oleh Slowdive ini katanya ada relasi dengan puisi James Joyce. Coba baca di sini kalau tidak […]


  2. I Hear an Army | Frank Hudson - 23rd Mar 2018

    […] The James Joyce poem I first knew, “Golden Hair,”  came to me from Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett’s lovely setting written in the 1960s and used beautifully a decade or so ago to begin Tom […]


  3. Paul Greer - 24th Jul 2018

    […] (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd – Dark Globe by Julian Palacios) via […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: