“I Hear an Army” makes you think of a scary dream, while sleeping, the poem’s speaker is attacked by a vast army of ghosts riding chariots out of the ocean. Soon, it becomes clear that these scary riders coming toward the speaker result from a troubled mind. They reflect the overwhelming despair and loneliness that the speaker feels after being left by their “love.” In this way, the poem shows in an obvious way how heartbreak can result in restlessness, anxiety, and even outright fear.

The poem starts with a scary scene: soldiers “charging” forward and getting closer to the speaker as their horses’ hooves pound the ground, making “thunder.” The riders are “arrogant,” which means they are sure they can beat the speaker. They crack their threatening “whips” and wear menacing “black armour.

Below, you’ll find the full poem.

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? 

James Joyce

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

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