Published in 1927, Pomes Penyeach is a collection of 13 poems, a gathering of works written while Joyce was busy working on Ulysses. The collection is so named for its price – one shilling, or 12 pence – with a thirteenth "tilly" thrown in to round the baker's dozen. While similar to Chamber Music in theme – love, regret, loss, etc. – the poetry in this collection shows a distinct improvement in language, style, and imagery. There is more of Joyce in these verses, and occasionally we can see a command of language that seems more appropriate to the author of Ulysses. Less lyrical than Chamber Music, these poems have a darker and more somber feel, and more than a few seem touched by a hint of nostalgia. This collection also contains "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight," a sharply drawn piece that ranks up with the best of any poet's work.
The 1932 Obelisk Press edition of Pomes Penyeach came at a crucial juncture in James Joyce’s writing career and in the life and mental health of his daughter, Lucia. At the time, Joyce was internationally renowned for Ulysses and laboring over his Work in Progress; meanwhile, Lucia was descending into the nightmare of schizophrenia, becoming increasingly delusional and erratic in behavior. Joyce had already published Pomes Penyeach, a series of 13 poems written between 1904 and 1924, with Shakespeare and Co. in 1927. In 1931, a publisher named Caresse Crosby, having seen and admired Lucia Joyce’s designs for a musical setting of Joyce’s poems, suggested that Joyce put out a limited edition volume of Pomes Penyeach containing illuminations of the initial letters for each poem. Joyce, eager to believe that some productive work would soothe Lucia’s inner demons and lead her back onto the road to normalcy, jumped at the chance.