“Why was he gazing upwards from the steps of the porch, hearing their shrill twofold cry, watching their flight? For an augury of good or evil? A phrase of Cornelius Agrippa flew through his mind and then there flew hither and thither shapeless thoughts from Swedenborg on the correspondence of birds to things of the intellect and of how the creatures of the air have their knowledge and know their times and seasons because they, unlike man, are in the order of their life and have not perverted that order by reason.
And for ages men had gazed upward as he was gazing at birds in flight.” (279)
Joyce, James. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Bookbyte Digital. iBooks.
A significant aspect of the novella is Stephen’s thoughts, weaved throughout the narration. This final thought, however, seems to be from the narrator, reflecting on Stephen’s actions, questioning “why?”. “The creatures of the air have their knowledge and know their times and seasons”. The symbolism of these birds, taking flight so gracefully, “like fine and falling threads of silken light unwound from whirring spools” may be something that Stephen wishes to pursue. He feels trapped in his mind, and the narrator acknowledges how he must certainly be thinking of how he too could take flight and be free. It’s unusual to refer to birds as “things of intellect”, but are possibly described as such because they are what Stephen wishes he could be: free.
“His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.”
I chose this quotation from the last few pages of chapter 4 because of what had just happened before Stephen says this. Stephen saw this little girl after he decided to turn down priesthood. In doing so, Stephen is almost lost and doesn’t know what to do now that he has given up his religious devotion. This girl came as a sign to him, to cherish all that is around him and to celebrate life.
“He shook the sound out of his ears by an angry toss of his head and hurried on, stumbling through the mouldering offal, his heart already bitten by an ache of loathing and bitterness. His father’s whistle, his mother’s mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their echoes even out his heart with an execrations: but as he walked down the avenue and felt the grey morning light falling about him through the dripping trees and smelt the strange wild smell of the wet leaves and bark, his soul was loosed of her miseries.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. (147)
Joyce used words here in a way that I think summarizes a large theme in Stephen’s story. His yearn to be more of this world is expressed throughout the novel, however in this moment we see the “loathing and bitterness” that he wishes to “execrate” , I believe both from his own life and mind. We see the first glimpses of the way Joyce uses language to show the chaotic version of life that lives in Stephen’s mind(in his own home) versus the adventure he seeks from the outside world and the escape he craves. (will expand on in drop box).