Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . . His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face. He was a baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
O, the green wothe botheth.
When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.
These first lines of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man represent Joyce’s attempt to capture the perceptions of a very young boy. The language is childish: “moocow,” “tuckoo,” and “nicens” are words a child might say, or words that an adult might say to a child. In addition to using childlike speech, Joyce tries to emulate a child’s thought processes through the syntax of his sentences and paragraphs. He jumps from thought to thought with no apparent motivation or sense of time. We have no idea how much time goes by between Stephen’s father telling him the story and Stephen wetting the bed. Moreover, the way Stephen’s thoughts turn inward reflects the way children see themselves as the center of the universe. Stephen is the same Baby Tuckoo as the one in the story his father tells, and the song Stephen hears is “his song.” As Stephen ages, Joyce’s style becomes less childish, tracking and emulating the thoughts and feelings of the maturing Stephen as closely as possible.