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.
This passage, from Chapter 4, demonstrates Joyce's contention that becoming a true artist involves a calling, not a conscious decision the artist can make himself. These thoughts fly through Stephen's mind just before he sees a young girl wading at a beach. The sight of her image leads to one of the most important epiphanies in the novel. Stephen sees her not long after he has refused the priesthood, a time when he is unsure of what to do now that he has relinquished his religious devotion. At this moment, Stephen finally feels a strong calling, and determines to celebrate life, humanity, and freedom, ignoring all temptations to turn away from such a celebration. He has already succumbed to temptation twice: first, a "dull gross voice" causes him to sin deeply when he succumbs to the squalor of Dublin; second, an "inhuman voice" invites him into the cold, dull, unfeeling world of the priesthood. Both of these temptations, as well as the calling to become an artist, are forces through which the outside world acts upon Stephen. In this context, the passage suggests that it is as much fate as Stephen's own free will that leads him to become an artist.