Stephen wakes up in a romantic, “enchanted” mood, probably because he dreamed about E____ C____. His feeling of inspiration seems to come from a confused jumble of circumstances. He writes a few stanzas of a poem that seems to be addressed both to E____ C____ and to the Virgin Mary. The poem is a villanelle (a minutely structured, repetitive poetic form) in which he implores the addressee to give up earthly love.
It seems that Stephen’s shame about his sexual impulses is as strong as ever, despite his professed indifference to religious teaching. He can only understand his feelings for E____ C____ (as distinct from his lust) by conflating her image with the image of the Virgin Mary.
Stephen remembers talking to E____ C____ at a party; she had asked him to play piano and sing, which he did gladly, but afterwards he negated the charm of the songs with sarcasm. In his imagination, she seems to be dancing. But he remembers that she had flirted with a priest, and is overcome by irrational anger, and his inspiration disappears. The image of E____ C____ in his mind becomes fragmented and colored by images of many other girls. It seems to Stephen that E____ C____ represents “the womanhood of her country.”
This part of the novel serves to debunk Stephen’s ideas about art. Though Stephen believes art is allied with pure, static emotions, his own poem comes from the ‘impure’ passions – love and anger. Though he thinks the object of perception must be isolated from all else, he sees E____ C____ as part of a blurry web of other girls. He explains this to himself by elevating her to another abstraction – the soul of Ireland.
Stephen’s inspiration returns, and he writes a few elevated and abstract stanzas. He remembers the poem he wrote for her ten years earlier, after they took the train home together. He is angered again when he imagines her showing his poem to a mocking family, but then his mood is softened by the thought of her girlish innocence and her mysterious womanly shame. Suddenly he is struck by desire; he quickly finishes the poem.
Stephen’s final inspiration comes form the most bodily passion of all – desire. Once again, shame drives a wedge between Stephen’s life and his tightly-laced interpretation of his life. He understands everything as he thinks it should be, not as it is. The adult ‘Stephen’(i.e. James Joyce) who narrates the story, though, has overcome this shame enough to describe it.