The tone of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is introspective, serious, and often lyrical. During Stephen's epiphanies, the narrator focuses more on the inner workings of Stephen's psychology and emotions, which creates a thoughtful tone. The novel's most poetic passages occur in Chapter 5, Part 1 as the narrator's tone becomes even loftier and more lyrical:
Through this image he had a glimpse of a strange dark cavern of speculation but at once turned away from it, feeling that it was not yet the hour to enter it. [...] he found himself glancing from one casual word to another on his right or left in stolid wonder that they had been so silently emptied of instantaneous sense until every mean shop legend bound his mind like the words of a spell and his soul shrivelled up sighing with age as he walked on in a lane among heaps of dead language.
Here, Stephen recalls his friend Cranly as he strolls through the streets of Dublin. For an unspecified reason, the thought of Cranly's face drains all external stimuli (including the street signs) of any meaning. Stephen begins to feel unworthy of intellectual engagement. The "strange dark cavern of speculation" repels him; he does not yet think himself worthy of entrance. He longs to escape his friend's "listlessness" but seems unable to do so. He silently laments the senseless void within him and notes his diminished capacity for language.
The phrase "heaps of dead language" evokes a line from T. S. Eliot's 1922 poem The Waste Land ("You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images"). Joyce's phrase conveys a similar hopelessness; Stephen's soul "shrivel[s] up" in a moment of acute despair. While Eliot's passage is not an explicit reference to Joyce's work, it would not be unreasonable to say, or guess, that this Modernist poet drew inspiration from his literary predecessor.