"When would he be like the fellows in poetry and rhetoric? They had big voices and big boots and they studied trigonometry."

The pupils of Clongowes are divided into three classes, or 'lines'. Each line is further divided into two years. The names of the years are as follows:

1) Rudiments 

2) Grammar

3) Syntax

4) Humanities

5) Poetry

6) Rhetoric

Stephen is therefore looking up admiringly to the oldest two years in his school, the 17 and 18 year old boys.

Poetry gives them an insight into the aesthetic function of language.

Rhetoric, in the restricted sense, is Aristotle's well-known treatise on the art of persuasion. In the broader sense it is a discipline based on Aristotle's principles, standing alongside grammar and dialectic as one of the three ancient arts of discourse.

Trigonometry, a branch of mathematics concerned with the geometry of triangles, is also important for the shaping of logic in the mind of Stephen and his peers.