Monday, 20 May 2013

Summer Farm - Norman MacCaig

Summer Farm
Norman MacCaig
Summary: The poet lies within the depths of his mind, probably in his happy place as his mother’s family lived in the rural area, which is reflected in this story. Everything described in the story is part of his mind, with perhaps every animal representing a different aspect of his mind. This poet always discusses the concept of having layers and layers of dreams, like how the mind is made up of layers and layers. Sounds like inception to me.
Significant poetic devices and their significance (eg: Metaphors, symbols, rhyme scheme, form, imagery, repetition… etc)

Structural analysis
1.       ABAB rhyme scheme per stanza. These are thus couplets. They are used to make the poem have an upbeat and overall happy rhythm throughout the poem, as one would have when you are in your happy place.
2.       Four lines per stanza throughout. Implies a sense of organisation in the thoughts of the poet before the reader, giving the impression that the poet is very calm and clear as one would have these organised thoughts when there is nothing to worry about.
3.       A lot of vowels are used with the sole purpose of slowing down the pace at which the reader reads. This is used to portray slow, relaxed thinking that the poet possess. It also implies a lack of stress as stress usually is correlated with fast and muddled thinking.
4.       Note the omniscient narration in the beginning of the poem as all details are made aware, even when the poet himself is not looking. Because this is the recesses of his head, we can safely say that he is both the character and the ‘God’ of his own world that he has created on his own. Similarly, we often give God a physical form, when in fact it is not needed as he is already omniscient and knows all. He is everywhere, yet we often depict him as a physical entity. Why is he given an entity? So that we can talk to him better (it is better to talk to a physical being than to space after all). Therefore the poet also gives himself an omniscient self as well as a physical self to allow us to be able to empathise better with the poet, who is living in the world of his own.

Word-based analysis
1.       In the first line, we see the first literary device in the poem, a simile, of which the simile is followed by an oxymoron “Straws like tame lightnings”.
a.       The implication here is that often we have strange similies that we do not often hear. However what is it that determines what is strange and what is not? The social and thus actions of other people that do so. However in the recess of his mind he doesn’t get criticised for his peculiar descriptions, which this one is actually a good match to describe the straw. We can’t say his description is false, for in the second line “And hang like zigzag on hedges”, his description of lightning is not wrong as it truly is in zigzags.
b.      Alternatively, the use of the strange description can be used in correlation with the strange world he is depicting in the depths of his mind, as one often has strange thoughts and weird interpretations of the world that are often unexpressed in society. However, when he is in his own mind, what is there from keeping his expressions unexpressed?
c.       The strange description also foreshadows the fact that the world that he is about to describe for us is surreal, making us wonder what it is that he is actually depicting and what possible significance it could have. That is of course, assuming that we did not read the poem through the first time. And of course, who can forget, the surrealism, or the foreshadowing of it, engaging the reader, making the reader want to read more as the poet is about to depict a world where anything is possible and where anything can happen.
2.       “Green as glass”. Yet another surreal simile that we see, yet we find this to be amazingly true.
a.       Glass is actually a little green, which we can usually see when we take a big slab of glass, the thickness of which is needed for the glass to be green vary on the purity of the glass itself. It is therefore the impurities of the glass that make it green. Therefore it sounds surreal at first, but is actually not on further inspection.
b.      This demonstrates the wonderfully intelligent mind of the poet in the sense that he not only sees, but observes the things that are in his view, something that many people cannot do. Of course, no one ever mentions this, because it would be considered weird. However in the recesses of his head who is there to contradict him when the weird things that one might say in society is in fact true?
3.       “The water in the horse-trough shines” Just to make sure you know, the horse-trough is the area where the horse is to drink from.
Normally, we don’t usually think about these things, nor do we usually ever think about looking into one as it usually is found in the horse stables, a relatively dirty place that no one really wants to be in.
a.       It is here that the poet tries to make himself look omniscient as he notes all the small details, including the ones that we often do not think about.
b.      The fact that it also shines implies that the water is uncontaminated and that the water is, at the moment, pure. Which we can often relate to perhaps people at the time of the poet’s life taking a bath in it in their childhood. It could also remind of many people remember their childhood at the nearby waterhole, or something of their past that bring up a joyful bittersweet moment. This technique is used by the poet to therefore bring about feelings of happiness and bittersweet memories to the reader, so that he or she gets the idea that this poem is an optimistic one and in turn create an optimistic atmosphere to use as a foundation for the poem.
a.       Note that we also often do not find the horse-trough pure out in the open, as it has usually been drunk by the horse, once again giving the impression that the poem is probably one surreal and thus not real.
Take note that all animals described in the poem all represent a part of human thought that the poet has the capability of displaying. Therefore all interpretations of the animals relating to thought will be in red. 
4.       Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines”
a.       This displays conformity and strict behaviour that the poet may often possess in times of stress or when the poet is preparing to do something drastic (in my case of course, one has to be strict mentally when revising for the IGCSE exams). The poet has the capability of expressing these in his head, but does not and therefore the form of thought takes the form of ducks, which are considered cute and not a threat to us at all to change our mental stability quickly, just the way the poet wants these to be. The fact that it is a duck makes it hard for it to be able to change the mental state of the poet as well due to the fact that it is so cute. The fact that wobbles is used for the same purpose to make it look cute. For example, for a dog you often find it hard for it to annoy you, however the presence of an ugly, muscular man is enough to make you change your mental state. It is the appearance that you interpret it as that counts.
b.      The fact that the goose is walking in two separate lines and is wobbling shows the indecision found in the poet, that often he has two different ideas and has no idea which idea to go with, and often “wobbles” between the two.
c.       The fact that it wobbles evokes a positive attitude in the reader as wobbling usually is cute and creates an image of the ducks being adorable. Furthermore the movement has a pattern, making it very similar to skipping, which is often done by young innocent children when they are happy.              
5.       “A hen stares at nothing with one eye, then picks it up. Out of an empty sky”
a.       The portrayal of the hen can be used to convey the insane part of the poet or the undesirable thoughts that the poet has in the back of his head, the opposite of his conscience in a sense. The fact that it only has one eye gives the chicken a look of it being sinister. The fact that it stares at nothing gives an even more frightening picture, as it makes us wonder what we may find in the recesses of its mind. Note the caesura at the end of the verb “then picks it up.” The pause is used as a dramatic pause to allow what the chicken has done to sink in for the reader. Once again the fact that there is a dramatic pause indicate how insane the chicken might be that we take note of every action that we do. Often in mental patients, they are usually still as they are in the recesses of their minds and that they often “stare at nothing” it is only when they move that we should be afraid, similar to how the chicken moves there is a dramatic pause, verifying the fact that we should in fact be afraid.
The author then goes on to say “Out of an empty sky” once again this can indicate a sense of surrealism as it is impossible to take things out of something that is already empty, let alone something that is so far away already like the sky.
                                                               i.      On the other hand the chicken, being the insane being that it was, saw something out of the nothingness and picked up something that it thought it was there in the empty sky. It was having hallucinations.  
However there is a happy ending to this. The fact that the chicken was there in the first place shows acknowledgement. He acknowledges that there is this crazy part in the depth of his mind that wishes him to do what is not right and fights it, so as to be able to identify and suppress the thoughts that come to him, as the saying always goes, you should always “know your enemy”.
b.      The fact that the chicken only has one eye can also mean that the author has a part of him that is irrational, that only looks with one eye and fails to see with the other. He therefore only has a one-sided view of things. Still, he gropes around in the nothingness, trying to find inspiration. He therefore finds something, but fails to analyse it deeply and thus has no meaning.
6.       “A swallow falls and, flickering through the barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue”
The swallow is used to exemplify the beauty of nature itself and the beauty of the well-structured swallow that it has the ability to do such beautiful things in flight such as “flickering through the barn”. The swallow is a figment of the poet’s imagination, demonstrating how observant the poet is that it was able to be able to replay the bird’s movements in his head. It is here once again that we see that in fact that poet is actually a very brilliant, although perhaps keeping his thoughts to himself. Perhaps he is a little insane as well.
The fact that the swallow dives up into a blue sky represents calmness, something that the poet is experiencing at the current moment. The fact that it is so vast that it makes one dizzy indicates the open mind of the poet, as one usually has deep down inside you.
7.       It is finally here that the author is mentioned. “I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass, afraid of where a thought might take me – as”. It is here that we see how calm he is in his posture (lying down). He is also pointing out detail again, although now from his physical point of view, indicating how relaxed he is that once again he can afford to focus on the details. Note how scared he is that this world of his might break and he would have to once again go back into reality. He perhaps is afraid of remembering his problems in reality, or the things that are causing him stress. “afraid of where a thought might take me”
8.       The grasshopper is mentioned. “This grasshopper with the plated face unfolds his legs and finds himself in space” Note once again the detail in the plated face.
a.       The grasshopper can represent him or his peace of mind as the grasshopper “unfolds his legs”, indicating that he was meditating beforehand. The then jumps, and finds himself in space. Perhaps the fact that the poet was sleeping in the depths of his mind and was the grasshopper in meditation. Upon awakening the grasshopper jumped into space, perhaps in fear of the poet. Similarly the poet’s mind jumps into the second layer of his dream and the poet is afraid that by doing so he has caused a domino effect. Similarly, the grasshopper jumps into the air suddenly and is suspended in air when the author mentions him, not knowing where he would land as he jumped on impulse.
9.       We see a repetition in the word “self” here. “Self under self, a pile of selves I stand”. The poet here expresses the fact that we are all made here from different identities. We have the identity that we put on at home, with our friends and with our extended family members. We also have the ones that we had in our past, before we changed into something better. All in all when we combine them together, we get the final identity that you have, the one that you put on when you are alone. That is the “piles of selves I stand” that he mentions, that the final identity that he has is put together from all the identities that he has in the past, or the ones that he puts on that is not actually his. This not only relates the poet, but to the people of humanity as well, we all have these identities, and we stand on top of the piles of selves that we once had before putting the real one on.
10.   “Threaded on time, and with a metaphysic hand” This line makes the poem reach the height of its surrealism as we start to see time blend in as well.
a.       Alternatively he could be talking about the childhood that he had as his mother’s side of the family lived on the farm, and how generations of generations of people before him have always lived on the farm and that he is no different than the many people before him. He is implying that he is the descendent of a line of farm-owners, and that he is part of a chain of being and tightly connected but also separated from past and future as he lives in the present. Think about the Russian-doll structure, and how he is trapped between layers, the past and the future.
Note the metaphysic hand as well, once again accentuating the poet’s dominance over the dream world, perhaps besides the feeling of entrapment that he can’t help but feel and express in the dream as the definition of “metaphysic” is the study of being and knowing (omniscient presence)
11.   Lift the farm like a lid and see farm within farm and in the centre, me” Once again he is talking about how he is stuck between layers of the past and present. Although this time he isn’t talking about the people, this time he is talking about the farm that he grew up in. It will change and most probably did during his lifetime. It has improved over the ages and the one he lives in now will be sandwiched by the ones in the past and the ones that are yet to come. Therefore by peeling back, we will find him at the centre.
Note how once again he is at the centre as if he is at ‘the centre of the universe’ once again, after doing it time and time again, that he is the omniscient one in this world that is his mind.

Speaker of the poem: the poet himelf, both physical and the omniscient part of him, Norman MacCaig

peaker’s attitude toward the subject of the poem:  philosophical, uncertain, nostalgic, contemplating

Paired poems (Identify poems in the anthology and why they are appropriate to be paired)
1.       A Birthday in the sense that the author was in a land of her own and that she created it to be surreal so that everything in it made her happy and full of love, similar to how the world that MacCaig created to make him feel relaxed.
2.       Continuum in terms of the surrealism involved and the level of detachment is similar to that in the beginning of Summer Farm as we get an omniscient narrator.
3.       The Cockroach in the sense that we see a reflection of the cockroach on the human, similar to how we see the dream world as a reflection of MacCaig.
4.       Pied Beauty by Gerard Manly Hopkins would pair well with Summer Farm because like Summer Farm as the poem describes the various aspects of nature such as the sky, the cow, the trout, the chestnut and the landscape.
5.       Hunting Snake by Judith Wright would pair well with Summer Farm because this poem describes a snake and its beauty just like Summer Farmdescribes the form and its beauty. Both poems focus on the natural aspects of the world.
6.       Where I Come From by Elizabeth Brewster would pair well with Summer Farm because just like Summer Farm, this poem also describes various natural aspects such as the mountains, the tulips, the pine woods, the blueberry patches, the yards… etc
Memorable Lines
1.       “Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass”
2.       “A hen stares at nothing with one eye, then picks it up. Out of an empty sky”
3.       “The grasshopper with the plated face unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
4.       “Self under self, a pile of selves I stand”


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. :) thank you so much, I cannot even express my gratitude

  3. Matthew wherever you are Thank You very much I really cannot express my gratitude helped me alot with my IGCSE's <3
    Sending love from Egypt

  4. This is the best analysis of the poem. I have used this website to write my essays and my teacher gives me As every time. Thank you so much for this amazing analysis.

  5. isn't there an AABB rhyme scheme?

  6. this is great, but I think it is aabb? Thanks for the help though, great website

  7. How can you be so certain that these creatures are just a figment of the poet's imagination, and are in fact metaphorical, symbolising his inner state? What's to say that he can actually see these things, but his troubles are warping his view of the farm? It sounds to me as though perhaps you've never been to a farm. If you're staring at a hen from the side, it will only have one eye, and they often just peck at seemingly nothing aimlessly. Although I agree with many of your interpretations and think that there has to be some kind of metaphorical meaning behind all these descriptions, some seem a little far-fetched and ridiculous in my opinion. Perhaps you could've explored the more literal ideas of this poem, or at least made it clearer that this was only your interpretation? Not trying to be offensive, by the way, just wanted to put that out there. Thanks for all the help you've given me and many others. :)

  8. the rhyme scheme is AABB not ABAB

    1. Yes there are a lot of corrections that I need to do on this post. I will do them, as long as some other corrections to other blog analysis in the near future. However I do hope that the rest of the content has made you satisfied and I wish you all the best for your tests.

  9. Mathew I feel like I don't know you anymore, what is this?

  10. does anyone know when summer farm was written??

  11. Thank you so much for the Analysis !

    It will surely, help me in my future exams !!!

  12. Matth EEWWW #thereisnogoose #gooseissingular

  13. Replies
    1. Jeff's body, his soul, and his ego
      Jeff is everywhere
      he is your dream

  14. This individual thinks that this blog is full of misinterpretations of 'Summer Farm'.
    Other than the ABAB issue and the nonexistent goose, it is filled with fragmented and/or run-on sentences.

    For the students that get away with A's using this analysis in their essays, your teachers should get sacked.

    1. sacked with a sack of potatoes
      hit'em hard, samurai

    2. Potato Samurai - You are soooo right! Please send me the link to your poetry analysis blog where I may read your far superior analysis which is clearly available to help the IGCSE students without useless teachers. There are so many out there who could be inspired by your uplifting words and perfect analysis of a poem which could be interpreted in so many ways. I thank you for making such a great contribution to the world!

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.