Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, in 1910, and spent much of his life in this and other Scottish cities until his death in 1996. His mother’s family, however, came from quiet rural parts of the country, and this background is reflected in ‘Summer Farm’.The poem begins with some simple descriptions of what he sees, before concluding with the idea that by lying in the grass and looking at the farm he becomes aware of the many generations and many farms that have preceded this one – that he is “in the centre”, but at the same time only part of a hugely long sequence of people and places – a thought that in line 10 he is even afraid to consider.
In the stanza he is fully immersed in nature. The metaphysical thoughts that he initially fears; ‘afraid of where thought might take me (after all these are not easy questions),’ gradually emerge and he begins to consider the larger questions of existence; who is he, where did he come from and what is his place in the world.The crux lies in the final stanza, where the poet sees himself as part of a sequence of ‘selves . . . threaded on time’; he is no longer just an individual, but ‘a pile of selves’ – ‘Self under self, a pile of selves’ gives us the idea of uncovering layers of self’ (similar to a Russian doll) ‘Farm within farm’ suggests that he is only one in a sequence of people connected with this particular place. Similarly, he seems able to see beyond, or inside, the farm to visualise ‘farm within farm’. An image perhaps reminiscent of the Russian dolls; as you open each one, another – smaller but similar – is revealed .Suggesting that he considers his inner self or true self as something different to his outer self; that which he projects to the world. It has been said of MacCaig that he was “a poet who could write in an unpretentious way about ordinary things and make them astonishing”, and that he was “a master miniaturist”.Until the final stanza there is perhaps nothing...
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