Summer farm by Norman McCaig is an intensely metaphysical poem. Many of the description are not meant to be taken literally but there are hidden meanings and significance to them. Much of what is in the poem is about himself and his position in the universe. The poet is an intensely contemplative person and this poem deals with metaphysics which dealt with the nature of being and also the world. Many of the questions regarding the world and the universe cannot be factually explained. Metaphysics tries to solve those.
The poem could be a description of a farm in a nonsensical way.
“A hen stares at nothing with one eye
then picks it up.”
On the other hand he could be describing his thought process. The philosophy that is set out is existentialism which argues that things have very little intrinsic value or meaning.
The thoughts of the poet keep wandering. He is not concerned with the analysis of life but only with its description. The poet ponders about his role in the world, his position in the scheme of things. He feels that is the centre of the world but also an insignificant part.
The poet has an untroubled mind and the metaphors he uses for this is shining water and glass. Meditating about himself brings about more clarity about his ‘self’.
Poet’s untroubled mind (in this state of pure observation) is parallel with “shining water” and “glass”. This shows his mind’s clarity and foreshadows the realization he comes to (his own identity as the ‘everyman’ and his place in the world as ‘intertwined with Nature’). His quiet meditation of the world around him has led to this clarity of understanding about himself.
Technique / Craftsmanship
This is not a poem that is easy to understand because metaphysics and existentialism, both obscurantist philosophies are woven into it. The theme of the poem is identity or self-definition. Using metaphor, imagery and parallelism, he takes the theme of identity forward.
The structure is simple, but the poet uses metaphor, parallelism and imagery to increase the effect of the poem. The draws our attention to fine details about the farm and the state of the poet’s mind and his ideas.
The language used is very simple buy most words have meanings beyond what is given. Thus the grasshopper, hen and the swallow may stand for ideas other than what their literal meaning signifies.
The poet uses everyday objects seen in the farm as part of images to extend the meaning. He uses unusual similes like “green as glass”. Now green is hardly a quality that we associate with glass. But here Norman McCaig
Movement / Rhythm
The rhyme scheme that is used in Summer Farm is aabb, ccdd, aeff, gghh. The sudden departure to ‘a’ calls attention to the line. The break in rhyme helps to do this.
The alliteration in “green as glass” and “lightings, lie and lines” create special effects.
Figures of Speech
Similes “Straws like tame lightnings” and “green as glass” are in the first stanza. The “hen” is a metaphor for people and the way they think.