To appreciate a literary work, it helps to understand the writer. Norman MacCaig author of the poem, "Summer Farm," led a life of controversy. Born in Scotland, he began his professional life as primary school teacher. During World War II, MacCaig was classified as a conscientious objector but served a term in prison for refusing to fight. Throughout his life, he was a professed pacifist. His writing career failed to advance because of his political stance and imprisonment. Eventually, he found a place in the university setting where he became First Writer in Resident at Edinburgh University.
In his poetry, MacCaig sought precise observations, creative wit, and clarity. These attributes are found in "Summer Farm." The poem follows a rather simple pattern: four stanzas with two couplets per stanza. The poet uses similes and metaphors to describe the pastoral setting of the farm on a lazy summer day with an abundance of nature. Furthermore, he uses alliteration to paint each individual scene:
...tame lightnings lie...
...Green as glass..
...dives up again into the dizzy blue.
In the first stanza, his similes convey the images of straw lying around like idle lightning to water in horse trough the color of green grass. From there, he gives the humorous image of nine duck waddling along in two rows. The reader has to imagine is there a row of four and five ducks, six, and three, or what. It is a clever way to entice the reader into the scene.
In the second stanza, again the poet uses humor when he describes a a hen staring at nothing and then she picks it up and eats it. Wonder what it was? Then, the reader is given a beautiful image of a swallow free falling, then fluttering and soaring up into the bright blue sky.
The reader is jolted awake with the introduction of the narrator (I). He is lying on the grass trying not to think about anything. If he did think, he seems fearful of where his thoughts would take him.
I like, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me...
As he relates this, an armor faced grasshopper unfolds its legs and spreads out. Interestingly, a second reading implies that the grasshopper is the boy, figuratively masked to the outside world, unfolding wanting to spread his own wings.
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
The fourth stanza finds the narrator stands waiting on time. He has many sides or selves. Who is the real person? He would like to look down into the farm. To him, the farm is the world, and he finds himself in the center of it.
The narrator refers to the metaphysical hand. The metaphysical mind concerns itself with the explanation of nature's existence in the world. It relates to questions that cannot be answered in factual terms. Maybe like the metaphysical world, the adolescent narrator finds himself asking the questions so many teenagers ask:
Who am I?; What is my purpose?; and Where am I going?
The teen feels that he is the center of his universe. Even thought the narrator says that he is thinking of nothing, he able to see precise details of his world. The most powerful lines of this poem summarize the search for himself in this detailed world:
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand...
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.