Aunt Julia by Norman MacCaig Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh in 1910. Although he spent his childhood and later life in Scotland's capital, his mother's Highland past was a great influence on him. MacCaig's mother was from Harris and the
Gaelic heritage he inherited on visits to his mother's family on the islands was to have an enduring effect on MacCaig. In the poem, Norman MacCaig pays tribute to his aunt who lived a hard life on the island of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland. Like many islanders, she had a spinning wheel for producing the famous Harris Tweed. She spoke Gaelic which he could not understand. Learn Gaelic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTLngo
GxXac About the Gaelic Language https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u8fO_q sGSU A Gaelic song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHe2H2 WOQXs Harris Tweed "Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and
spun in the Outer Hebrides." Lewis and Harris Luskentyre Stanza 1 Aunt Julia Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic very loud and very fast. I could not answer her I could not understand her. Stanza 2
She wore men's boots When she wore any. -I can see her strong foot, stained with peat, paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel while her right hand drew yarn marvelously out of the air. Stanza 3 Hers was the only house where I've lain at night in the absolute darkness of a box bed, listening to crickets being friendly.
Stanza 4 She was buckets and water flouncing into them. She was winds pouring wetly round house-ends. She was brown eggs, black skirts and a keeper of threepennybits in a teapot. Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic Stanza 5 very loud and very fast. By the time I had learned a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black of a sandy grave at Luskentyre. But I hear her still, welcoming me with a seagull's voice across a hundred yards of peatscrapes and lazybeds and getting angry, getting angry with so many questions unanswered. Structure? How many stanzas? Is there a pattern? (E.g. Same number of lines in each.) Is there a rhyme scheme?
Does it follow a particular rhythm? Technical terms Free verse Stanza Metaphor Personification
Repetition Contrast Word choice Sentence length Glossary Gaelic a Celtic language spoken in the Highlands of Scotland peat - an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation which forms in wetlands such as bogs treadle rocking lever operated by the foot to drive a spinning wheel yarn continuous twisted strand of fibre produced on a spinning wheel box bed bed built into a recess in a traditional Highland cottage, separated from the main room by a curtain or wooden panel flouncing to move in a lively, impatient or jerky manner threepennybit old eight-sided pre-decimal coin (worth about 1p)
Luskentyre tiny village with spectacular sandy beach on the Island of Harris peatscrapes scars in the bog where the peat has been removed lazybeds - traditional way of growing crops in small patches of soil using ridges of soil Whats it all about? MacCaig recollects his childhood visits to his Aunt Julias house in Luskentyre. He is impressed by her vigour, strength and capability as she performs various rural manual tasks. He is also impressed by her Gaelic heritage and mentions twice that she spoke Gaelic. He seems to take some satisfaction in the fact that he came to learn some Gaelic but he is
frustrated by the fact that, by the time he achieves this greater understanding, she is dead. Themes A lament on the passing away of a beloved aunt. Perhaps also a lament on the passing away of an entire way of life. (A lament is an expression of grief or sorrow.) Content Stanza 1 a childs memory of his aunt main recollection is her language Gaelic which he could not understand
Stanza 2 describes his aunt and how she seemed strange to him e.g. barefoot, or wearing mens boots his description gives insights into her way of life Stanza 3 he recalls the strange experience of sleeping in a box bed Stanza 4 vivid images capture aspects of her life e.g. carrying buckets of water as there is no running water Stanza 5 by the time he learned some Gaelic, it was too late to communicate with his Aunt: she had died Tone and language
some language is plain and factual - e.g. the opening two lines metaphors seem to define her hard life: She was buckets flouncing is an example of personification and suggest something about Aunt Julias character her seagulls voice is a metaphor used to describe her loud, incomprehensible voice peatscrapes may be a Scottish dialect word lazybeds certainly is the repetition of getting angry emphasises her frustration dark images are used in the poem e.g. stained with peat
her loud, fast Gaelic voice is the most memorable thing about her; when she is dead she is silenced Questions 1. What precisely does Norman MacCaig remember about his aunt? Make a list of all the details that are mentioned. What do they suggest about her personality and his feelings towards her? 2. How does he use language and imagery to suggest her character and lifestyle? 3. Which lines are repeated in the poem? Why are they repeated? How do they link with the closing lines of the poem? 4. Which adverb is used to describe his aunts spinning? What does it add to our understanding
of how he sees his aunt? 5. From the evidence of the poem, what impression do you form of life on the Island of Harris? Refer to details in your answer. 6. What does the metaphor a seagulls voice tell you about his aunt and his relationship with her? 7. There are lots of images of darkness in the poem. What are they and what do they tell you about his aunts life? 8. What questions do you think were unanswered for Aunt Julia? 9. Do you think MacCraig enjoyed spending time with his aunt? What gives you that impression?
Annotations Title The poem is autobiographical and in it MaCaig remembers his aunt with fondness but also with regret. The main subject of the poem is introduced in the title. Aunt Julia The subjects relationship to the speaker is evident
from her title: Aunt Julia. by Norman MacCaig 5 stanzas The poem is written in free verse which reflects his aunts unconventional character. Stanza 1 This suggests she is full of energy and is an extrovert, rather
than being shy. A Celtic language spoken in the Highlands of Scotland. This hints she is different this is not a common language. This builds on the idea that she has a lot of energy. The repetition of very suggests she is an extroverted character. Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her I could not understand her. The repetition emphasises the speakers helplessness. He cannot understand her the implication being that the fault is with him. This is literally true he cannot speak or understand Gaelic. However, it is also metaphorically true: she is eccentric and unlike anyone else he knows. Stanza 1 Can you identify
the techniques? ? ? ? Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic very loud and very fast. I could not answer her I could not understand her. ? ? Stanza 1 techniques word choice
repetition structure (punctuation) dash introduces more information Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic very loud and very fast. I could not answer her I could not understand her. metaphor repetition Stanza 2 She seems to
almost be part of the natural world the environment she lives in has coloured her. Stained could have negative connotations, giving the idea that her environment is a hostile one. This metaphor might make us imagine her as
duck, paddling, which (again) connects her to nature. She is quirky and unconventional not many women wear mens footwear (or no footwear). Her impressive physical strength is emphasised. A pedal of the
spinningwheel which is operated by the foot. She wore men's boots When she wore any. -I can see her strong foot, stained with peat, paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel while her right hand drew yarn This is a dying art marvelously out of the air. This is word choice. He is in awe of her what she is doing is almost magical.
and connect Aunt Julia (and the speaker) with the traditions of the past. A Highland woman using a spinning wheel Stanza 3 This is a type of bed which is completely enclosed so as to resemble a box. It
also suggests a coffin. There is a contrast between the darkness and the friendly crickets. Despite the darkness, he feels secure The word choice of only stresses the uniqueness of Aunt Julia and also of the
location. Hers was the only house where I've lain at night in the absolute darkness of a box bed, listening to crickets being friendly. This is personification crickets cannot be friendly. The fact the speaker thinks this tell us how much he enjoys being there. The use of the word only again suggests that there is a unique friendliness there. Small children are
scared of the dark; this therefore sounds frightening. The word absolute makes it sound final, like death. Senses hearing. It is interesting that he cannot understand Aunt Julia but can understand the crickets (being friendly). Box beds
Stanza 4 The first of a list of metaphors in this stanza that help to describe Aunt Julias character. The metaphors all relate to nature and homely things. Repetition of she was creates positive affirmations of who she was. Past tense of was suggests she is no longer around. Word choice
flouncing suggests movement, energy, but also perhaps a certain gracefulness. Enjambment mimics the movement of the wind. She was buckets and water flouncing into them. She was winds pouring wetly round house-ends. She was brown eggs, black skirts and a keeper of threepennybits in a teapot.
The metaphors are an unusual selection and create a picture of a gregarious, unconventional, and larger than life character, with links to the past. She combines the strength of nature and the security of a domestic home. She is being compared to nature / like a force of nature. Alliteration of w sound Word choice this is mimics the
a coin that predates sound of the decimalisation and, wind. therefore, has links with the past / ways of life that are no longer around. Stanza 5 (first half) Repetition of lines 1 and 2. This emphasises how loud and energetic she was. Makes reference to the sense of hearing
There is a beautiful beach at Luskntyre. This is the second times he mentions that she spoke Gaelic suggesting he is very proud of her Gaelic heritage. This irony is a significant cause of regret for the poet. It is too
late by the time he has learned his Aunts language he cannot communicate with her. Links back to Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic very loud and very fast. By the time I had learned a little, she lay silenced in the absolute black of a sandy grave at Luskentyre.
Reminds the A very small village set amidst beautiful scenery on the Isle of Shorter lines final, blunt (like death). reader of the box bed (coffin) in
stanza 3. absolute darkness (stanza 3). Here the darkness is symbolic of death. Luskentyre Beach - Harris, Scotland (where Aunt Julia is buried) Stanza 5 (second half)
There are several references to the sense of hearing / sound in this stanza. Metaphor she is linked to nature, again. This suggests how loud her voice is but also how incomprehensibl e (to the speaker). Scars in the bog
where the peat has been removed. Scrape has possible negative connotations. Word choice possibly Scottish dialect. The sound of her voice lives on in his memory. This friendliness is part of her character and links
to the crickets being friendly. But I hear her still, welcoming me with a seagull's voice across a hundred yards of peatscrapes and lazybeds and getting angry, getting angry with so many questions unanswered. Repetition - links back to line 3 I could not answer her. A traditional way
of growing crops in small patches of soil using ridges of soil. Bed reminds the reader of boxbed linking Aunt Julias house with nature. Repetition emphasises how angry Aunt Julia was that he cannot answer her questions. The getting angry could also refer to the speaker. He has lots of unanswered questions now that she has passed away.
Peatscrapes Links with other MacCaig poems? The past / herritage Family Regret
Death / lamenting lost things Finding magic in everyday occurrences Unconventional characters Inability to understand something Inability to communicate Revision An analysis of Aunt Julia (7 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIyqQc 8A3RM Off the Page interview with MacCaig about his poetry in general (25 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nk62Q DRk9EY
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