Summer Farm, Norman MacCaig, Analysis, Summary, Style, Themes

"Summer Farm" by Norman MacCaig paints a vivid and contemplative picture of a farm in the summertime. The poem opens with striking imagery of straws resembling lightning scattered across the grass and zigzagging hedges. The water in the horse-trough glistens like glass, and a procession of nine ducks wobble by in perfect formation. The scene shifts to a hen, seemingly lost in thought, before it abruptly picks up an object. A swallow darts through the barn, disappearing and reemerging in the vast blue sky. The speaker lies in the cool grass, hesitant to let thoughts consume them. A grasshopper, with its unique appearance, seems to defy gravity and find itself in space. The poem takes a metaphysical turn as the speaker contemplates their place within the intricate layers of time and existence. They metaphorically lift the farm like a lid, revealing nested realities and recognizing their own presence at the core. Through its vivid imagery and introspective tone, "Summer Farm" invites readers to contemplate the interconnectedness of the natural world and the self.

Summer Farm Poem Text

Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse-trough shines.
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.

A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
A swallow falls and, flickering through
The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me –
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.

Critical Analysis

"Summer Farm" by Norman MacCaig is a poem that combines vivid imagery with introspective reflections, creating a layered and thought-provoking piece. The poem begins with striking visual descriptions of the farm, using similes to compare straws to tame lightning and highlighting the glass-like shine of the water. The movement of the ducks and the unexpected presence of a falling swallow add to the lively atmosphere. However, the tone shifts in the third stanza as the speaker lies in the grass, expressing a fear of where thoughts might lead. This introspective moment delves into existential questions, symbolized by the grasshopper's unfolding legs and finding itself in space. The final stanza presents a metaphysical exploration of the self and its place within the layers of existence, with the speaker metaphorically lifting the farm to reveal nested farms within. MacCaig's skillful blend of vivid imagery and philosophical musings invites readers to contemplate the interconnectedness of the natural world and their own place within it.


  • Persona describes what he sees on the farm.
  • Then we find out what he's actually seeing are different layers of his subconscious (final stanza)
  • Setting: On a farm (inferred through lexis)
    Split into two parts according to emotions
  • Part 1 = First 2 stanzas (calm and peaceful descriptions)
  • Part 2 = Final 2 stanzas (erratic and lost emotions)

    Stanza 1: The poem begins with the image of straws lying like tame lightning on the grass and hanging in zigzag patterns on hedges. The water in the horse-trough shines like glass. Nine ducks move in two straight lines, wobbling as they go.
    Stanza 2: A hen is observed staring at nothing with one eye and then picking something up. Suddenly, a swallow falls from an empty sky and swiftly flies through the barn before ascending again into the dizzying blue.
    Stanza 3: The speaker lies in the cool and soft grass, not thinking, and feeling a sense of fear about where thoughts might lead. They describe a grasshopper with a plated face unfolding its legs and finding itself in space.
    Stanza 4: The speaker reflects on the layers of existence and their own place within it. They perceive a pile of selves, interconnected and threaded on time. With a metaphysical hand, they lift the farm like a lid, revealing nested farms within farms, and at the center of it all, the presence of the speaker.

    The poem progresses from vivid observations of the farm's surroundings to introspective contemplations on the self and its relationship to the interconnectedness of existence.

    Major Themes

    Themes in the poem "Summer Farm" by Norman MacCaig:
  • Interconnectedness of Nature and Human Existence: This theme explores the intimate relationship between humans and the natural world. The poem portrays the farm as a microcosm of life, where the speaker observes the harmonious coexistence of animals, plants, and the self. It highlights the interdependence and interconnectedness of all living beings.
  • Self-Awareness and Reflection: The poem delves into themes of self-awareness and introspection. The speaker contemplates their place within the farm and the universe, pondering the nature of identity and existence. The grasshopper's transformation and the metaphor of selves piled upon selves prompt the speaker to reflect on their own sense of self and the layers of consciousness within.
  • Transience and the Passage of Time: The poem touches on the ephemeral nature of life and the fleeting quality of experiences. It evokes a sense of impermanence through imagery such as straws like "tame lightnings" and the swallow's fleeting flight. The speaker's fear of thoughts and the metaphor of lifting the farm's lid also reflect a recognition of the passage of time and the transitory nature of existence.
  • Connection between the Microcosm and the Macrocosm: The poem explores the idea of nested worlds within worlds. The farm is presented as a microcosm that contains its own intricacies and complexities. The speaker's metaphorical lifting of the farm's lid reveals the existence of "farm within farm," emphasizing the interconnectedness and vastness of the universe.

    These themes collectively contribute to the contemplative and philosophical nature of the poem, inviting readers to reflect on their relationship with the natural world, the nature of self, the passage of time, and the intricate layers of existence.

    Stylistic Analysis

    "Summer Farm" by Norman MacCaig exhibits several stylistic features that enhance the overall impact of the poem. The poet employs vivid and imaginative imagery, utilizing similes and descriptive language to bring the farm to life in the reader's mind. The use of personification, such as the hen staring at nothing and the grasshopper unfolding its legs, adds a touch of whimsy and animation to the natural elements. The poem also demonstrates a fluid and rhythmic structure, with a consistent and regular meter that contributes to its musicality. MacCaig's language is precise and evocative, capturing the essence of the farm and the speaker's internal reflections. Additionally, the poem showcases a skillful balance between concrete descriptions of the farm's details and abstract contemplations on the nature of existence, creating a rich and thought-provoking experience for the reader.


  • Very figurative language
  • Similes, 'Green as glass'
  • Imagery, 'This grasshopper with plated face'
  • Juxtaposition, 'dives up again' & 'tame lightnings'
  • Grasshopper = Symbolic - his stressed self
  • Farm = Symbolic - his layers of emotion


  • Consistent rhyme pattern of AABB
  • Enjambment is constantly used; clearly found in every stanza.

    Sound devices

  • Constant rhyme pattern - unchanged (shows he's hiding that he's lost in his emotions)
  • Sibilance: 'self under selves' & 'selves I stand


  • Calm: 'tame' & 'lie' & 'cool, soft grass'
  • Fearful of his emotions: 'Afraid of where a thought might take me'
  • Erratic and out of control, trying to hide emotions: 'grasshopper with plated face'
  • Takes time to control his emotions: 'unfolds his legs and finds himself in space'
  • He is the centre of the universe: 'centre me'
  • Different personalities: 'self under self'
  • The truth is in everything that is going on in the farm,. It's all part of his different layers of emotions (he is the centre of it all):
  • 'with metaphysic hand lift the farm like a lid'
  • 'Farm within farm, and in the centre me

    Linking poems

  • Pied Beauty = God
  • Cockroach: Both personas are recognizing themselves as animals.
  • Horses: Both setting also on a farm
  • Hunting Snake: consistent/constant enjambment is used in both poems.
    Post Image Art

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