Analysis of Norman MacCaig's techniques in his poem 'Byre'

Essay by flyingpossum March 2004

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The topics of landscape and place and reverence for life are at the heart of many of Norman MacCaig's poems. By referring closely to setting, structure, word choice and literary techniques, I will discuss the extent to which I feel "Byre" fits in with these topics.

In "Byre" various sections of a barn at dusk are skilfully described to the reader. The crux of the poem is that different parts of the barn are intended to symbolise heaven, hell and earth. One technique MacCaig uses to great effect is apotheosis; using this in the first stanza he makes the most common things sound divine. "The gutter's crystal river-song," By juxtaposing the filthy gutter and the crystal, associated with beauty, the poet ameliorates this gurgling noise into something heavenly. This technique is also used in "...roof rings like heaven where mice Squeak small hosannahs..." As well as placing them in the "golden pavements," or rafters, above and therefore symbolically superior to the rest of the barn MacCaig shows the mice great reverence by making them almost angelic with their "small hosannahs."

In contrast to the heavenly roof, the "world below," represents hell. There is evidence for this in phrases such as "Glare with one flaming eye," The use of the word flaming which has connotations of nastiness makes kittens that would normally be seen as harmless, even cute, seem evil. The kittens are also said to be "wild," which has obvious links to spontaneity and savagery. MacCaig personifies the junk on the barn floor in "drunken sacks," In doing this he further heightens the contrast between the slovenly, erratic floor and the perfect and divine roof.

In the third verse "Swagbellied Aphrodites," come "mincing in," This is suitable as it continues the heavenly image by using...