Sounds of the Day

January 9, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Performing Arts, Drama
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Norman MacCaig

Sounds of the Day When a clatter came, it was horses crossing the ford. When the air creaked, it was a lapwing seeing us off the premises of its private marsh. A snuffling puff ten yards from the boat was the tide blocking and unblocking a hole in a rock. When the black drums rolled, it was water falling sixty feet into itself.

When the door

scraped shut, it was the end of all the sounds there are. You left me

beside the quietest fire in the world. I thought I was hurt in my pride only, forgetting that,

when you plunge your hand in freezing water, you feel a bangle of ice round your wrist before the whole hand goes numb. Norman MacCaig

When a clatter came, it was horses crossing the ford. Sound is central to the way in which this poem works. Sound indicates life; painful , disturbing and even doom-laden but life none-the-less. The poem opens with the onomatopoeic ‘clatter’ combined with the vowel patterning of ‘a’ s echoing the rattle of the horses hooves striking on the stones of the ford . The first line is sharp and disturbing almost sudden which is contrasted with the more mellow repeated ‘o’ sounds in the second line. It is rather like getting a fright and then realising that it is something non threatening. The sibilance of the ‘s’ sounds in the second line conjure up the hiss of the water as the horses cross the ford again less disturbing.

When the air creaked, it was a lapwing seeing us off the premises of its private marsh. The third line brings us more sound, this time a lapwing or a Pee wit . The onomatopoeic ‘creaked’ giving the familiar cry of the lapwing a creepy gothic overtone. Not described by MacCaig as a pleasant thing and he introduces the further unpleasant idea of being unwanted ‘seeing us off the premises’. Note the use of the word ‘us’ MacCaig is not giving the reader a sense that he is alone and isolated at this point in the poem. Like the first image the sounds are creating a sense of tension and foreboding. This is another sound from nature but it is not kind or reassuring.

A snuffling puff ten yards from the boat was the tide blocking and unblocking a hole in a rock. The third image of the poem gives us more onomatopoeia; ‘snuffling puff’ creates the sound of the sea forcing its way through a cavity in the rocks at the shore filling and emptying as the waves splash into it. The fricative repetition of the ‘f’ sounds gives us the sound as the spume splashes into the rock and like the lapwing in the previous line MacCaig follows it with an unpleasant onomatopoeic sound with the rather jarring ‘blocking’ and ‘unblocking’. It is made more unpleasant by the shortening of the 3 rd line at ‘and’ creating a dramatic pause rather like the rhythm of the sea itself. Note the vowel pattern created by the repetition of the ‘o’ sounds creating a hollow sound rather like the sea sloshing around under the rocks.

When the black drums rolled, it was water falling sixty feet into itself. The onomatopoeia continues in the final image of the first stanza ‘ black drums rolled’ gives us the sound of the drums but not in a rhythmic way; more like a drum roll before an acrobat leaps into the air or a darker image of the roll of drums before an execution. Again MacCaig uses the foreshortened second line to create a sense of drama and the enjambment from ‘water’ to ‘falling’ on the last line helps create the sound of a thundering waterfall. Again MacCaig brings the reader a sound from nature and again it has a foreboding overtone ; something bad is going to happen. The idea of the water fall falling ‘into itself’ is also interesting when we think about the whole poem; MacCaig’s grief causes the poet to collapse in on himself in something of a silent echo of this dramatic image from the first stanza.

When the door scraped shut, it was the end of all the sounds there are. The second stanza gives us the key image of the poem. It is the last sound and it seems to be the moment the tone of foreboding and the drum roll in the first stanza are building up to. We don’t know whether this is a death or a separation; it has been suggested this is about the death of his sister but the poem stands for whatever you get from it in the end. I see a death because that is what it means to me. The ugly sound of ‘scraped’ and the sudden finality of the word ‘shut’ bring this noisy poem to a poetic silence. The comma splitting the second line of the image combined with the poet’s use of enjambment leading to the final sounding ‘there are’ bring the short but powerful second stanza to a finish. There is only one image and one sentence in this stanza and that adds to its power and sense of finality. Though we have to read on into the third stanza to gain some insight into what has brought about this sudden silence.

You left me beside the quietest fire in the world.

The third stanza is dramatically silent. And introduces the notion of the us from the first stanza being no more. The visual image of a silent fire is full of meaning. A fire might be seen as something full of life, warmth, light ; everything that could symbolise life. By silencing the fire in the image we are given the idea a life but with no warmth, light or life about it. It is symbolic of his life having lost the ‘You’ of the first line .

The hyperbole of ‘the quietest fire in the world’ also helps to create a sense of the enormity of this loss In relation to the small and silent figure of the poet suggested by ‘me’ at the end of the first line of the stanza. The enjambment enhances this feeling as it throws the stress onto the word me at the end of the first line and we get a real sense of the isolation and abandonment felt by the poet.

I thought I was hurt in my pride only, forgetting that, when you plunge your hand in freezing water, you feel a bangle of ice round your wrist before the whole hand goes numb. The poem ends with this final image. The imagery is now silent and MacCaig gives us an image which is subtle and revealing. The mention of ‘pride’ is odd at first ; it suggests anger and feelings of resentment and hurt almost as if he takes the loss as a personal affront but then he reveals himself through the image of the ‘hand in freezing water’.

Just as the pain round his wrist is fierce and suddenly sore, so the poet feels the pain and anger at his loss. What the image reveals is his realisation that just as his world has gone silent his feelings will change from pain and hurt to a death-like numbness. The silence of the shut door is the numbness of his feelings. It is as if his world is about to end. Like the way in which the sounds in the first stanza, which are slightly disturbing, are infinitely preferable to the silence, so the pain he feels now in the same way is only a stage before his whole life descends into a numb silence.

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