Aunt Julia Analysis

:Please note this is my own interpretation of the poem by the writer Norman MacCaig and may not be correct.

Aunt Julia Is one of my favourite poems by MacCaig. Its quite a melancholy poem and has connotations to death. Yet MacCaigs depiction of his Aunt Julia is a very fond one.

Stanza one

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her —
I could not understand her.

In this stanza we are introduced to the main character of the poem Aunt Julia. We are told that she speaks Gaelic this immediately tells us there is a communication barrier. “I could not answer her – I could not understand her” This for me also has connotations of death “I could not answer her ” shows his desperation and grief and also shows us that MacCaig perhaps feels guilty about his relationship with his aunt that he never really understood her and never will understand her.

Stanza Two

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
marvellously out of the air.

In stanza two the opening lines are “She wore men’s boots when she wore any” This shows that she is perhaps a very tough woman who almost takes on a mans role. “I can see her strong foot stained with peat” This reveals that the character is a woman of the land. “Paddling with the treadle of the spinning wheel while her right hand drew yarn marvellously out of the air” This shows a more domesticated side to Aunt Julia. This is a skill heavily associated with island life – Harris is famous for producing tweed. The word choice of “Marvellously” shows the young MacCaigs admiration and fondness for his aunt. The use of the present tense throughout this stanza creates a sense of immediacy and shows how vividly and readily he can still access these memories.

Stanza Three

Hers was the only house
where I’ve lain at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.

MacCaig decides to open the stanza with the word choice of hers. Which shows his affection for her and the bond they had. In the absolute darkness again has connotations of death and reiterates the theme to the reader with the darkness being symbolic of death and despair. It has links to the final stanza where Aunt Julia is “Silenced in the absolute black”

Stanza Four 

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 writer uses personification and metaphors in this stanza to connect Aunt Julia to the landscape and objects. MacCaig connects his aunt with mundane domestic objects which symbolise her simple minimalistic lifestyle. “She was winds pouring wetly round house-ends” This connects his aunt to nature and is also perhaps symbolic of his despair.

Stanza five

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. But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull’s voice
across a hundred yards
of peat scrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions

The main theme of death is shown in the last stanza. There is a bitter despair to MacCaigs tone. He uses the word choice of “Silenced” to suggest perhaps Aunt Julia lived her whole life in silence isolated by the communication barrier and her geographical area. “In the absolute black” Is again symbolic of death.



2 thoughts on “Aunt Julia Analysis

  1. This poem was one that we read at school. We had an amazing teacher, who had a bust of Yeats on her desk. Despite her massive enthusiasm for Yeats, I always felt that she almost preferred MacCaig, perhaps because of the hard work that seemed evident in the making of his poetry. Anyway, just to say that I remembered this one specifically from way back when. Perhaps the poem is not quite as despairing as it first seems: if all our questions were answerable then life would not have quite so much point.

    Liked by 1 person

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