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Sparrow -Norman MacCaig

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Miss Mc

on 24 February 2014

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Transcript of Sparrow -Norman MacCaig

Sparrow -Norman MacCaig
Stanza One
He’s no artist.

His taste in clothes is more

dowdy than gaudy.

And his nest – that blackbird, writing

pretty scrolls on the air with the gold nib of his beak,

would call it a slum.
"He’s no artist."
- Opening line immediately sets a
negative tone

by telling us what the sparrow
is not.
- Colloquial language:
appropriate for the sparrow who is basic, not special
-

Word Choice:

"artist"
has connotations of creativity, flamboyance, colour, etc.
- Suggests straight from the beginning that the sparrow's skills are inferior.
"His taste in clothes is more
dowdy than gaudy."
- Further negative descriptions, this time about the sparrow's appearance.
-

Metaphor:
used to compare the birds' feathers to clothes.
-
Word Choice:

"dowdy"

- old fashioned, dull, drab...


"gaudy"

- colourful, extravagant, "over the top"... (contains negative connotations which are important later in the poem)

- Suggests that the sparrow's appearance is dull and boring.
"And his nest .../ a slum."
- The next aspect to be criticised is the sparrow's home.
-
Word Choice
:
"slum"
- impoverished, overcrowded, substandard living conditions.
- MacCaig suggests that the blackbird looks down on the sparrow (just as we might do with individuals in
society?)
- Reinforces the idea that the sparrow is
unskilled; he cannot even build adequate
housing.

"that blackbird, writing
pretty scrolls on the air with the gold nib of his beak,"
- The poet highlights the
contrast
between the sparrow and the blackbird.
-
Word choice:

"gold"
is used to describe the orange beak of the blackbird. Connotations of wealth, opulence, luxury, affluence... (contrast with
"slum"
)
-
Metaphor:

"gold nib"
- compares beak to the gold nib of a fountain pen (a luxury item) to suggest that it creates decorative shapes similar to calligraphy as the blackbird flies (contrast with
"no artist"
.)

"Central Concerns"
First stanza begins by describing the sparrow as unskilled, inferior and insignificant.
His home is a "
slum
" and his appearance is "
dowdy
"
The poet suggests that the blackbird is a superior creature:
"
gold

nib
", "
pretty scrolls
" - creates image of beauty, luxury, wealth, academic achievement...
This reflects our misconceptions about people in society with greater wealth, social standing, skill, intelligence, etc as opposed to the lower classes.
BUT,
the message behind the poem is that too much value is placed on appearance and status, not ability or capability …which is key to the central concern of the entire poem.
Stanza 2
To stalk solitary on lawns,

to sing solitary in midnight trees,

to glide solitary over grey Atlantics –

not for him: he’d rather

a punch-up in the gutter.
"To stalk solitary on lawns,
to sing solitary in midnight trees,
to glide solitary over grey Atlantics –"
- More
formal tone
and
poetic language
used compared to the opening of the last stanza (
"He's no artist")
-
Parallel structure:
each line begins in the same way with an
infinitive
(basic verb form - to run, to walk, etc). Each of the verbs used suggests a sense of gracefulness.
- "
stalk
" - walk with measured, stiff, or haughty strides - suggests a sense of superiority
- "
sing
" - a creative activity requiring skill
- "
glide
" - move effortlessly and elegantly
- Think about the image that is created of the other birds.
"To stalk solitary on lawns,
to sing solitary in midnight trees,
to glide solitary over grey Atlantics –"
However,
-
Repetition
of "
solitary
" emphasises the isolation of certain birds. They do not wish to associate with other birds or share the attention with them.
- "
lawns...midnight trees...Atlantics
" - the places in which the other birds "
stalk
", "
sing
" and "
glide
" are very different to the "
gutter
" where the sparrow can be found.
- But, note that these places increase (quite considerably) in size. This emphasises the isolation of these birds - the wider the space the more alone they are.
"not for him:
he’d rather a punch-up in the gutter."
The first three lines of stanza two use a very
formal

tone
and seems to be building to a
climax
with each space becoming bigger.
A
dash
is then used to create a
pause for dramatic effect
but the poet uses an
anti-climax
to turn our attention back to the sparrow.
There is a
change in tone
and the poet uses the
simple, blunt statement,

"not for him"
followed by the
colloquial expression

"punch-up in the gutter"
. The simpleness and lack of formality in language represents the basic and simple nature of the sparrow himself.
"Punch-up in the gutter"
- Think about the image created here. It shows the extent of the contrast between the sparrow's actions and the other birds'. Elegance vs. violent. Can we gather any positives about the sparrow here?
"
gutter
" is also a huge contrast to the locations that we would find the other birds. Consider the connotations of the word.
Stanza Three
He carries what learning he has

lightly – it is, in fact, based only

on the usefulness whose result

is survival. A proletarian bird.

No scholar.
He carries what learning he has
lightly
MacCaig suggests that the sparrow is not preoccupied with "showing off" in the way other birds do. Instead he only keeps what knowledge is needed for survival. He is not intelligent in the way other birds might be.
Consider how the poet emphasises the word, "
lightly
".
Inversion:
places the word at the end of the clause (instead of "lightly carries") and
enjambement
is used to place it at the beginning of a new line.
Although this might appear to be a negative description the implication is that the sparrow retains only what is needed for survival without the need for extra. This is key to the central concerns.
The skills in stanza two are impressive but they are not crucial to survival. The sparrow on the other hand retains learning based on "
usefulness
".
The final two sentences are
minor sentences
(no verb) again showing the simple nature of the sparrow through
colloquial language
.
Word Choice - "
proletarian
" - lower or working class - helps us make the link between birds and our own society - look for other links in the poem.
"
No scholar
" - reminds us again of the opening line "
No artist
". Another negative description showing the sparrow's lack of ability/skill/intelligence.
Concludes this section of the poem appropriately.
Stanza Four
But when winter soft-shoes in

and these other birds –

ballet dancers, musicians, architects –

die in the snow

and freeze to branches,

watch him happily flying

on the O-levels and A-levels

of the air.
– it is, in fact, based only
on the usefulness whose result
is survival. A proletarian bird.
No scholar.
But when winter soft-shoes in
and these other birds –
ballet dancers, musicians, architects –
Turning point

introduced with the word "
But
" - while the rest of the poem is about the sparrow's inferiority to other birds we are about to hear to other side.
Personification and sibilance
is used in "
soft-shoes in
" to give the idea that winter creeps in quietly without the other birds noticing - more threatening.
Alliteration
in "
when winter
" creates the sound of the wind blowing.
Parenthesis
is used to once again show the
contrast
between the sparrow and the other birds. "
ballet dancers, musicians, architects
" - Consider how these jobs would be regarded in our society. Why are they appropriate references to make here?
die in the snow
and freeze to branches,
watch him happily flying
on the O-levels and A-levels
of the air.
The harshness of winter is emphasised through the blunt statements "
die in the snow
" and "
freeze to branches
".
In the end while these birds show off their elegance, intelligence and gracefulness, they lack the skills necessary for survival. Think about how this links to society.
"
O-levels and A-levels/of the air
" - once again the poet makes reference to academic ability. The sparrow's learning is seen as more important since he is the only bird equipped for survival and so he is seen "
happily flying
".

In Summary...
Key ideas
The poet begins by making the sparrow seem insignificant in various aspects of his existence (appearance, skills, home, intelligence...)
This is emphasised through comparisons to the blackbird and to the other birds who are made to seem superior.
The sparrow is shown to only retain knowledge and skills necessary for survival.
The final stanza introduces the turning point where we see that the only bird who is equipped to survive winter is the simple sparrow. In the end the little learning he holds "lightly" is all that is needed.
The poem reflects the emphasis placed by society on academic learning as opposed to practical skills and shows that both skill sets are equally important.
The poem also makes us rethink stereotypes relating to class.
Writing Task
Question: How effectively does Norman MacCaig share an important message about the society we live in through his poem, "Sparrow"?

Possible Plan:
1. Introduction - State and explain what the message is
2. Show how the poet paints a negative image of the sparrow (and how it links to our society)
3. Show how a more positive image of the other birds is created (link to society)
4. Explain the turning point of the poem
5. Show how the writer describes what happens when winter comes (link to society)
6. Conclusion - Explain again what the message of the poem is and sum up how you have explained this.
Full transcript