Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig is a very philosophical poem. Like Frost’s poems, it has a deceptive simplicity about it. In the beginning the poet observes simple things around him but ends up in introspection. He realizes his own place in the universe. He looks at an ordinary pastoral scene. Living and non-living things attract his attention. He does not find them especially beautiful or attractive. Each image is self-contained and there are no similes or metaphors. It is rather a factual recording like,
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines
The poet is observing it all but he is not thinking. He says he is afraid where a thought might take him. Then he strikes a comparison between himself and a grasshopper. He thinks that like a grasshopper which,
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space
He might also discover himself and go into another level of perception. The next moment he is at another level thinking about himself as a multi-layered entity, with all those selves threaded on time. Then he realizes that he is the center of his existence and that there are layers of farms around him. He says that with a metaphysical hand he has lifted the farm like a lid.
This poem is remarkable for its thought content and the subtle ways in which the poet conveys his thoughts.
There are several simple words that the poet has strewn all over the poem with a view to give the poem a different level of meaning. A wisp of straw is made to look like tame lightning. This is to show that a different perspective can change the very nature of things. The comparison is between two things which are entirely different from each other. Water and glass which usually have no colour of their own are presented as colourful. Along with this the poet gives factual descriptions to show that he doesn’t see any difference between reality and appearance.
There is indeed a reference to perception when he talks about the eye of a hen.
A hen stares at nothing with one eye
Except owls, the birds see two different things with their eyes and then choose between them. Even such a simple phrase like ‘then picks it up’ is loaded with meanings. The hen has picked up nothing. Or whatever it has picked up is nothing. This idea of void is repeated in the following lines when he says ‘empty sky’ ‘dizzy blue’ ‘not thinking’ and ‘finds himself in space’.
So the poet ponders on nothing and everything. He does not think they are different. He looks at the face of a grasshopper and thinks it is made of several plates like an armour. The face of a grasshopper indeed has this look. The poet uses this image to suggest the idea that there are layers of existence.
The next moment the poet goes into introspection and thinks of his own existence as multi-layered. He thinks he is also a pile of selves which are revealed to him one at a time (threaded on time). He now explores it in depth.
To explore himself in depth, he has to assume a different perspective. He does this by adopting a metaphysical point of view (with metaphysic hand). He removes the veil of illusion that one is different from the other. Metaphysics say that the world is one and the difference is due to our senses. They believe that there is a higher reality which is hidden by our senses. It is when these senses do not operate that we can have a vision of the higher reality. Usually, this happens only in our deep sleep.
But the poet has adopted that view point deliberately and sees his existence as a farm which produces or presents the back ground for an illusion. He sees farm after farm around himself. We should think of a matrix when he says this. The mind is such a matrix which generates images. The world is another one which produces things. By lifting the lid on one of them, we get a clear idea about the next one. When we understand our mind we see the world more clearly.
The poet ends with the words ‘and in the centre, me’. He establishes his own existence as primary. The ‘farms’ around him produces visions for him just like the farm he is on. Since he is able to see the farms too, they are also part of his illusion. They too come and go as in deep sleep and wakefulness. The real self, ‘me’ is the only permanent entity.
Thus, though this poem sounds like a nature poem, it actually explores our real nature.