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    Notes on a Winters Journey and a Footnote, by Norman MacCaig Essay

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    The poem “Notes on a Winters Journey and a Footnote”, written by Norman MacCaig is a thought provoking Scottish poem. MacCaig uses stereotypical landscapes and weather to emphasise his feelings throughout the poem. I shall be showing how MacCaig shows these emotions referring to word-choice, theme and structure.

    The poem “Notes on a Winters Journey and a Footnote” is about MacCaig himself travelling on a journey from Edinburgh to the very north of Scotland to visit a friend who passes away just before he arrives there. Throughout this journey MacCaig emphasises and shows the reader that the poem is Scottish by describing the places where he stopped and set off from, “Edinburgh”, “Ullapool” and “Inchnadamph”. He also describes other aspects of which are found mainly in Scotland such as, “stags” and “lochs”. Each and every one of the six stanzas shows a different stage in which he is at in the journey allowing the reader to see the changes in his attitude and emotions at that specific time.

    The first stanza outlines a description of a typical Scottish countryside setting. This is shown by the way in which the snow is described, “almost faultless”. This imagery is tied in with the description later in stanza one when MacCaig saw “two stags” with “cold noses and “yellow teeth” giving an overall impression to the reader that he was in the countryside.

    In the second stanza a theme of death is present. This is because of the way in which MacCaig describes “On the loch’s eye a cataract is forming”. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. When the lens becomes cloudy, it interferes with the passage of light through the eye, resulting in a decrease in vision and can sometimes lead to death if not treated. Most cataracts occur in people who are 60 years of age or older, allowing the reader be reminded of MacCaig’s friend whose life (light) is dulling and fading away.

    In stanza three MacCaig uses an effective metaphor to describe the setting as he is on his journey on the roads, “horrible marzipan” which is used in contrast with the pure snow found in the countryside (stanza one). The “horrible marzipan” gives the reader the impression of yellowness in the city where the slush lays on the roads. Comparing these two weather products allows the reader to remember that MacCaig is still on his journey to his friends in the north of Scotland.

    In stanza four MacCaig uses an onomatopoeia “bang of light”. This shows the light from the bar he is at. The mood of him in this stanza is shown from the word, “crepuscular”. This means his mood is miserable due to him thinking of his friend who he is travelling to see. “The bar is fireflied” this shows the colour of the light in the bar due to the whiskey and other spirited drinks tinting the light. This stanza is overall the most depressive due to the setting and mood MacCaig is in.

    In stanza five we are introduced to a new location which is, “Inchnadamph”. This is in the north of Scotland and allows the reader to be reminded again that MacCaig is on his journey to his dying friend. “The windscreen wipers squeak and I stare through”, this shows that the weather conditions are gradually becoming more challenging for the few final stages of the journey. The visibility had become bad and MacCaig started to feel depressed. This is shown by him saying, “What ever do I do? …”. The ellipsis highlights this depression showing the reader he doesn’t know what to do.

    The final stanza is all about MacCaig’s journey coming to an end. All of stanza six is in brackets showing that this entire stanza is spoken as if it had already happened therefore it backs up that the mood of this passage is full with sorrow. “a death waited for me”, this showed that he never made it in time for his friends last moments of being alive. This theme of death is continued in the last line of stanza six when MacCaig says, “blinding winter closed in”. This is referring back to the cataracts in stanza two of how the illness has reached its peak and now his friend is dead.

    In conclusion to “Notes on a Winters Journey and a Footnote” I thought that the poets techniques, word-choice and sentence structure all combined to create an effective story in a poems structure. Personally I found the poem slightly too dull and boring for my liking however, the poem did become thought provoking once I got in to it.

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    Notes on a Winters Journey and a Footnote, by Norman MacCaig Essay. (2017, Oct 20). Retrieved from

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