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Assisi by Norman MacCaig

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1 Assisi by Norman MacCaig
Success Criteria I will successfully annotate my poem. I will learn about the poem 'Assisi'. I will build my analysis skills. 1

2 Initial Response What did you enjoy about the text?
What images were the most striking and why? What do you think are the main ideas and themes? What did you notice about the way it is written?

3 Background Assisi is a town in Italy. Can you think of anyone you would associate Assisi with? St Francis of Assisi is a very famous saint, who is the patron saint of animals. He abandoned his life of luxury and after working and living with the poor, decided to live in poverty in order to devote himself to God. With this is mind, let's read the poem... 3

4 The poem... The poem, again, is structured in free verse which allows a far more free approach to the telling of the story. The speaker is on a visit to Assisi, visiting the famous Renaissance churches, when he sees a poor beggar begging on the steps of the church. This leads him to a much deeper revelation about poverty and hypocrisy. We would consider these ideas to be the theme. 4

5 The poem’s main point… MacCaig wonders why the priest is looking after the needs of the tourists and is ignoring the needs of the dwarf. He realises that the spirit of St Francis is not found inside the church, or in the priest but in the inner beauty of the dwarf. 5

6 The focus... The poem has 4 distinct focuses and in the following order - The dwarf The priest The tourists 6

7 “The dwarf with his hands on backwards/ sat, slumped like a half-filled sack/
The opening lines create a horrible image that conveys how twisted and deformed this person is. Alliteration of 's' implies something that is deflated, empty. Simile compares him to a half-filled sack, something that is unattractive and shapeless. The mention of the dwarf makes it evident that he will be the focus of the first stanza. 7

8 On tiny twisted legs from/ which sawdust might run/
Alliteration of 'T' is literally uncomfortable to say, suggesting that the dwarf is continuously uncomfortable. The second line continues the idea of the sack, suggesting the dwarf is weak and lifeless. The image is created of the dwarf’s legs being wooden-like, as though turned on a lathe, creating a twisted effect. 8

9 outside the three tiers of churches built in honour of St Francis, brother of the poor, talker with birds, over whom he had the advantage of not being dead yet. Irony is used here, in the narrative development, as the dwarf is begging outside a church built in honour of someone who loved the poor. There is evident hypocrisy here. The tone is one of derision when he talks about the only difference between the dwarf and the saint being that the dwarf is not yet dead. The use of ‘advantage’ conveys this tone of derision, as we know he has no advantages. 9

10 Stanza 2... A priest explained how clever it was of Giotto
to make his frescoes tell stories that would reveal to the illiterate the goodness of God and the suffering of His Son. I understood the explanation and the cleverness. The focus shifts to the priest, who is leading a tour around the church. Explaining to tourists how the artist Giotto told the story of the goodness of God through frescoes “I understood the explanation and the cleverness” 10

11 “...cleverness...” The use of this word is ambiguous. The artist, Giotto is clever because he was an artist who was able to convey this. But the second meaning is that the priest is clever in commercialising, and using the history of St Francis, to make money. Enjambment is used to highlight '...and the cleverness', conveying that is the speaker's overwhelming impression. The short, sharp sentence structure of “I understood...” highlight the derisive tone. 11

12 Stanza 3 The focus shifts from the priest to the tourists and helps us understand why hypocrisy is apparent in this ironic situation. MacCaig explores the tourists' ignorance through an extended metaphor. 12

13 A rush of tourists, clucking contentedly, fluttered after him as he scattered the grain of the Word.
MacCaig uses the image of hens “a rush of tourists clucking contentedly” (alliteration of letter c helps you to hear the noise they make) “Fluttered” suggests they are lightweight, not thinking much “scattered the grain of the word” – the grain is now for the tourist, not the poor, as St Francis would have wanted 13

14 It was they who had passed the ruined temple outside,
The poet compares the dwarf to a temple, in a metaphor that implies he is sacred and holy. The word choice of “ruined” suggests that the poet feels he has been devastated, broken etc. 14

15 whose eyes wept pus, whose back was higher than his head, whose lopsided mouth
The dwarf is outwardly revolting, as conveyed by the description that builds on the idea of 'ruined'; “eyes wept pus” “back higher than his head” “lopsided mouth” This is MaCaig's attempt to show us that he is unsightly and thus, something the tourists would choose to ignore. This description develops the idea that he is repulsive. 15

16 said Grazie in a voice as sweet as a child's when she speaks to her mother or a bird's when it spoke to St Francis. However he is inwardly beautiful and this is what the speaker becomes aware of... The simile used highlights for us the innocence of the dwarf and the beauty that is inside him. He is also compared to a bird – a creature that St Francis would have loved. The spirit of St Francis does not lie in the church building, or in the priest, but in the dwarf and the speaker comes to recognise this. 16

17 Hypocrisy Hypocrisy is explored on a very evident level – outside a grand and very beautiful church that is dedicated to a man who loved the poor, a dwarf begs for cash while tourists wilfully pay to see the church. The comment here is about the hypocrisy of us as humans and how we are only attracted to that which is appealing, rather than real. 17

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