Hotel Room, 12th Floor by Norman MacCaig This morning I watched from here a helicopter skirting like a damaged insect the Empire State building, that jumbo size dentist’s drill, and landing on the roof of the PanAm skyscraper. But now Midnight has come in from foreign places. Its uncivilised darkness is shot at by a million lit windows, all ups and acrosses.
But midnight is not so easily defeated. I lie in bed, between a radio and a television set, and hear the wildest of warwhoops continually ululating through the glittering canyons and gulches – police cars and ambulances racing to broken bones, the harsh screaming from coldwater flats, the blood glazed on the sidewalks.
The frontier is never somewhere else. And no stockades can keep the midnight out.
Norman MacCaig biography Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh in 1910. Although he spent all his childhood and his later life in Scotland's capital, his mother's Highland past was a great influence on the young poet. MacCaig's formal education was firmly rooted in the Edinburgh soil: he attended the Royal High School and then Edinburgh University where he studied Classics. He then trained to be a teacher at Moray House in Edinburgh and spent a large part of his life as a primary school teacher. During the war MacCaig refused to fight because he did not want to kill people who he felt were just the same as him. He therefore spent time in various prisons and doing landwork because of his pacifist views. Norman MacCaig's poetry began as part of the New Apocalypse Movement, a surrealist mode of writing which he later disowned turning instead to more precise, often witty observations. He was great friends with Hugh MacDiarmid and other Scottish poets he met with in the bars of Edinburgh to debate, laugh and drink. Although he was never persuaded by his literary friends to write in Scots, he was respected by friends such as MacDiarmid as having made an important contribution to literature. By the time of his death in January 1996, Norman MacCaig was known widely as the grand old man of Scottish poetry.
I watched from here First person narration Word Choice: ‘watched’ suggests that the speaker is a passive observer of civilisation (rather than a participant). This links with the sense of isolation established in the title.
Helicopter skirting like a damaged insect Simile Simile: the helicopter’s movements are compared to those of a ‘damaged’ insect. The helicopter may be moving about erratically / buzzing around like a flying insect. ‘damaged’ hints at the speaker’s pessimistic view of the world: it is broken and imperfect.
Jumbo sized dentist’s drill Metaphor Metaphor: The Empire State building is not viewed as a symbol of mankind’s status and success, but rather as something that is painful / frightening. The dentist’s drill is not something that many people think of fondly! This reveals the speaker’s pessimistic tone as well as his fear.
Empire State Building Pan Am Skyscraper Setting Symbolism: the PanAm skyscraper and the Empire State building are symbols of American success / monuments to the ‘progress’ of civilisation. During this stanza, though not described in flattering terms, they are at least something recognisable. They give the speaker a sense of place (geographically) though not a sense of belonging.
But now midnight.. Negative change Word Choice: Midnight (with a capital M) becomes a person / entity (personification). ‘foreign places’ suggest it is something unknown: alien and unpredictable. Any sense of ease brought by the recognisable landmarks is erased as night arrives.
Midnight/ uncivilised darkness Darkness represents violence Personification: the darkness is not a welcome visitor but rather something unknown, uncouth and unwelcome. The speaker’s fear of the darkness is apparent.
Shot at.. Metaphor Metaphor / Word Choice: ‘shot at’ suggests a war. The futility of the battle is obvious: the darkness of night is inevitable. ‘all / ups and acrosses’ might represent a crossword puzzle (the lit and unlit windows beings the contrasting squares). This is an enigmatic idea (as there are no clues) and fits nicely with the notion of darkness representing the unknown.
A million lit windows all ups and acrosses Image of cross Defence against violence People hiding behind closed doors
But midnight is not so easily defeated Inevitable/ unavoidable Metaphor: midnight (and darkness) become a foe. The speaker sees night as the unknown, a formidable enemy. The sense of helplessness is revealed through this recognition of the situation.
Between radio and television set Technology Advanced setting Structure: As the poem progresses, the speaker’s interaction with the world recedes. He is no longer standing at the window (as he was in the first stanza) but has withdrawn to his bed.
Wildest of warwhoops Alliteration Comparison with Wild West Emergency vehicles Word choice: ‘wildest’ ‘warwhoops’ and ‘ululating’ suggest a cacophony of unknown, aggressive noises. The city becomes a wilderness, an alien environment that frightens the speaker as each unknown noise is interpreted in a negative way.
Glittering canyons and gulches Wild West but modern setting ‘canyons’ and ‘gulches’ both suggest a wilderness / they are words we might associate with the wild west. This helps us to understand the theme of civilisation versus savagery: the ‘civilisation’ of the modern word is not so civilised as one might believe.
Broken bones, the harsh screaming Synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland's baseball team”)) shows casualties of this ‘war’ aren’t recognised as people – simply ‘broken bones’. Word Choice: ‘broken bones’ and ‘harsh screaming’ are both distressing ideas. ‘coldwater flats’ are those without hot running water: this contributes to an unpleasant impression of the ‘civilised’ world.
Blood glazed on sidewalk Word choice/setting Imagery: The comparison of blood to a sheen that covers the sidewalk is an unpleasant one. It symbolises the aggression and savagery of ‘civilised’ society.
The frontier is never somewhere else Imagery Theme: Civilisation versus savagery. The pessimistic speaker feels that we do not exist in a civilised society. He appears to live in fear of ‘the unknown’: savagery seems to seep into society unabated. ‘frontier’ suggests a barrier between civilisation and savagery: to the speaker, there is no such division.
No stockades can keep the midnight out Imagery Theme Metaphor: the idea of midnight (and the unknown) attacking the speaker (and civilisation) continues to the end of the poem. ‘stockades’ are defences, but the speaker’s pessimistic admission underlines his sense of isolation and helplessness. He does not appear comfortable in the modern world. Modern civilisation is savagery.
1. “This morning I watched from here” a) What time of day is mentioned? b) What tense does the writer use? 2. “skirting, like a damaged insect” Explain how the simile above helps you to picture: a)The way the helicopter moves b)The sound the helicopter would make 3. Quote another image which the poet uses in lines 1 – 5 and explain how this helps to create a negative, uneasy tone to the poem 4. Re-read lines 5-9: the image is of darkness being held at bay by light. a) Quote a phrase that shows this. b) Explain in your own words what you think the poet means by the phrase “uncivilised darkness” 5. Look at lines 10 – 15. a) Quote two examples of things the poet can hear and explain what is making those sounds b) “Chose one of the two words or phrases you quoted for answer 4a and explain how it helps you to imagine what is going on outside on the streets
6. “the glittering canyons and gulches” (line 14) a)Identify two contrasting words or images in the line above b)Explain why you think the poet chose to include this contrast and how effectively you think he uses it 7. “The frontier is never somewhere else. And no stockades can keep the midnight out” Explain, in your own words, what you think the writer means by this 8. Think about the poem as a whole. How effectively do you think the poet uses contrasting images to suggest to the reader that no matter how technologically advanced we may become, we are still at heart savages? Include evidence from the poem in your answer.
Setting A hotel room on the 12th floor of a hotel in New York. The poet describes what he sees from this room in both day and night time. We know he’s not very impressed with his view of New York. During the poem he moves from his window to his bed.
Content The poet is visiting New York. Instead of enjoying the experience and being impressed by the sites of the city, he feels trapped in his hotel room by the violence on the streets below. During the day he comments on some of the famous building of the New York skyline that he can see from his window. These represent man’s economic and technological achievements. At night he concentrates on the sounds of the city below him. These represent the violence that is always close to the surface in human nature. MacCaig uses the change from daylight to darkness to show what happens when civilising influences are removed and man’s more primitive side emerges.
SECTION C—POETRY 7. Choose a poem which deals with childhood, adolescence, family life or old age. Show how the poet deepens your understanding of any of these stages of life by the choice of content and the skilful use of poetic techniques. 8. Choose a poem which deals with a particular time of year or a particular place. Show how the poet, by his or her choice of content and style, persuades you to adopt his or her view of the season or the place. 9. Choose a poem which has as one of its central concerns a personal, social or religious issue. Show how the content and the poetic techniques used increase your understanding of the issue. Answers to questions in this section should refer to the text and to such relevant features as: word choice, tone, imagery, structure, content, rhythm, theme, sound, ideas...
8. Choose a poem which deals with a particular time of year or a particular place. Show how the poet, by his or her choice of content and style, persuades you to adopt his or her view of the season or the place. Introduction Summary Main points Conclusion
Introduction Name of text and poet Address the task Say what you will write about Could include historical references here. A poem which deals with a particular place is ‘Hotel Room, 12 th Floor’ by Norman MacCaig. This poem highlights MacCaig’s visit to New York and his impressions of the city which were not particularly positive. In this essay I will analyse MacCaig’s use of imagery, word choice and theme and use these to demonstrate the negativity MacCaig felt about the city.
Summary A few sentences highlighting the main points of the poem ‘Hotel Room, 12 th Floor’ describes MacCaig’s visit to New York City and his impressions of the place. The poet, instead of enjoying the experience and being impressed by the sites of the city, feels trapped in his hotel room by the violence on the streets below. During the day he comments on some of the famous building of the New York skyline that he can see from his window. At night he concentrates on the sounds of the city below him.
Main sections Three or four examples where the poet persuades you to adopt his point of view using the structure below: Point – From the beginning of the poem MacCaig presents his pessimistic view of New York City. Evidence – This idea is continued with MacCaig’s comparison of a helicopter to a damaged insect: ‘This morning I watched from here a helicopter skirting like a damaged insect…’ Evaluation – This does not create a particularly positive image in the reader’s mind. Firstly, it makes you think of a ‘damaged insect’ flying around in an uncontrolled sequence, possibly having to dodge various buildings because of the over-development of New York City. Then we consider why a helicopter would need to be flying in such close proximity to the various buildings and only negative connotations come to mind; are they searching for a missing person, is it a ‘grand theft’ or are they on hot pursuit of a criminal? All of these ideas persuade you to think negatively about New York City regardless of whether you’ve been there and enjoyed the experience or not. We ultimately think of the buildings being packed closely together, the crime on the streets and the poet makes you not want to be part of the whole experience.
Linking Make sure you link your sections together so that the essay flows better. You want the reader to be able to follow your trail of thought and this is easier when the essay is linked correctly. E.g. …We ultimately think of the buildings being packed closely together, the crime on the streets and the poet makes you not want to be part of the whole experience. Different ways to link the paragraphs: Another way the poet makes you think negatively about New York…. MacCaig continues this idea throughout the poem… The crime on the streets and the proximity of the buildings are not the only things that MacCaig disproves of. He even insults some of man’s most successful economic and technological achievements when he compares the Empire State building to a ‘jumbo sized dentist’s drill’…
Conclusion Sum up the main arguments in your essay and include your opinion too. MacCaig in ‘Hotel Room, 12 th Floor’ highlights his negative view of New York City. This essay has demonstrated the way MacCaig uses word choice, imagery and theme to influence the reader and put forward his pessimistic views of New York City…
Essay example “Hotel Room 12th Floor” by Norman McCaig is set in a hotel room high above New York. The poet describes what he sees from this room in both day and night time. The poet is visiting New York, but instead of enjoying the experience and being impressed by the sites of the city, he feels trapped in his hotel room by the violence on the streets below. During the day he comments on some of the famous building of the New York skyline that he can see from his window. These represent man’s economic and technological achievements. At night he concentrates on the sounds of the city below him. These represent the violence that it always close to the surface in human nature. MacCaig uses the change from daylight to darkness to show what happens when civilising influences are removed and man’s more primitive side emerges.
The experience makes him consider if mankind is really as civilised as it thinks. This is revealed when the poet describes what he sees from his window during the day. The imagery he uses is unexpected: “…I watched from here a helicopter skirting like a damaged insect Firstly he uses a simile comparing a helicopter to ‘a damaged insect’. The comparison is effective as at a distance the size, sound and movement of the helicopter resemble an insect. However, his choice of the word ‘damaged’ suggests that he is not as impressed by this example of modern technology as we would expect. Insects also are often found around decaying remains so the image reminds us of death and dying. MacCaig seems to be suggesting that there is more this famous city than first meets the eye.
In addition the metaphor he uses to describe the Empire State Building emphasises this idea. The image of the “dentist’s drill” suggests pain and suffering. Again McCaig seems disturbed by what he sees. He is unimpressed by these symbols of wealth and human achievement because they hide the true nature of the city. The next part of stanza one moves to night- time and the poet begins to develop an alternative view of the city: “ But now Midnight has come in from foreign places. “
The poet personifies ‘Midnight’ by his use of the capital letter. Midnight is associated with evil and the image suggests the evil side of human nature is now being displayed in the city. This idea is supported by his use of the expression ’uncivilised darkness’. He is referring to the dark side of human nature and the barbaric behaviour that results from it. McCaig then extends this image of darkness by contrasting it with light. The ‘ups and acrosses’ remind us of the cross on which Christ died. As Christ is often described as ‘the light of the world’ the poet creates a contrast between good and evil. The image of the light shooting at the darkness suggests that good tries to overcome evil. However, in stanza two he goes on to suggest that this battle is not so easily won.
McCaig begins an extended metaphor which not only cleverly creates a contrast between civilised and uncivilised society: “the wildest of warwhoops continually ululating through the glittering canyons and gulches” The metaphor compares the sounds of the Native Americans of the old wild west to the ‘police cars and ambulances’ in the streets below. The ‘warwhoops’ are their cries as they go into battle. They remind us of the violence in the streets below. The ‘glittering canyons and gulches’ refer to the streets between the brightly lit modern skyscrapers and remind us of the landscape of the wild west where violent battles took place. This similarity between America ’s past and present suggests that although mankind has advanced economically and technologically we are no more civilised than we were in our barbaric past.
Finally his words emphasise the pain and suffering that poverty brings. The ‘blood glazed on the sidewalks’ suggests that violence and the pain and suffering it causes are always among us. “The frontier is never somewhere else. And no stockades can keep the midnight out” The frontier in the wild west was the edge of civilisation. By saying it is ‘never somewhere else’ the poet is suggesting that evil is always within us and we are no more civilised than our ancestors. McCaig ends with a pessimistic view of human nature. Stockades were high fences built to protect those who live inside them. What McCaig is suggesting is that no matter how high we build our buildings, develop our technology or increase our wealth, evil will always exist within us. He feels despair at our inability to overcome our most basic instincts, suggesting that evil will always overcome good.