Stanza five

The final stanza opens by repeating the opening lines of the poem: Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic/very loud and very fast. However a darker tone enters the poem at this point. By the time MacCaig had learned a little Gaelic, his aunt was dead, lying silenced in her grave.

The contrast between the loud, talkative vibrant Aunt Julia in life and the utter, absolute quiet of death is emphasised using enjambment to position silenced at the opening of line five. The tone seems almost accusatory, as if blaming death for suffocating and stopping her voice.

This sinister, unsettling tone continues in describing the absolute black of her grave. Unlike the comforting security of the absolute darkness of the box bed in the third stanza, the subtle shift from darkness to black conveys the frighteningly bleak void of death.

Instead of sustaining this melancholic, maudlin tone though, the speaker seems to challenge the finality of death in the line: But I hear her still, welcoming me/with a seagull’s voice She has left such a strong impression on him he can still vividly imagine her calling to him in welcome.

Her voice is loud, carrying across a hundred yards and shrill like a seagull’s piercing cry. Again, the metaphor used connects her to the natural world which played such a huge part in her life. The poem ends with the poet imagining her: getting angry, getting angry, with so many questions, unanswered.

The final word is left on a line of its own, serving to reinforce the speakers enduring sense of frustration. The ending of the poem is somewhat ambiguous and could be interpreted in a number of ways.

The questions he alludes to could represent, literally, her questions to the boy, which he was unable to answer as he had no Gaelic, or they could represent all the questions he would have loved to ask but was unable to until it was too late. Moving beyond the literal, the questions could represent the more universal queries we all have about the meaning and mysteries of life itself.

The repetition of the word angry in these final three lines suggests MacCaig is warning us to hold onto and cherish the culture and heritage of the island way of life. He is afraid if we allow it to die, like Aunt Julia, then it too will be lost forever.

Themes

One of the main themes which emerges in this poem is the sense of isolation felt by the speaker, who is frustrated by his inability to communicate effectively with this much loved relative. Despite this barrier though, he shows us that emotions can often transcend language through the obvious, almost spiritual connection and affection between the two.

On a wider level, Julia comes to symbolise elements of a distinct Scottish heritage, language and culture that are at risk of disappearing forever in the modern world.

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