Now our attention turns to the tourists who seem impressed with their tour guide and the mood changes again as the speaker sardonically compares them to a flock of chickens
clucking contentedly with dumb, blind obedience as they
fluttered after him.
This disparaging analogy reveals the contempt that the speaker holds for the tourists who, just like the priest, are oblivious to, and unaffected by, the plight of the poor beggar. Again the metaphor of them as little more than farmyard poultry is extended as the priest is described as leading them by scattering
the grain of the Word.
This is a deliberately ironic allusion to the biblical Parable of the Sower in which Jesus uses the symbol of seeds to represent the word of God. While some of the seeds eventually take root and bear fruit, many are lost or ruined. This implies that, while the tourists listen to the priest's words, their true meaning is lost on them and they defer to the priest unquestioningly just as the Church expects its members to defer to it.
The tone becomes almost accusatory as the speaker once again focuses on the beggar as he considers the apathetic response of the other tourists to his presence:
It was they who had passed/the ruined temple outside.
The syntax of these lines emphasises the word 'they' implying that the speaker feels no affinity with the others in the group, and that they have very different perspectives and attitudes towards the beggar.
The comparison of the beggar to a place of worship - a
ruined temple is especially apt given the specific setting of the poem and is one of the most powerful metaphors used in the piece. A temple is usually something revered and significant, something that was once beautiful. But this church has fallen into disrepair due to neglect, much like the man.
As MacCaig moves towards the end of the poem, he again provides a graphic, almost grotesque illustration of the extent of the beggar’s physical condition. Describing how his eyes
wept pus is especially unpleasant and reinforces the desperateness of the man’s existence as well as contrasting with the artistic beauty of the frescoes that attract the tourists.
He continues to emphasise the extent of the man’s physical problems, stating that his
back is higher than his head and his mouth is
lopsided to create an incredibly vivid image of the beggar.
This helps to make his final lines even more poignant as MacCaig uses a simile to capture the beauty of the beggar's voice. He speaks in
a voice as sweet/as a child’s when she speaks to her mother. This image is the antithesis of any other used to describe the man: a single attractive quality. The comparison of him to a child emphasises his innocence and naiveté, and forces the reader to feel pity not only for his physical difficulties but also for his vulnerability and helplessness.
Ironically, despite the awfulness of his situation, the single word he speaks is
grazie(thank you). Instead of feeling bitter about his situation he is grateful for any small kindness shown him. The final two lines in the poem compare the beggar to the birds that St Francis used to feed. Despite his own poverty, St Francis demonstrated the true teachings of Christ by showing that every living creature, no matter how insignificant, is worthy of compassion.