Aunt Julia is a portrait of Norman Mac Caig’s aunt, Julia Mac Leod.His mother, who had come from Scalpay, had been able to get Norman to Scalpay during some of his holidays.Norman Mac Caig's Aunt Julia, like his mother, came from the Isle of Harris and had Gaelic as a first language.
Aunt Julia is a portrait of Norman Mac Caig’s aunt, Julia Mac Leod.
As I don't speak the native language of my homeland, I can only learn about the origins of my culture from what I can see.
Language is so integral to culture that it almost impossible to understand a culture without understanding the language – especially when that culture is based upon an oral tradition." Gordon Brown once quoted from one of Norman's poems 'Praise of a Man' in a eulogy he gave for a friend.
It is one of the clearest examples of the cultural colonialism practised within the British Empire.
Stamping out the language was a deliberate attempt to wipe out the culture and with it the connections to communities and landscapes.
Julia Macleod - as well as being a character of great energy and colour - is also a metaphor for the island of Scalpay itself.
The poem therefore has a duality: it is portrait of an aunt for whom Norman Mac Caig had great affection as well as a description of an island he loved very much.© the estate of Norman Mac Caig from The Scottish Poetry Library This week is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Norman Mac Caig, one of Scotland's foremost poets, so I thought it was fitting to have one of his poems to celebrate the life and work of a poet whose poetry is gradually slipping out of view beyond the Scottish borders.'Aunt Julia' is one of my favourites partly because it depicts such a wonderful character, (I can see her strong foot/stained with peat) and partly because it identifies one of the most tragic aspects of Scottish history.You should have been taught that all Mac Caig poems are linked by the theme of loss, so you'll be using that a lot.The main idea of Aunt Julia is that the Gaelic language and culture is being lost as Gaelic natives integrate more and more into mainland Scottish culture and life.It was while he was there that Mac Caig came to know and appreciate his mother’s sister - Julia Mac Leod.She has been referred to as a monoglot Gael, meaning that Julia was unable to speak anything than Gaelic. She was someone who was full of noise and energy and clearly had an impact on the young Norman Mac Caig.Although the poem was written in March 1967, the poem reflects on his years when, as a young child, he spent time with his aunt.I tend not to approach the poem in a chronological manner, but more as a wholistic work. I could not answer her — I could not understand her. — I can see her strong foot, stained with peat, paddling with the treadle of the spinning-wheel while her right hand drew yarn marvellously out of the air. She was brown eggs, black skirts and a keeper of threepennybits in a teapot. By the time I had learned a little, she lay silenced in the absolute black of a sandy grave at Luskentyre.Hers was the only house where I've lain at night in the absolute darkness of a box bed, listening to crickets being friendly. But I hear her still, welcoming me with a seagull's voice across a hundred yards of peatscrapes and lazybeds and getting angry, getting angry with so many questions unanswered.