Norman Maccaig's "Assisi" Critical Essay

Norman Maccaig's "Assisi" Critical Essay

In Norman MacCaig’s “Assisi”, we are introduced to a rejected, deformed beggar, sitting outside the church of St. Francis; and it is through this beggar that MacCaig explores the theme of hypocrisy. Written from a personal experience, “Assisi” tells the story of the beggar outside the churches of St. Francis – a priest who could talk to birds and is deemed to help the poor – who is ignored by any who pass through its doors. As the poem goes on we see more and more examples of hypocrisy through the reactions of various people to the beggar.

Straight away, MacCaig describes in detail the “dwarf with his hands on backwards”. This metaphor instantly catches the reader’s attention and shows them that the beggar is deformed and very unfortunate - this sentence also makes the reader feel sympathy towards the dwarf, sympathy that we later see is only felt in MacCaig. There is a distinct contrast brought about in the first stanza, in that St. Francis is described as the:

“brother of the poor,”

This suggests that St. Francis was dedicated to helping the poor, so why is there a man outside starving and penniless? This shows hypocrisy in that the churches were built in honour of helping the poor, and yet there is still suffering on its grounds and noone is doing anything to change this.

The second stanza tells about the inside of the church - the walls covered in frescoes, the priest of the church, and the tourists who visit it – and how this further explores the theme of hypocrisy. MacCaig recalls how the priest told of the frescoes, how they were designed to show those that don’t know about God and his goodness. MacCaig seems bored by this explanation, as his words are strung together in long, bland sentences. The poet is being somewhat ironic through his use of repetition on the words “clever”/”cleverness”:

“I understood
the explanation and
the cleverness”

This emphasises the irony, as he is clearly not impressed by the priest’s performance,...

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