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Basking shark. By Norman MacCaig. I can develop my knowledge of MacCaig poetry I can explore the use of poetic devices. Learning intentions . I must annotate the poem I should explain key quotations from the poem I could explore unfamiliar vocabulary. Success criteria .

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basking shark

Basking shark

By Norman MacCaig

success criteria

I must annotate the poem

  • I should explain key quotations from the poem
  • I could explore unfamiliar vocabulary
Success criteria
starter task

Think about an unusual experience you have had.

  • Discuss with your group what impact it had on you and what did it make you think about?
  • Be prepared to feedback to the class.
Starter task
first impressions

After your first reading of the poem, discuss the following questions in your group:

  • What is the poem about?
  • What did you enjoy about the poem?
  • What are the main ideas/themes of the poem?
  • Any words or poetic techniques that stand out and what could you say about them?
First impressions
basking sharks in the uk

Every year, holidaymakers flock to the coastline in the hope of seeing these enigmatic sharks for themselves.

  • Reaching lengths of up to 12m, Basking Sharks are the largest fish in British waters and the second largest in the world after the Whale Shark.
  • One of only three plankton-feeding shark species, these gentle giants re-appear in our coastal waters each spring and summer.
Basking sharks in the uk
basking shark1

Poem’s main idea - tells of the poet's unexpected encounter with a shark; the meeting causes MacCaig to think about the process of evolution and his position in that process. This poem teaches us to think about our relationship with nature in a new way. It may also cause us to question what we are doing to our world and each other. Are we really as intelligent and civilised as we like to think?

Structure of the poem – split up into five stanzas, each consisting of three lines. Rhyming scheme of a a a throughout.

‘basking shark’
basking shark an overview of the stanzas

Stanza One – MacCaig describes the chance meeting with the shark and makes it clear it has happened before.

  • Stanza Two – the meetings have had an effect on him and he thinks back to one particular meeting.
  • Stanza Three – he begins to question his position in the evolutionary process.
  • Stanza Four – explains how indistinct humans were from other species at the beginning of the evolutionary process.
‘basking shark’ - An overview of the stanzas
basking shark an overview of the verses

Stanza Five – his opinion of the shark changes and the poet reveals that he is not so sure of his own superiority over the rest of nature.

‘basking shark’ - An overview of the verses
annotating the poem stanza 1

Provides a dramatic opening to the poem.

A clumsy word, again reminding us of the bulk of the shark.

Tostub an oar on a rock where none should be,

To have it rise with a slounge out of the sea

Is a thing that happened once (too often) to me.

Onomatopoeia - it suggests the noise of the waves as the shark leaves the water.

Infinitive of the verb("To stub", "To have" ) - unusual sentence structure captures our attention immediately.

Suggests that the boat's oar has hit on something solid, something that refuses to give even a little.

Metaphor - we are led to assume that the shark, like a rock, is bulky, solid, without feeling and, perhaps, without intelligence.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 1
annotating the poem stanza 11

To stub an oar on a rock where none should be,

To have it rise with a slounge out of the sea

Is a thing that happened once (too often) to me.

Tells us that the shark is in charge of the meeting, the shark is carrying out the actions whereas the poet has no choice in what is happening to him.

He has not relished the encounter at all but the brackets indicate a slightly humourous aside: the poet was scared but is trying to make light of it now.

The poet seems to have been frightened by the encounter.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 1
annotating the poem stanza 2

Initially puzzling: it seems to contradict what he has said in Stanza One.

The use of the dash he indicates that he is in no rush to meet the shark again.

But not too often - though enough. I count as gain

That once I met, on a sea tin-tacked with rain,

That roomsized monster with a matchbox brain.

So important is this meeting to him that he claims "I count as gain" the experience.

The element of shock has gone and it now sounds almost as if the meeting has be prearranged between equals.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 2
annotating the poem stanza 21

Places the shark very low down in the evolutionary scale; it is reminiscent of dinosaurs which existed millions of years ago.

For all his size, the shark has little intelligence. The poet believes he is superior in the evolutionary scale.

But not too often - though enough. I count as gain

That once I met, on a sea tin-tacked with rain,

That roomsizedmonster with a matchbox brain.

Places the shark very low down in the evolutionary scale; it is reminiscent of dinosaurs which existed millions of years ago.

Water isn't solid but we can see the surface of the water as it is pierced by the raindrops like tacks in a wall. The alliteration of "tin-tacked" also reminds us of the noise the raindrops will be making.

Emphasises the sheer size and bulk of the shark.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 2
annotating the poem stanza 3

The shark's movements have caused the water to move violently, shifting the poet and his boat from their original position. Also questions his position in the evolutionary process

Suggests the poet's discomfort at being forced to think that he might be nearer the shark on the ladder of evolution than he likes to acknowledge.

He displaced more than water. He shoggled me

Centuries back - this decadent townee

Shook on a wrong branch of his family tree.

Sounds clumsy, as if the poet is being moved around fairly violently in an ungainly movement over which he has no control.

Enjambment of the lines draws our attention to the word "Centuries", emphasising how long it took humans to evolve but the poet is travelling quickly back in his mind.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 3
annotating the poem stanza 31

Discovering our ancestors, the people we have been related to down the years. Here, MacCaig is reminding us that the shark too, is part of our "family tree", that we are related to all of nature in the process of evolution.

He displaced more than water. He shoggled me

Centuries back - this decadenttownee

Shook on a wrong branch of his family tree.

Perhaps a branch that the poet doesn't want to admit exists.

Someone who lives in the town but the word also suggests that such people choose to live in the town; they chose to live away from nature (their "roots"?) because they prefer it that way.

Suggests someone who has no worthwhile purpose to their life, but lives only for luxury and enjoyment.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 3
annotating the poem stanza 4

Swirling has stopped, we can see the spring of water more clearly from the dust having settled. Suddenly, he sees his position in evolution much more clearly.

Onomatopoeia -suggests the noise of moving water. It also describes the swirling movement of water and dirt.

Swish up the dirt and, when it settles, a spring

Is all the clearer. I saw me, in one fling,

Emerging from the slime of everything.

With one ‘fling’ the shark makes him understand that his origins are shared with the shark, as well as all other living creatures.

Suggests the idea of growing, of coming from darkness to light. Like the shark, the poet has emerged from "the slime of everything"

Annotating the poem – Stanza 4
annotating the poem stanza 41

Swish up the dirt and, when it settles, a spring

Is all the clearer. I saw me, in one fling,

Emerging from the slime of everything.

Shows how indistinct humans were from other species at the beginning of the evolutionary process.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 4

Emphasises the basicness of our beginnings.

annotating the poem stanza 5

At the start of the poem, the poet is almost insulting the shark, dismissing it as a brainless monster. However, now he is not so sure of himself, not so confident that he is the superior being. Now he questions himself. Is he a monster, an intelligent being who has failed to use that intelligence usefully?

Stanza begins with a question.

So who's the monster? The thought made me grow pale

For twenty seconds while, sail after sail,

The tall fin slid away and then the tail.

Just as the poet has seen himself in a new light, he has also had to think about the shark in a new way. The poet is much more humble now, not so sure of his own superiority over the rest of nature.

Failure to use his intelligence is further highlighted when we realise that the poet only thinks about the question he has asked for twenty seconds.

The clumsy, bulky creature of the first stanza has been replaced by an elegant, graceful shark, which the poet compares to a ship sailing away.

Annotating the poem – Stanza 5