The Grandmother

Writer: Ray Young Bear


“Grandmother” is written in a nostalgic tone. In the poem, the poet has tried to manifest his intimate relation with his grandmother. The love and affection that she showed towards him in his childhood (it is obvious she is no more with the poet), is still imprinted on his mind and heart. To depict the closeness of their relation the poet has successfully utilized two new tools in the poem –
a) conditional sentences, and
b) sensuous images.

The poet boasts that he was so intimate to his grandmother that if he got even a glimpse of her from miles away, his sense of sight would immediately recognize that it was his grandmother by observing her purple scarf and the plastic shopping bag. He was so familiar with her that he could also distinguish that the “warm and damp” hands that were put on his head were of nobody else but of his grandmother. It was not that he could only use his sense of sight or sense of touch to identify his grandmother. His sense of smell and sense of hearing was also equally capable of recognizing her. He could recognize his grandmother from “the smell of roots” that her hands gave off.

Most importantly, the words of his grandmother were a source of inspiration for him. When he used to hear her words, it used to flow inside his body and revive his lost strength and vigour. He has compared its effect with stirring the ashes of sleeping fire to regenerate fire. Fire is the source of energy, light and clarity. Similarly, when the poet used to hear her words it used to fill him with new energy, hope, and erase all his confusions. In other words, she advises were a source of motivation for him.


In the poem, The Grandmother, the American-Indian poet, Ray Young Bear, draws a picture of his grandmother, all-loving, all-inspiring. His grandmother would wear a purple scarf around her head for warmth and she would go to market with a plastic shopping bag in her hand. Her shape was also quite remarkable. If the poet saw her form a long distance, he could tell that she was his grandmother. She would come home working in the field and wash her hands. They were wet and had the smell of roots. She would put her hands on his head and caress it lovingly. Although they were wet, they would be warm out of love. Before he looked at her face, the smell and warmth-would make him guess that it was his grandmother.

Sometimes the poet would go to her grave. He would imagine having heard a voice coming from the tombstone. He could feel to be his grandmother. He could feel that her words were moving smoothly inside him like a stream. They would inspire him. In his sad life, he would find a faint glimpse of hope. He would remember the winter night when they were shivering with cold. His grandmother would wake up and try to move the fire which was covered with thick ashes and he would see her from his bed and hope that he would warm his body by the open fire.

The poem expresses not only the poet’s love and respect towards his grandmother but uses the grandmother as an epitome for native America. The poem has tried to pay tribute to his Native American grandmother. The poem is rich in the use of symbols and images that bring out a picture of a typical Mesquaki grandmother and her native culture. The grandmother portrayed in the poem appears to be all-loving and affectionate. The poet feels a kind of loss for his grandmother and expresses his strong desire to be with her.

The poet has used all sensory perceptions to understand the greatness of his grandmother. In the first part of the poem, the poet uses his eyes to identify his grandmother’s shape, her purple scarf, and a plastic shopping bag. In the middle part of the poem, he uses his skin and nose to recognize his grandmother’s warm and damp hand on his head and he could get the ancestral smell from her. In the last part of the poem, the poet uses his good sense of his ears to hear her words in the land of his origin. In this way the poet has successfully drawn a picture of his grandmother by various images appeal to all senses.

The verse of the poem “I’d know her words would flow inside me like the light of someone sharing ashes from a sleeping fire night,” clarifies the poet’s feelings. He means that wisdom got from his grandmother helps to search for the identity of Native American people. He finds his grandmother a great teacher for the depth of the past and the lesson of life in the present time. The poet also finds his grandmother all-loving and all-inspiring. ‘Warm and damp’ shows how deeply, she loved him and “her words flow inside me like the light” shows how the poet is inspired by her.


  • The grandmother of the poet is the prominent and highly regarded women of contemporary America who represent the difficulties in the Mesquaki tribe.
  • The poet assumes and senses that he would see the shape of his grandmother from the miles away.
  • Poet sees his grandmother from his inner eyes that it is his mere assumption only and he would recognize his grandmother instantly who is coming from the long distance. He even assumes that if he would see from his outer eyes, he would see his grandmother coming from the long-distance or from the mile away by wearing a purple scarf and carrying a plastic shopping bag.
  • The poet assumes that if he felt a hand on his head, the poet knows that those hands were his grandmother’s which are warm and damp with the smell of roots.
  • Again, the poet assumes that if he heard a voice from the rock, he would know that he words are resounded in his heart with instant flow inside him like the light of someone stirring ashes from a sleeping fire at night.
  • The poet implies the rigid suppression to the Mesquaki tribe by the Americans, especially the white Americans.
  • In spite of suppression, discrimination and contempt, the tribe strongly existed in the American states.
  • The poet sustains the cultural ethics, values and norms of Mesquaki tribe.
  • The poet reveals the difficulties of women in that tribe, the poem shows that women in that tribe face a great struggle to sustain their lives. There is the rustic scene of American countryside where the tribes reside.

Important Questions and Answers:

1. What images do you find in this poem written by a member of the Sauk and Fox (Mesquaki) Indian tribe of North America? To what senses do these images appeal?
The poet has used the sensuous images as effective tools in this poem. As a result, he is successful in creating a vivid picture of his grandmother. These images particularly appeal to our sense of sight (if I were to see …), sense of touch (if I felt …), sense of smell (with the smell of roots.), and sense of sound (if I heard …). The poet, through the use of these sensuous images, has tried to express how much he loved and how close was his grandmother to his heart.
There are various images used in the poem, for example, ‘purple scarf’, ‘plastic shopping bag’, ‘warm and damp hands with the smell of roots’, ‘voice coming from the rock’ and ‘a sleeping fire at night’. All these images are closely related to the activities and lifestyles of Mesquaki tribal people. Most tribal people do not have the opportunity to enjoy a fairly rich and luxurious life. They buy ordinary stuff in a small amount. As they have to survive on natural plants, it is natural that their hands smell roots which they use as food. Similarly, rocks and night flies are also inseparable parts of tribal life. All these images used in the poem are very much appealing because they provide a rural and rustic setting to the poem. These images give a realistic impression and make the poem very much life-like.

2. How does the speaker have to feel towards his grandmother? In what words or lines does he make his feeling clear?
Ans: The speaker has an affectionate and respectful feeling towards his grandmother. He describes his grandmother in such a way that she becomes the source of love and inspiration to him. He expresses his warm and intimate feeling to her through the words like feeling her ‘warm and damp hands’ and ‘her words would flow inside me like the light’. Here, the grandmother’s words are compared with the light of sleeping night fire which lightens the darkness when it is recovered by removing the ashes. This means that her words lighten the darkness of his life and show the right path to truth, love and goodness.

3. The speaker in “Grandmother” seems to be emotionally attached to his grandmother how?
Ans: The speaker has a positive feeling towards his grandmother. He finds his grandmother all loving and all inspiring. He shows great love and respect towards her. His grandmother is the source of inspiration for him. She is dead now but her image is still in his mind as fresh as before. The words coming from her tomb flows inside him like the light. Here, the speaker wants to flow her every activity because they give him the right path of true love. In this way, the speaker in the poem seems to be emotionally attached to his grandmother.

4. What impression of grandmother does the speaker give in the poem “Grandmother’?
Ans: The speaker has shown great respect and love towards his grandmother by composing the poem ‘Grandmother’ itself. Although she is dead now, her every activity is still in his mind. The speaker still remembers her shape, her purple scarf, her plastic shopping bag, her warm and damp hands, her voice etc. He would feel her words flowing inside him as the light coming out of a sleeping fire at night against the darkness. He says that her voice would be a source of inspiration in this way the speaker gives the impression of love, respect, honour in the poem ‘Grandmother’.

5. What is the main idea of the poem “Grandmother’ by Ray young Bear?
Ans: The poem “Grandmother is the outcome of the speaker’s love and respects towards his grandmother. The poet emphasizes that even the dead person can be the source of inspiration. The speaker’s grandmother is dead but he is following her every activity to succeed in his life. The speaker says that the words coming from her tomb flows inside him like the light, to sum up, the main idea of the poem is that the speaker feels a deep sense of intimacy towards his grandmother and finds her inspiring and loving.

6. What are the four things that Ray young Bear remembers about his grandmother?
Ans: The poem “Grandmother is the outcome of the speaker’s love and respects towards his grandmother. The four things that the poet still remembers about his grandmother are:
a) He remembers her shape.
b) He remembers her purple scarf and a plastic shopping bag.
c)He remembers her hands on his head.
d) He remembers her voice coming from a rock.

7 thoughts on “The Grandmother

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