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Summary of Grandmother Poem

The Grandmother
Writer: Ray Young Bear

Grandmother summary: 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.

Alternative Summary:

‘The Grandmother’ is a poem by Ray Young Bear, an American-Indian poet. In the poem, we simply get to know that the poet has a memory of his grandmother who has long been dead. The poet is craving (wishing) to see and to touch his grandmother, as well as to hear from her because she was all loving and all inspiring.

The poem can be divided into three parts. In the first part, the poet wishes to see his grandmother and claims that he could recognize her even from a distance of a mile. He gives an image of his grandma who used to wear a purple scarf and hold a plastic shopping bag.
In the second part, he wishes to be touched by the old lady and claims that he could identify her even from her hands on his head. The hands were warm and damp with the smell of roots.

In the last part, the poet wishes to hear a word from his grandmother. He claims that he could identify the sound of his grandma even from an echo. The poet makes use of simile there, where the sound of the old woman is likened (compared) to the ashes of sleeping fire. The tone of the poem is nostalgic (sentimental).


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 of 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 the 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 the American countryside where the tribes reside.


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.

Short Questions

1. What are the four things Ray Young Bear remembers about his grandmother? or What is the main idea (theme) of the poem Grandmother?

Ans: Ray Young Bear, the poet, himself is the speaker in the poem. The poem is about his memory of his own grandmother. She was all loving and inspiring to him. Though she has long been dead she still remains in the memory of the poet and there are four things, which he remembers about her. They include the purple scarf she used to wear, the plastic shopping bag she used to carry, her warm and damp hand, and her dim but recognizable sound. 

 2. How does the poet feel towards his grandmother?

Ans: Ray Young Bear, the poet, seems to be saddened by the demise (death) of his grandmother. He suffers from nostalgia (past memory) and longs (wishes) to see and feel her as well as hear her. She was a source of love and inspiration to him and he was quite intimate (close) to her. In short, he regrets her death. Although she was dead, he has a deep love for her.

3. How would Ray Young Bear identify his grandmother?

Ans: The poet seems to have been very close to his grandmother when she was alive. So he would identify her easily even from a mere sight of hers at a distance, or from a mere touch of her hand upon his head or from only an echo of her sound coming from a rock. He has a visual, tactile (the sense of touch), and an acoustic (auditory) image of his grandmother.

Poem Meaning

1. Literal meaning

The grandmother is loving, and all inspiring. The poet describes his own grandmother,,,,, who has already passed away.

 2. Metaphorical/ symbolic meaning

The remembrance of the vanished, cultural tradition, rites, ritual, and code of conduct of the Meskwaki tribe in general and fox community in general. The grandmother is the red Indian people/tribe and community.

The poet has used a variety of images in the poem to describe grandmother, those images appear on our sense perception.

1.The image of sight: plastic shopping bag and purple scarf.

2.The image of hearing: the voice coming from the rock.

3.The image of smell: The smell of roots(herbs).

4.The image of touch: Damp and warm hands.

By using such an image, the poet has succeeded to depict a bright and concentrated picture of the grandmother.

Important Question For Exam

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Questions for Practice From Grandmother summary

These questions are previously asked in NEB Exam from this poem.

1. What impression of grandmother does the speaker give in the poem?
2. What is the theme of the poem’s grandmother?
3. What feelings does the poet express toward his grandmother?
4. How does the speaker feel towards his grandmother? What words or images make his feeling clear?
5. The speaker in ‘Grandmother’ seems to be emotionally attached to his grandmother. How?
6. What impression of grandmother does the speaker give in the poem ‘Grandmother’?
7. What are the four things that ray young Bear remembers about his grandmother?



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