The Grandmother by Ray Young Bear: Summary and Critical Analysis

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 round her head for warmth and she would go to market with a plastic shopping bag in her hand. Her shape was also quite remarkable.

Ray Young Bear

If the poet saw her from 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 because of her 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 to have 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 poet’s love and respect towards his grandmother, but uses grandmother as an epitome for Native Americans. The poem has tried to pay tribute to his Native American grandmother. The poem is rich in the use of symbols and images that brings 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 his 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 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.

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Ray Young Bear