P Paula Gunn Allen

Grandmother by Paula Gunn Allen

‘Grandmother’ (1991) is written by the Native American feminist poet Paula Gunn Allen. This poem is about the role of a speaker’s grandmother in her family.

Grandmother by Paula Gunn Allen Visual Representation

Paula Gunn Allen’s ‘Grandmother’ is an emotional poem about a speaker’s grandmother. Through this poem, Allen shows how her grandmother wove threads of creation with her own body as a spider does. While mending the old rug, the speaker thinks about how she bequeathed the family tradition onto her children. Then, they did the same and taught their children how to weave a rug. In this way, their tradition, like a continuous thread, kept rolling.

Grandmother by Paula Gunn Allen


Summary

‘Grandmother’ by Paula Gunn Allen is about a speaker who thinks about her dead grandmother while mending an old “rain-bearing rug.”

The poem begins with an image of a spider that weaves invisible webs out of nowhere. It beautifully creates a web out of its own body. The speaker connects this image with her grandmother. She compares the spider to her grandmother, who wove rugs for her children. Not only that, she provided nourishment to her children. As the speaker mends the old rug, it reminds her of her grandmother’s struggle and her creative energy.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-7

Out of her own body she pushed

(…)

on the void.

This nostalgic poem is about Allen’s grandmother. The first two stanzas (lines 1-7) contain an interesting metaphor. Allen compares her grandmother to a spider that weaves shining webs in thin air. This “web” represents the love of a mother as well as the matrilineal traditions.

In the first few lines, the speaker describes how a spider pushed silver thread out of its body in order to create beautiful webs. It can fly where nothing can move. By using this image, Allen compares how a mother provides nourishment to her infants while they are in her womb. She carries light and air to them.

In the next stanza, the poet uses the repetition of the phrase “Out of her body” in order to emphasize the term “body.” A woman’s body is the source of nourishment for her babies. In these lines, the speaker uses the reference of “light,” a metaphor for “life.” Her grandmother wove light on the void, meaning she gave birth to her children.

Lines 8-13

From beyond time,

(…)

to disappear.

In these lines, Allen focuses on the idea of motherhood. A woman is vested with the ability to give birth. According to the speaker, her grandmother was given the work of “weaving” from beyond time. She is like the oak trees and the river that helps humankind to survive.

Her grandmother wove strands of love out of her body. She did not think much about the pain. Rather, she focused on her vision and carried on with her “gift.” Then, finally, she disappeared from the face of the earth. In this way, Allen glorifies the role of her grandmother in her family.

Lines 14-19

After her

(…)

and mend the tear with string.

The last few lines of the poem show how the children kept on the tradition taught by their mother (the speaker’s grandmother). After her, the men and women weave blankets. These “blankets” convey the annals of their life and memories. The reference to “infinity-eyes” and “rain” evokes the idea of permanence.

Now, the speaker carries on her grandmother’s tradition of weaving. As she mends the rug, it reminds her of her grandmother. In the last line, the term “tear” can be interpreted as a metaphor for absence. The term also conveys the sadness of the speaker.

Structure

Allen’s ‘Grandmother’ is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the perspective of a first-person narrator. The speaker is none other than the poet herself. She nostalgically talks about her grandmother. The poem consists of a total of four stanzas. The first two stanzas contain four and three lines, respectively. Whereas the last two contain six lines each. There is no set rhyme scheme or meter in the text. Readers can find the use of internal rhymings in a few instances. 

Literary Devices

Allen makes use of the following literary devices in her poem ‘Grandmother’.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Allen uses this device to make readers quickly read the consecutive lines in order to grasp her idea. For instance, it occurs in the first four lines.
  • Metaphor: Allen uses the metaphor of a spider and compares it to her grandmother. The idea of creating silver thread out of her body can be compared to the idea of giving birth.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the phrase “Out of her body” at the beginning of the first two stanzas.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “she pushed/ silver,” “carried it carefully,” “work of weaving,” etc.


FAQs

What is the poem ‘Grandmother’ about?

Paula Gunn Allen’s poem ‘Grandmother’ is all about a speaker’s grandmother. Through this poem, the poet glorifies the role of her grandmother and all the mothers as a whole. She uses the metaphor of a spider’s web in order to describe how intricately woven their family is.

When was ‘Grandmother’ published?

The poem was published in 1991. It appears in the 1992 issue of The Explicator journal.

What is the theme of ‘Grandmother’?

This poem taps on a number of themes that include womanhood, relationships, family, and tradition. The main idea of the poem revolves around how a woman provides nourishment to her children.

What type of poem is ‘Grandmother’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that consists of four stanzas. There is no regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the text. Besides, this piece is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker.


Similar Poems

The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Paula Gunn Allen’s ‘Grandmother’.

You can also read about these inspirational poems about womanhood.

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Grandmother by Paula Gunn Allen Visual Representation
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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