Sandra Cisneros

Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros

‘Abuelito Who’ by Sandra Cisneros is a powerful poem about the importance of family. The poem conveys the ways that illness and change within the family dynamic can have on a child.

This poem is written around 1990 and is commonly regarded as one of the poet’s most famous pieces. It has a wide and near-universal appeal due to the way that it deals with themes of family and loss. The poem is delivered from a child’s perspective and written as one long run-on sentence that skillfully conveys a childlike confusion.

Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros


Summary

Abuelito Who’ by Sandra Cisneros is a beautiful, simple poem that describes one person’s relationship with their grandfather.

In the first part of this poem, the speaker conveys her positive and loving relationship with her giving grandfather. She associates him with a number of everyday objects, like a watch. But, as he aged, he grew ill. Although the specific illness is never revealed, the speaker does describe how, as a child, she was confused why he separated himself from the rest of his family and spent long periods of time in his room alone. The poem ends with the suggestion that the grandfather did eventually pass away but that the speaker continues to love him.

You can read the full poem here.

Themes 

Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes like family, loss, and childhood. The poem is written from the perspective of a child who is confused about her grandfather’s situation. She remembers the active role he used to play in her life and how that changed when he got sick.

Tone 

The tone of this poem is nostalgic. The speaker is looking back on a happy, and then confusing, time in her life when her relationship with her grandfather was changing. He grew ill and receeded from the family, and she couldn’t help feeling lost inside without his presence in her life.

Meaning 

The poem asserts that throughout life, no matter whether a family member is still living or has passed away, they continue to play an important role in individuals’ lives. This specific speaker looks back on her relationship with her grandfather with fondness that is tinged with confusion. She remembers trying and failing to understand why her grandfather was spending so much time alone in his room.

Structure and Form 

Abuelito Who’ by Sandra Cisneros is a twenty-three-line block form poem that is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. 

Despite this, readers to pay attention to the poet’s use of end sounds are likely to notice some examples of perfect rhymes. For example, “bed” and “head” are used in successive lines towards the end of the poem. Additionally, the port makes use of examples of epistrophe. This occurs when the same word or phrase ends multiple lines. For example, “him” ends a line at the beginning and end of the poem. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that does not use “like” or “as.” For example, “whose little eyes are strings.”
  • Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats a specific element of the poem. This could be an image, word, phrase, technique, etc. In this case, the poet uses the same structure several times, for example, “who is” which starts lines three and four as well as “who tells me” which starts lines seven and eight. 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines three and four.
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “watch” and “water” in line four and “sour stick” in line fifteen.


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-10

Abuelito who throws coins like rain

and asks who loves him

(…)

whose little eyes are string

can’t come out to play

Using a series of metaphors and similes, the poet structures a run-on sentence to describe her grandfather, her “abuelito.” She begins by describing him as the person who “throws coins like rain.” This first comparison is a simile. It suggests that her grandfather is a generous and giving person who gives everything he has to his family. He is also the person who asks “who loves him.” This alludes to a habit her grandfather had of asking “who loves me” and expecting the response of “I do” from his grandchildren.

The following lines used examples of anaphora and a number of metaphors to compare the speaker’s grandfather to a watch, a glass of water, feathers, and someone who speaks in both Spanish and English. His eyes are “string” and, at the end of this section, he is someone who “can’t come out to play.” The last line of the section alludes to the grandfather’s age and an illness that’s keeping him indoors and unable to play actively with his grandchildren as he might like to.

This poem is written from a young person’s perspective, or someone looking back on how they considered their grandfather when they were a child. This becomes clearer as the poem progresses and the speaker expresses her confusion regarding her grandfather’s age and illness. The poem contains several allusions that suggest that the grandfather may be dying.

When the speaker looks back on their grandfather throughout this poem and what this man meant to her, she associates him with a number of objects and feelings. When she thinks of her grandfather she thinks of a specific watch he used to wear, his habit of drinking glasses of water, and more.

Lines 11-23

sleeps in his little room all night and day

who used to laugh like the letter k

(…)

who loves him who?

The eleventh line of the poem solidifies the fact that this older man is dealing with an illness. He sleeps in his room “all night and day” and no longer laughs like he used to. The poet uses another simile to compare the grandfather’s laugh, or his previous laugh, to the “ letter k.” She is expressing, through simple language, what it sounded like when the man laughed with her.

Following lines express through scattered and run-on language, the young speaker’s confusion regarding what her grandfather is doing in his room all day and why he isn’t acting the same way he used to. The door is shut, and it even seems like he doesn’t live here anymore. He’s entirely absent from her life or at least is more absent than the young speaker would like him to be.

In one of the best lines of the poem, the speaker describes how her grandfather “talks to me inside my head.” She can hear his voice, his laugh, and likely the compliments, in both English and Spanish, that he paid her.

The poem ends with the repetition of the structure that the poet used at the beginning of the verse. She uses several more metaphors and repeats the line “asking who loves him.” This brings the poem full circle while also maintaining the speaker’s confusion regarding her grandfather’s situation. 

The last line, “who loves him who?” is a deceptively sad one. It alludes to the grandfather’s presence in the speaker’s life, how his illness has changed their relationship, and how she still loves him even though things have changed and perhaps, he’s passed away.

FAQs 

What is the poem ‘Abuelito Who’ about?

The poem ‘Abuelito Who’ is about a young child’s relationship with her grandfather. Throughout, the poet conveys this child’s lack of understanding regarding her aging grandfather’s illness and why he is no longer present in her life as a child would like them to be.

What does “Abuelito who throws coins like rain” mean? 

This suggests that the grandfather, when he was still healthy and active around his family, was willing to give everything he had to them. He would shower money on them if he was able to.

What is the tone of ‘Abuelito Who’ by Sandra Cisneros?

The tone of ‘Abuelito Who’ is nostalgic. While the poem is written from a child’s perspective, it was not written by a child. It is written by someone who is looking back on the relationship they used to have with their grandfather and how it changed as he got sick.

When did Sandra Cisneros write ‘Abuelito Who?’

Sandra Cisneros wrote ‘Abuelito Who’ around 1990. It is one of her better-known poems due to its simple and easy-to-access language as well as its skillful use of examples of figurative language. These include metaphors, similes, and symbolism.

What relationship does the speaker of the poem have with her abuelito?

The speaker loves and respects her grandfather. But, at the same time, as he grows sick and spends days and nights in his room, she grows confused. Now, as an adult, looking back on what she felt as a child, she is experiencing nostalgia and still mourning her grandfather’s loss.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Sandra Cisneros poems. For example: 

Other poems of interest may be:

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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