Study Guide

The Last Words of My English Grandmother Quotes

By William Carlos Williams

  • Old Age

    The Last Words of My English Grandmother (Title)

    The subject of the poem makes it pretty easy for most people to relate to. For a lot of us, our grandparents are the first elderly people we know all that well. Hanging out with them gives us our first real understanding of the effects of aging.

    Wrinkled and nearly blind
    she lay and snored (5-6)

    The speaker doesn't exactly paint a dignified picture of his elderly grandmother. He could've chosen much more elegant language, but instead he just gives it to you straight-up. The truth is that a lot of times aging just isn't all that dignified, which is usually a very hard thing for the elderly to deal with.

    Oh you think you're smart
    you young people,

    she said, but I'll tell you
    you don't know anything. (27-30)

    How many times have you heard an elderly person say something like this? Grandma Shmoop says it all that time, and it kinda drives us crazy. We've got to hand it to her, though, because in a lot of ways she's totally right. She might not know how to operate an iPhone, or even have a clear idea of what the internet is, but she's seen things we've never seen. There're things you just can't know until you've been on this world for a while.

  • Death

    The Last Words of My English Grandmother (Title)

    The title announces pretty clearly what the poem is about. From the top, we're waiting to hear what the speaker's grandmother is going to say in her last moments, with her last words. Wow, that's a lot of pressure, right? We hope we have something poignant to say with our last words.

    I'm all right—I won't go
    to the hospital. No, no, no (11-12)

    The grandmother is not alone in her fear of the hospital. A lot of people are afraid of the hospital because unfortunately hospitals are the places where a lot of people take their last breaths. It's a little ironic, right? Hospitals are places of healing and the renewal of life, but inevitably they also become associated with death.

    Trees? Well, I'm tired
    of them and rolled her head away. (39-40)

    And here they are, the grandmother's last words. We have to say, we think she goes out in style. She doesn't go out begging desperately to stay in the land of the living. Instead, she says "whatevs" to the world and heads off for whatever's next.

  • Madness

    Gimme something to eat—
    They're starving me— (9-10)

    We wonder if the grandmother is really being starved. Are there really awful people who've been denying her food? Or is this an example of the paranoia that sometime comes as people slip into dementia?

    Is this what you call

    making me comfortable?
    By now her mind was clear— (24-26)

    This is the only direct reference that the speaker makes to the fact that grandmother might have some kind of dementia. By saying that her mind is clear here, it makes us think that the previous quote was an example of growing irrational paranoia. It's funny, though, that in her moment of clarity, she takes the time to get sassy with the ambulance dudes and her grandson. It looks like the old bird's still got it in her.

    What are all those
    fuzzy looking things out there? (37-38)

    The fact that the grandmother doesn't recognize what trees are could show just how far her mind has slipped. You could argue that she doesn't recognize them because her eyesight is so bad, but it seems like even with terrible eyesight she could figure out that the passing shapes were trees.

  • Power

    Gimme something to eat—
    They're starving me—
    I'm all right—I won't go
    to the hospital. No, no, no (9-12)

    The grandmother seems to have lost any of the personal power she ever had. She's apparently bedridden and completely dependent of others to feed her. She tries to assert her power by saying "no" over and over again. But when somebody has to say something over and over again it usually means they don't have much power at all.

    Let me take you
    to the hospital, I said
    and after you are well

    you can do as you please.
    She smiled, Yes
    you do what you please first
    then I can do what I please— (14-20)

    The speaker and his grandmother have a total power negotiation over the course of these two stanzas. Ultimately, it seems like the grandmother loses, and she ends up agreeing to go to the hospital like her grandson wanted her to (even if she's possibly being snarky about it in these lines). But maybe the speaker isn't as tricky as he thinks he is. Maybe, the grandmother knows she won't make it to the hospital anyway. Is this the first sign that the grandmother is ready to give up all power? That she's ready to let go of life?

    Oh, oh, oh! she cried
    as the ambulance men lifted
    her to the stretcher— (21-23)

    The speaker's grandmother is totally in the power of the ambulance guys. It has to be no fun when you have to rely on other people to get where you're going. And it's really no fun when you're being taken somewhere against your will. And it's the total opposite of fun when you know you'll probably never come back alive. It's like the grandmother has lost any power she ever had. She's on the fast track to death, and she's powerless to stop it.

    Trees? Well, I'm tired
    of them and rolled her head away. (39-40)

    In her last moments, the grandmother seems to take what power she can. Sure, her body is failing her, but in the end, she's the one who says whatevs to the land of the living. She's had her fill, and now she's peace'ing out. She's going when she decides to go.