Study Guide

The Last Words of My English Grandmother Madness

By William Carlos Williams


Madness might be kind of an extreme word for the sort of mental illness shown in "The Last Words of My English Grandmother." The poem is an honest portrait of the effects that dementia can have on the elderly. Throughout, we see the confusion, paranoia, and moments of stunning clarity that people afflicted with this common illness have to deal with. Along with that, we get a sense of fear, and of humor, but most of all we get a sense of our speaker's challenges in supporting his ill grandmother. Poor guy—though, to be fair, it doesn't sound like a bed of roses for Granny, either.

Questions About Madness

  1. In what moments in the poem do you think the grandmother's mind is clear? Where does her mind seem to be more affected?
  2. What hints does the poem give of what the grandmother's personality was like before the dementia set in?
  3. Overall, what are the effects of the grandmother's dementia? How does it cause her to behave?

Chew on This

The poem manages to show the humorous situations that sometimes happen when people's minds begin to slip, but without mocking the grandmother in any way—no hating here.

The poem shows how sometimes people who are suffering from dementia can have moments of clarity that reveal insights they might never have reached when they were still totally in control of their minds—wild.

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