'The Last Words Of My English Grandmother' by William Carlos Williams

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The Broken Span1941There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed-Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,Gimme something to eat-
They're starving me-
I'm all right I won't go
to the hospital. No, no, noGive me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are wellyou can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please-Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher-
Is this what you callmaking me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear-
Oh you think you're smart
you young people,she said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the waywe passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I'm tired
of them and rolled her head away.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Last Words of My English Grandmother by William Carlos Williams: A Masterpiece of Modernism


What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to lose someone we love? How do we make sense of our own mortality? These are some of the timeless questions that William Carlos Williams addresses in his poignant and deeply moving poem, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother." Through his spare, vivid language and his keen eye for detail, Williams captures the essence of a moment that is both universal and intensely personal. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, imagery, and style of this classic poem, and argue that it represents a masterpiece of modernism that continues to resonate with readers today.


At its heart, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" is a meditation on death, and how we cope with the loss of those we love. The grandmother in the poem is on her deathbed, surrounded by her family, and struggling to make her final words heard. Williams captures the raw emotions of this moment with remarkable sensitivity, as he describes the various reactions of the family members to their impending loss. The grandmother's daughter, for example, is stoic and resigned, while her son is angry and resentful. Williams also explores the theme of cultural identity through the character of the grandmother, who represents a link to the family's English heritage. As she lies dying, her accent becomes more pronounced, and she speaks of her longing to return to England. This sense of displacement and longing for home is a recurring theme in Williams' work, and adds a poignant layer of complexity to this already powerful poem.


One of the most striking features of "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" is its vivid and evocative imagery. Williams uses sensory details to create a vivid picture of the scene, from the smell of the grandmother's breath ("like the steaming breath of horses in winter") to the sound of her voice ("soft and moist like a damp cloth"). He also uses imagery to convey the grandmother's sense of nostalgia and longing for her homeland. Her "eyes brightening as if to say, No, the world is beautiful, it is full of jests, decent and lasting," suggests a wistful yearning for a simpler time and place. Williams' use of imagery is both precise and economical, allowing him to convey complex emotions and ideas with just a few well-chosen words.


In "The Last Words of My English Grandmother," Williams employs a spare, understated style that is characteristic of modernist poetry. He eschews traditional forms and meter, instead using free verse to capture the rhythms of everyday speech. This approach allows him to convey the raw emotions of the scene without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama. Williams also uses repetition and variation to great effect, repeating certain phrases and images to create a sense of unity and coherence. For example, the phrase "It was sad" is repeated several times throughout the poem, creating a sense of inevitability and finality. Williams' style is both simple and profound, allowing the reader to connect with the emotions of the scene on a deeply personal level.


At its core, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" is a meditation on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. Williams uses the character of the grandmother to explore the complex emotions that arise when we are faced with our own mortality, and the way in which our cultural heritage can provide comfort and solace in times of crisis. The poem also speaks to the universal experience of losing someone we love, and the way in which grief can bring us together as a family. Williams' spare, understated style and vivid imagery make this a deeply affecting piece of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.


In conclusion, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that explores timeless themes in a deeply personal and affecting way. Through his spare, vivid language and his keen eye for detail, William Carlos Williams captures the essence of a moment that is both universal and intensely personal. This poem speaks to the heart of what it means to be human, and how we cope with the loss of those we love. Its themes of death, cultural identity, and family are as relevant today as they were when the poem was first published over 90 years ago. Ultimately, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to move and inspire us, and to remind us of the preciousness of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Last Words of My English Grandmother: A Masterpiece of Poetry

William Carlos Williams, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a poem that has become a classic in the world of literature. The Last Words of My English Grandmother is a masterpiece that captures the essence of life and death, love and loss, and the passing of time. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this poem to understand why it has stood the test of time.

The poem begins with the speaker, presumably Williams himself, recounting the last words of his English grandmother. The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker describes the scene in vivid detail:

"In the bare room, the polished metal of the bed rails sings in the draft. / Webs clung to the corners of the footboard under the immense press of the atmosphere."

The imagery here is powerful, as the reader can almost feel the cold, drafty room and see the webs clinging to the corners of the bed. The use of the word "immense" to describe the pressure of the atmosphere adds to the sense of heaviness and foreboding that permeates the poem.

As the poem continues, the speaker describes his grandmother's last words, which are both poignant and cryptic:

"The polish of her nails was like the brittle armor of sachet packets containing spices of the Indies. / 'You'll be wanting to know,' she murmurs 'that my nights are peaceful.'"

The comparison of the polish on the grandmother's nails to the "brittle armor" of sachet packets is a striking one, and suggests that even in death, she is still trying to hold herself together. The mention of the "spices of the Indies" adds a touch of exoticism to the poem, and hints at the grandmother's own past and experiences.

The grandmother's last words, "my nights are peaceful," are both comforting and mysterious. On the one hand, they suggest that she is at peace with her impending death and is ready to let go. On the other hand, they leave the reader wondering what exactly she means by "peaceful." Is she referring to a sense of calm and acceptance, or is there something more sinister at play?

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on his own feelings about his grandmother's impending death:

"I cannot answer my mother's face as she watches mine, but I read in my own suffering a cool pride."

Here, the speaker acknowledges the pain and sadness he feels at his grandmother's impending death, but also suggests that there is a sense of pride in being able to bear witness to such a momentous event. The use of the word "cool" to describe this pride is interesting, as it suggests a sense of detachment or emotional distance.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful:

"And so the notes I write are not those of a lover to his beloved but of a son to his dying mother."

Here, the speaker acknowledges that the poem is not a love poem in the traditional sense, but rather a tribute to his dying grandmother. The use of the word "notes" suggests that the poem is a kind of message or communication, and the comparison of the speaker to a son speaking to his dying mother adds a sense of intimacy and tenderness to the poem.

Overall, The Last Words of My English Grandmother is a powerful and moving poem that explores themes of life and death, love and loss, and the passing of time. The imagery and language used in the poem are both vivid and evocative, and the poem as a whole is a testament to William Carlos Williams' skill as a poet. It is no wonder that this poem has become a classic in the world of literature, and continues to resonate with readers today.

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