"My Grandmother" by Elizabeth Jennings - summary of structure & theme
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Steven Gatesman "My Grandmother" Poetry Coursework In the poem entitled "My Grandmother" by Elizabeth Jennings explores the relationship between the poetic voice and her grandmother. It focuses on the remorse and guilt she felt, and perhaps does still feel. The poem is divided into four parts. The first stanza describes her grandmother working in the shop, the second the incident which causes her guilt, the third stanza shows her in retirement. In the final stanza, after her grandmother has died, the speaker reflects on herself and her grandmother's life. The first stanza sets the scene; the antique shop reflects the character and life of the grandmother. The words 'it kept her' suggest that it seems, to the speaker, her only reason for living; the grandmother's concern is with surface appearance ('polish was all')
The sounds in 'the brass/ Salvers and silver bowls' are unwelcoming to the reader, and perhaps betray her disapproving attitude to the shop. But to the grandmother the antiques have great importance. They are 'needed', though never 'used' - they are a substitute for human company, a replacement for love. She takes pride in her possession of them. The speaker's 'wish not to be used/ Like antique objects' is a wish not to be accorded the same kind of attention the antiques receive, and though the grandmother can see her own reflection in the antiques, she is denied the chance to see it in her granddaughter. In fact, beneath the images of polish, silver and brass lies someone who can be 'hurt', who feels though never speaks about how she feels, and who comes to be 'frail'.
suggests the memories that the grandmother attaches to these objects, but it also hints at an unfulfilled existence, while 'the shadows.../ That can't be polished' suggest the grandmother's loss of control as she nears death. In the poem's final image, 'the new dust falling through the air', Jennings economically suggests the grandmother's joining of the antiques she devoted her life to. But this image simultaneously reminds us of her absence from the room she once haunted. There is new dust there where once there would only have been polish. The speaker recalls, in this final stanza, her feelings about the death, not grief but guilt. The poem as a whole is characterized by the honesty of its attempt to look back, as an adult, on a relationship that, as a child, was bound up with feelings of fear and guilt.
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