Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
"My Grandmother's House" Poem Summary
"My Grandmother's House" is a short poem from Kamala Das which focuses on love lost, nostalgia and emotional pain. Basically, the speaker is looking back to a time as a child when she could enjoy love in a comfortable and contented household. She contrasts this blissful existence with that of her current situation, which is loveless and dire.
This juxtaposition of then and now, past and present, creates the tension within this single-stanza poem and gives the reader a stark picture of how circumstances have altered for the speaker.
There is also the idea that the speaker is trying to make someone see just how low she has gotten—how desperate she feels in her current situation. That someone may be her partner, husband, or spouse, or it could be a close friend.
Kamala Das (1934–2009) is recognised as one of India's most influential female poets. She helped promote the cause of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, producing work related to family and home and giving it a modern twist by introducing sex and the body into the poetical narrative.
'women writers owe a special debt to Kamala Das. She mapped out the terrain for post-colonial women in social and linguistic terms. And in her best poems she speaks for women, certainly, but also for anyone who has known pain, inadequacy and despair.' —Eunice de Souza, Nine Indian Poets: An Anthology, OUP,1997
"My Grandmother's House" is written in English, but Kamala Das also wrote in Malayalam, a native Indian language from her state of Kerala. This ability reflects the colonial/personal split in some of her work, the former imposed by the British, the latter native. This poem was first published in the book Summer Time in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1965.
"My Grandmother's House"
There is a house now far away where once
I received love……. That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved
Among books, I was then too young
To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon
How often I think of going
There, to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie
Behind my bedroom door like a brooding
Dog…you cannot believe, darling,
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved…. I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers' doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?
"My Grandmother's House" has 16 lines and is composed of a single stanza of free verse, so there is no set rhyme scheme. The lines alternate between pentameters and tetrameters, longer and then shorter, to sharpen the contrast between past and present, between being loved and not loved.
The basic theme is that of lost love, with the speaker bemoaning the fact that once she lived in a house where she was loved, but now her circumstances mean that she has no love in her life.
Lines 1 and 2
The speaker ruminates on the past, telling of a house that still exists but is far away in her memory. There she was loved. This is the grandmother's house the reader can presume, and the woman is the grandmother (or the actual speaker?).
Note the dots at the end of the word love. Some have been critical of this device, calling it a lazy prop, but the dots play a part as a pause (think of Emily Dickinson's use of those famous dashes) or a poignant gap in proceedings.
Lines 3 and 4
When the woman passed away, the house became silent. Nature invaded in the form of the snake, a symbol of danger and coldness, sliding among the books, a telling scene, perhaps of significance to the speaker. The speaker was too young, she didn't really understand what was going on.
Lines 5 and 6
She couldn't read anyway; she only had the dark feelings, and she became cold like the house itself, but still, she thinks about a return.
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Lines 7 and 8
She wants to peer in through the windows, which may be 'blind eyes.' Perhaps she won't be able to see anything at all; she won't be able to go back in her memory to once again feel the love. Even though the air may be frozen, she wants to go back. This is a longing in her—to restore the love.
Lines 9 and 10
And she'll be so overcome with despair that she'll bring back some darkness from that house—a reminder of the past. This is how desperate the speaker is—even darkness would suffice in alleviating her current crisis.
Lines 11 and 12
That darkness will be used figuratively, like a dog (note the simile), a dark body brooding. Is the bedroom door significant? Why not the living-room door? The kitchen door? A bedroom is a place of intimacy and quiet. Perhaps this is why the speaker wants to return. She has no intimate love in her life.
She is talking to someone close because she uses the word darling. Is this her current partner, a husband, spouse, or a dear close friend? Either way, her situation is unbelievable.
Lines 13 and 14
The speaker reinforces the disbelief. Yes, she did once enjoy being loved in her grandmother's house before she could read when she was young. But now she's lost all that pride and love. Why? How?
Lines 15 and 16
She has somehow lost it. Life and love go hand in hand, and she is now rock bottom, having to beg for small change. Is she really having to do this? For some solace? For cash? Is this a metaphorical scene portraying her plight in the realm of love? Or is she having to go to people she does not know, giving herself away for little?
Enjambment occurs when one line runs on into the next with no punctuation to bring about a pause, so meaning continues uninterrupted. This poetic device causes the reader potential confusion, as there is no need to pause or stop. The idea is to carry on reading and make sense alongside.
This poem is full of enjambed lines, a ploy to cause an unusual break of line, a reflection of the contrasting state of the speaker. There are only three lines that end with punctuation where the reader has to pause.
© 2020 Andrew Spacey
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2020:
This is a sorrowful poem in that he or she is still searching for a similar type of love experienced, at one time, from her grandmother.
Ann Carr from SW England on June 18, 2020:
What a poignant poem, made even more sorrowful by the last lines.
Thanks for the education too, Andrew.