George Bowering, “Grandfather”

  1. Notice that the poem is written without punctuation. What effect does this have on the movement of the poem? How is this appropriate to the life and character of Jabez Harry Bowering?
  2. Throughout the poem Bowering uses the ampersand (&) instead of writing out the word “and” in full. Can you suggest a reason for this?
  3. Bowering’s diction is important in creating atmosphere in this poem. What is the effect of such words as “strode,” “hacking,” “squared,” “snarled,” “blast,” struck,” “prodding”?
  4. Explain the image “six years on the road to Damascus till his eyes were blinded/with the blast of Christ.”
  5. Where and with whom did Bowering’s grandfather live for the four years between leaving home and sailing for Canada?
  6. What is ironic about the fact that the old man died in a Catholic hospital?
  7. Bearing in mind that he had just been “blinded by the blast of Christ” (become a “reborn” Christian), what do you think Jabez Bowering’s relations were with the sporting crowd and the “heathen Saturday nights’ of Brandon? (The Brandon Wheat Kings were a hockey team).
  8. Examine the tempo of the poem. The tempo is one of vigorous action, filled with explosive sounds – alliterated ps and bs and chs, suggesting belligerent attack. It builds to a climax with the rapid passage across the western provinces until “lord god almighty,” the second line of the vigorous hymn that has become the old man’s theme, suddenly doubles as the subject of the fatal word “struck.” From here to the end of the poem inactivity replaces activity; the alliterated ps and bs become obstacles rather than attacks, and only the remnants of the former vigour remain in the irascible proddings of the grandchildren. In the final line the firm ps and bs are replaced by elusive h and sh and wh sounds of “hospital sheets white as his hair” – airy insubstantial sounds suggesting the loosening of the old man’s grasp on life.
  9. What do you think Jabez Bowering’s relationship was with his wives, his children, and his grandchildren? Do you think George Bowering’s attitude to his grandfather has changed since the time in childhood when he was prodded by the old man’s crutches?