For My Grandmother Knitting – Liz Lochhead
Liz Lochhead, a Scottish poet, was trained in art. She taught art in Glasgow and Bristol. She also wrote several volumes of poetry but is best known for her plays. She focuses on various aspects of womanhood in her plays. We get a sense of parallels in much of her work, including her poetry – parallels between past and present and them and us. In this poem, For My Grandmother Knitting, it is the study of then and now and youth and old age that comes into focus. Much of her writing has as its theme the lives of women and Scottish life, in general.
This poem is about an old lady who as a young woman worked very hard bringing up a large family. She did not belong to a rich family and she had to scrape and slave to provide for them. Working has become such a huge a part of her existence that she can’t sit idle. She spends all her time knitting though nobody needs the scarves and cardigans she churns out.
While the grandmother knits expertly, her hands move with the confidence of youth, as though they belong to a young woman. Her family dissuades her from knitting but she continues. She is old and there is a tremble in her but it was not so in her youth when she slaved for a large family and administered to the needs of her husband too. The poet contrasts the grandmother as she was in her youth, and now when she is infirm. The scarves and cardigans the she knits is not needed by her family but she goes on making them as she is used to working all day long.
The poet uses everyday language and idioms to portray a domestic scene of a grandmother knitting for her family. The grandmother’s family dissuades her from knitting but her confidence and dexterity seem to overwhelm her as she takes comfort in the thought or idea of providing for her family, she experiences joy and feels years younger when she keeps herself busy. However time has taken its toll, there is a tremor in her movements. She recalls those days when she was adept at cleaning fish that was fresh from the sea. Necessity made her work hard.
She gave birth to six children and the going was tough. She had to slave through the day scraping together all she could, to make ends meet. She was a disciplinarian who slapped her children when the need arose. Her family has an abundance of warm clothes now so there is no need for her to knit, they say. They visit her on Sundays and as she waves good bye to them, her fingers which are now swollen with arthritis, are busy with the knitting needles, weaving intricate patterns from memory as her hands can’t stop.
This poem is a fine study in contrast. On one hand is the old grandmother who spends her time knitting and on the other hand is the young woman who did not have a moment’s respite. Her adult life had been spent caring for her large family. She came from fisher stock and there was never much money, hence she had to struggle to make ends meet. Now there is no need to work but she does not know how to sit idle. She passes her time knitting.