"Climbing my Grandfather" is a poem by British poet Andrew Waterhouse. The poem is told from a first-person perspective and sees its speaker climbing up their grandfather, as though the latter were a mountain. It's a treacherous, unpredictable climb, but the speaker is attentive and observant, eventually making it to the summit—the grandfather's head. It's here that the speaker can sense the "slow pulse of [the grandfather's] good heart," suggesting that the poem is about reclaiming a certain memory or feeling of emotional connection and warmth. It is one of a number of Waterhouse poems that takes a look at family relationships—though unfortunately his total output is rather small given his death by suicide at the age of 42 (in 2001).
I decide to ...
... get a grip.
By the overhanging ...
... like warm ice.
On his arm ...
... and move on.
At his still ...
... open and close.
Then up over ...
... his good heart.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
More Thoughts on Waterhouse — Libby Brooks talks about Waterhouse's life, work, and death.
Thoughts on Waterhouse and His Poetry — A thoughtful piece about Waterhouse and his work by Helena Nelson.
A Reading of "Climbing My Grandfather" — "Climbing My Grandfather" read aloud.
Waterhouse's Obituary — A piece on Waterhouse in the British newspaper The Guardian.
1I decide to do it free, without a rope or net.
2First, the old brogues, dusty and cracked;
3an easy scramble onto his trousers,
4pushing into the weave, trying to get a grip.
5By the overhanging shirt I change
6direction, traverse along his belt
7to an earth-stained hand. The nails
8are splintered and give good purchase,
9the skin of his finger is smooth and thick
10like warm ice. On his arm I discover
11the glassy ridge of a scar, place my feet
12gently in the old stitches and move on.
13At his still firm shoulder, I rest for a while
14in the shade, not looking down,
15for climbing has its dangers, then pull
16myself up the loose skin of his neck
17to a smiling mouth to drink among teeth.
18Refreshed, I cross the screed cheek,
19to stare into his brown eyes, watch a pupil
20slowly open and close. Then up over
21the forehead, the wrinkles well-spaced
22and easy, to his thick hair (soft and white
23at this altitude), reaching for the summit,
24where gasping for breath I can only lie
25watching clouds and birds circle,
26feeling his heat, knowing
27the slow pulse of his good heart.