Wise Words from Grandma

The wise old owl sat in an oak

The more she heard the less she spoke

The less she spoke the more she heard

Why can’t we be that wise old bird?

This week on our walk down the path through the trees I saw a patterned caramel coloured wing feather lying on the ground. It was underneath a regular dark holly tree owl roost I took it home and sent it to our young grandson Noah aged six. I began by saying the poet wrote it just for him. Well its true isn’t it… poets write for everyone of us or no-one.

We don’t have the white Barn owls as far north as here it’s too cold for them.   

We have the Tawny ones and at this time of year we hear the young ones calling across the fields to be fed.

I remember an older friend who was third-generation wise, before I had got to that point, said her method of coping with adult children’s families was, ‘Take every opportunity…… to say nothing’. I think she was agreeing with the wise old owl who sat in an oak listening, while keeping her beak zipped.

Had she known, my grandmother friend was describing ‘communicative competence’; the knowledge of the language, and the social situations in which to use it. The linguist and folklorist, Dell Hymes developed a theory of Noam Chomsky, who in 1965, pointed to a distinction between linguistic competence and the performance of it. Through ethnographic research Dell Hymes looked at how people relate to one another, and his work is called ‘Ethnography of Communication’.

It’s a wise old grandma owl who is competent in communication.


 Hymes, Dell “Introduction: Toward Ethnographies of Communication”.Journal Article: American Anthropologist. (1964).

Published by marycane

A PhD student at the Elphinstone Institute Aberdeen Scotland. I am studying the experience of being a contemporary grandmother. In particular I am interested in how those grandmothers, whose family live far away, are passing on their family history.

2 thoughts on “Wise Words from Grandma

  1. Wise Old Owl. Yes I like that. Ten years ago when i reached the age of 60 I was given an owl pendant by my family. It is my favourite piece of jewelry. I wear it often with pride. The wisdom here is actually knowing and understanding why we listen but choose not to comment. Not commenting is the consequence of that wisdom and often it is not an easy choice at the time. Knowing with conviction is the wisdom. I love the poem. Long live wise old owls.


  2. I wish I had read this before our Grand children were born. I have learnt the hard way to listen and not comment.


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