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The work of American poet Gwendolyn Brooks is predisposed by the circumstances and experiences of the Civil Rights Movement. The Movement involved segregation among the Caucasian and the African American community. A prime example was the case of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1958, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to segregate schools. Nevertheless, desegregation was not working quickly for the African American community and they became frustrated. The story behind this poem “We Real Cool” was developed during the rebellion era, where young men were figuring out their identity in the society. Also, choosing to hang around in the hollows of the street nightlife, instead of attending class. The poet uses simple language tone, line structure and rhythm, and rhyme in “We Real Cool” to convey the struggles of reckless young teenagers who will eventually suffer the unfortunate probability that their lifestyle of the streets – death.
To start, “We” sets the tone of the poem. The modest language proposes one of defiance and rebellion allegiance in the group. The players prefer the pool halls to participating in a formal task. The poet portrays a sense of sadness in the lives of one supposedly being “cool.” Lines 2 and 3, “Left school. We / Lurk late. We” there is a sense of uncertainty lifestyle of these players is questionable. The player’s attitude emerges in the verses, a weakened condition being lost in the world. This is what develops and grows as the central attitude in the poem. Furthermore, it underlines how young individuals can be apparent in a world where such voice is not easily heard. In all, the diction of the lines is purely street speech. One thing remains, the poet upholds a non-judgmental attitude throughout the sections. The description of the words is straightforward and allows one to draw their own assumptions.
The poem’s strong point, beauty, and authority are ingrained in its effective use of line breaks. The strategic choice of words addresses the use of strong character by adding the “we” at the end of the line. Each stanza purposely does not end with a complete sentence. Instead, the thought moves on to the next verse, “Luck late. We / Strike straight. We”. One might ask, by placing the “we” sentences on the same line (We real cool. We left school. We lurk late.) to measure if the same effect would display. How would the pool players be described, or the elements of the poem lose the authentic construction? In part, the poet seems to add the breaks to portray a hesitation that signifies the gentlemen lack of self-confidence or “coolness.” The use of rhythm is to prolong the moment of contemplation, the moment of imaginative construction (Whitworth 146). The beat of the poem starts with an exciting title of “We Real Cool,” which reads like the lyrics of a jazz melody. The arrangements of the words depict an uneven distribution of the pace. Furthermore, the preparations of the words lend itself to uninhabited blows of creativeness. As one read the stanza in the poem, the poet stresses “We real cool. We / Left school. We” (lines 1-2), as a sarcastic murmur. A mocking voice is implying a sense of leaving school is not a good idea. As one continues to read aloud, the magnet of the rhythm can lead to justifying the reasons the gentlemen left school. From the start to end, the poem is embedded with the vibrant jazz tempo in its very structure. Another factor that makes the rhythm of the poem interesting is the use of alliteration. Lines 5, 7, and 9 “Lurk late / Strike straight / Sing sin” demonstrates the alliteration involved. In reference to the second stanza, the theme seemed to express the gentlemen staying out late and sing into unseemly behavior. The alliteration gives these actions an alluring value. In contrast, the words “strike” and “lurk” demonstrates a threatening side that means there might be a negative side to the cool events the players are partaking.
Within this poem progression, there is a variety of untraditional components that intensifies the strong images through rhymes. The poet produces more than one rhyming device throughout the verses. The repetition of rhyming words linked close together enacts a unity to the poem. For example, ‘cool/school” (lines 3 and 4) and ‘sin/gin” (lines 7 and 8) adds the stress of each word. This allows the images and emotions to standout in the couplets. Some of the emotions: the mood begins as youthful and relaxed, yet as the poem continues the style becomes more somber and real. Also, the poet adds internal rhyme before the last word, “We /Sing in. We / Thin gin” (lines 6-8). Internal rhymes refer to the repetition of endings in the inside of lines (Allen 66). One noticed the reappearance of “We” at the end of almost every line, which assists with focusing on the pool players. Consequently, the words in the poem are interconnected, through some type of device, except for “Die” located in the last line. This word is floating alone, not connected to any rhyming section. Moreover, the last line is noticeable due to the only line missing “We” at the end. There again lays the irony of the poet’s feelings of the effects of such irresponsible routine.
Finally, the ultimate reckless ride is coming to an end, “Die soon.” It brings one back to the realism of partying and drinking lifestyle is not forever. Living the street life usually has a depraved ending. In the first section, there are two words that connect the overall irony of the poem, “golden shovel.” The word “golden” indicates happiness or sense of excellence. Whereas the “shovel” symbolizes perhaps death, dirt pouring on a casket or a later burial. “Die soon” is left at the end, perhaps the partying is stopping, or returning for an education, or maybe the ultimate death. Remarkably, the poet leaves it up for one imagination or interpretation on whether their death is something positive or negative.
When asked how she came to write “We Real Cool,” Gwendolyn Brooks replied in the streets of Chicago, noticed a group of school-age African American boys in a pool hall. In those halls, there is no future – a great darkness and despair. Today, this poem is still speaking clearly in our communities. Looking across all ethnic groups, individuals who stop doing the things to enable success and instead make choices that are reckless and destructive. The message – to continue learning life and believe every day is another opportunity for success.
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