STUDENT NAME PROFESSOR CLASS DATE We Real Cool: Poetry Explication “We Real Cool” is a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks in 1959, and published in her book The Bean Eaters (We Real Cool, pg 1). A simple and light poem, “We Real Cool” is vague enough to allow readers to visualize their own characters and setting, but specific enough to keep a consistent rebellious image. Brook’s attitude toward the characters is undecided, as the tone is neither tragic nor victorious, but more so just balanced and neutral. “We Real Cool” is written from the perspective of the involved fictional characters.
It is as if the reader is in the presence of these characters as they introduce themselves. They speak with confidence and defiance, describing their actions and self-ideals in a rhythmic stanza form. We are not presented with any specific character ethnicities or backgrounds, nor year or time, but we are provided a fictional setting of a place called The Golden Shovel. Containing only ten sentences, “We Real Cool” begins with the line, The Pool Players. With this line, we are able to imagine the type of characters we will be following.
The assumptions are, there will be alcohol and cigarettes involved, as those are typical stereotypes when thinking about pool halls. The second line within the same stanza is, Seven at The Golden Shovel. From this line we are able to assume or imagine that there are a total of seven characters involved in the scene. With just these two simple lines composed of simple words, imagery is created in order to set the stage for the next stanzas. Moving into the body of “We Real Cool”, Brooks begins each sentence with the word, We, making it a point that the narrator comprises of multiple people, specifically the seven pool players.
The first line to begin the second stanza is, We real cool. This not only states the title of the poem, but also sets the intellectual level of the seven pool players. Grammatically correct, but more along the lines of slang, the last word of this sentence begins the rhyme scheme that will follow. The second half of this stanza is, We left school. This is an obvious statement of action, but leaves the reader questioning whether they left a not-yet-dismissed school day or a school day that had come to an end. As a third option, the reader might also assume they left school for good.
The couplets continue in the next stanza with, We lurk late. With this line we can assume the verb lurk is meant to represent a much less gracious movement, an almost monstrous, but comical way of walking. In the poem’s consistent three word lines, the word late is included to end the sentence. This gives the reader an idea of when the poem can possibly take place within the time of day. Although it may not be a literal statement regarding the time of day, as it can also translate to a rebellious activity the characters wish to point out.
The second sentence within this stanza is, We strike straight. This line can also have multiple meanings depending on the usage and perspective of the words strike and straight. Two possible literal translations can be deal with fighting, as strike means hit or punch, while another meaning of strike is how one lights a cigarette. The fourth stanza begins with, We sing sin, a line that can also have multiple meanings. If taken from a paradox angle, the gentleness and innocence of singing contradicts with the literal meaning of sin.
This method of verbal irony is what keeps the tone consistently light throughout the poem, and when strategically placed near the middle of the poem allows for a smooth transition from the previous darker stanza. Another translation of We sing sin can also be that the group likes to listen to contemporary music, possibly singing along. In certain days of past, and even currently, music is often labeled as the “Devil’s Music” by those who choose to be prude, or overly religious. Ending this stanza is, We thin gin, an assumed reference to alcohol, something not out of the ordinary for a group of ragtag young’ins in this poem.
Wrapping up the poem, the last stanza begins with, We Jazz June. A line like this, as did the previous lines, can have multiple meanings, or possible connotation to slang of the days the poem was written. Quite possibly, the literal translation can be that this poem takes place in the summer season of June, with the Jazz portion representing the music genre, Jazz. Jazz June could also be placed intentionally at this part of the poem in order to establish the name of the group of seven, the Jazz June.
An additional meaning could be that the terms Jazz June has something to do with slang of those days. The last line of this stanza and poem is, We die soon, translating to a living a fast life on edge. With a rebellious life, this can lead to a shortened life p, as one is susceptible the dangers of life when staying out late, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. On a positive side, it can also mean, life is too short, and regardless, we will all die soon, so enjoy and be free. “We Real Cool” is a combination narrative and lyric poem that contains a very simple couplet, rhyming scheme.
The simplicity and depth of the poem lasts the test of time as it very much can be relatable to this day and age of Hip Hop. The ambiguity of character background, location and time allows the reader to use their imagination and apply their perspective to the translation. I thoroughly enjoyed Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” and feel its relevance to contemporary poetry is vibrant and refreshing, making it a timeless piece of literature. Works Cited “We Real Cool” Wikipedia. 2012. . [Web site with no author. 21 May. 2012 is copyright date and 9 Nov. 2012 is access date. ]
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