I chose to read a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks, titled ?We Real Cool?. The poem is from the perspective of a group of seven pool players, and it?s about living fast and dying young. At first, they seem like they are satisfied with the alternative lifestyle that they outline throughout the poem, but that defiant mood abruptly ends at the last line, when their death seems to be an effect of all the responsibility they had been putting off over the years.
The title of the poem is ?The pool players, seven at the golden shovel?. This title shows that the poem is about a group of seven pool players. The ?golden shovel? could be the name of a place they play pool at (like a tavern or casino), or a name for the cue stick. It seems to be symbolism for the fact that they are burying their problems ?with a golden shovel?, but their problems can?t stay buried forever. It also tips the reader off to the last line of the poem. Shovels are used to dig graves, and the last line is ?we die soon.?
The first line of the poem is ?We Real cool, We Left school.? This shows that the narration of this poem is from the point of view of a group of young people who decided not to go to school anymore, and they think they?re really cool. It?s also written in a seemingly ?street kid? dialect, and the grammar is incorrect on purpose, to try to emulate a certain group of people.
The next lines are ?We Lurk late. We Strike straight.? This shows that the behaviors these kids are partaking in are primarily negative, because there is really nothing positive I can think of that ?lurks? and stays out late. Striking straight is talking about being good at aiming and striking with pool cues, because they are pool players. However, another connotation that comes with the word ?strike? is violence, whether it?s crime in the present, or foreshadowing violence in their futures, it makes me think that maybe these kids could even be dangerous. Also, notice that these are the first lines of the poem where the author incorporates alliteration; ?lurk? and ?late? both start with ?L?, and ?strike? and ?straight? both start with ?S?.
The lines after that are ?We Sing sin. We Thin gin? We sing sin basically means that these guys are celebrating the fact that they sin. They don?t have any moral obligations, and sinning is just fine by them. I wish the poem had specified what exactly ?singing sin? is referring to though, because there are many possibilities. It could mean casual sex, outright violence, or even just drinking and gambling, because, back when this poem was written, drinking and gambling were also seen as fairly sinful. ?We thin gin? just means that these kids who are supposed to be in school are diluting alcohol before drinking it. This shows that they do basically whatever they please, and they probably aren?t receiving proper guidance.
The second to last line is ?We Jazz June?. This can be interpreted many different ways. It can mean that these pool players live their lives as if every day is summer, like in June, complete with all the fun of the Jazz Age. Or, if you interpret it with the original meaning of ?jazz?, it could mean that the boys make love to the summertime, because they act like all year is summer. This would also add another facet of rebellion to the poem, because pre-marital sex was considered uncommon and sinful at the time the poem was written.
Finally, the poem ends with ?We Die soon?. This, as the last line of the poem, harshly discontinues the lilting alliteration and rhyming schemes. It brings the reader back to the reality that fun does not last forever. Interestingly, the author leaves it up to interpretation whether the fact that their deaths occur early should be seen in a positive or negative light, and there is not even a trace of judgement in the author?s voice throughout the poem, or at the end. The pool players could be okay with the reality that they live short, or they could feel trapped, or maybe they are just indifferent to it. We will never exactly know because the author does a remarkable job of keeping emotion out of the last line; even as jovial defiance is obvious throughout the rest of the poem.
I think this poem was an amazing insight into the types of lives some people live, and how nothing irresponsibly enjoyable can last.