Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks is most well known for her poem We Real Cool, written in 1966. A Chicago native, Gwendolyn Brooks received many literary honors over the course of her writing career, including an appointment as the Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois.
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This essay will explain that the poem We Real Cool is preferable to the poems Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas, Harlem by Langston Hughes and Because I Could not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson, because it employs simple and direct language to express an emotionally compelling narrative that centers on the story of seven young men in an urban environment.
Essentially all of the poems have related themes. Each poem deals on one level with death: Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem expresses the death of urban youth; Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night speaks of the death of the aged; Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could not Stop for Death speaks of the inevitability of death, and Langston Hughes’s Harlem expresses the death of a dream. Gwendolyn Brooks’s We Real Cool stands out because of its simplicity and directness of style.
The basic story of the poem We Real Cool concerns a group of seven young men playing pool in lieu of attending their classes at school. Gwendolyn Brooks described these seven young men as “dropouts, or at least they’re in the poolroom when they should possibly be in school, since they’re probably young enough, or at least those I saw were when I looked in a poolroom” (Stavros 72).
These young men entertain smugness in this perceived act of rebelliousness, as evidenced by the lines “We real cool. We Left school” (Brooks 1). The word “Left” is capitalized to highlight the young men’s pleasure in getting away with it (Brooks 1).
The poem successfully employs simple and direct language to offer the reader a piercing insight into the quality of these young men’s activities: “We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June” (Brooks 1). The young men stay up late, avoid school, indulge in alcohol and “sin,” and listen to jazz music (Brooks 1).
We Real Cool expresses an authentic emotional experience of urban life as felt by disenfranchised youth; the reader understands through the language of the poem that these young men have essentially given up. Though the words “real cool” attempt to portray indifference, the final line, “We die soon,” shows that these young men do not believe in their own future (Brooks 1).
Lofty language creates an impenetrable wall in the work of Dylan Thomas, as evidenced by the lines “because their words had forked no lightning” (Thomas 1). Similarly, Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could not Stop for Death has a slightly chilly intellectualism, as evidenced by the lines “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me, The Carriage held but just Ourselves, And Immortality” (Dickinson 2).
Langston Hughes’s poem is the closest to Gwendolyn Brooks in the sense of its simplicity and authenticity, as seen in the lines “Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load” (Hughes 2). However in terms of penetrating language delivered in a simple and accessible style, the poem most suited to emotional authenticity is We Real Cool, as shown by the following lines: “We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon” (Brooks 1).
Brooks, Gwendolyn. “We Real Cool.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could not Stop for Death.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Stavros, George. “An Interview with Gwendolyn Brooks.” Contemporary Literature 11.1: (1970). 72. Print.
Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.