Whose broken window is a cry of art

I always feel a little badly for Gwendolyn Brooks. Like many readers, for years all I knew of her work was “We Real Cool,” the short striking poem that gets anthologized all over the place, and that fits–for careless or superficial readers–a little too neatly into racist tropes of African American cultural dysfunction.

Don’t get me wrong–I like the poem, I think it’s got a lot going on, formally as well as in what it has to say. More so, in fact, than at first meets the eye. It’s just that it’s almost too accessible, and so invites quick dismissal. And, like any over-anthologized piece, it ends up being what this deep and multifaceted author is reduced to.

Then I started reading some of her other work, and discovered how much broader and deeper her range is than any one poem can illustrate. But one poem that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go was “Boy Breaking Glass.” It’s a gnarly poem–challenging, complex, rich in meaning and technique–and I found I had to write about it, to understand why I found it so compelling. I worked at it and let it sit and then worked at it some more, but was never satisfied. Finally I decided just to post what I had, even so. The recent events in Baltimore just make it all the more appropriate.

Here’s what I came up with.

Paraphrase

The poem is a discourse on the expressive quality and human significance of an act of vandalism, seen against the background of the political upheaval of the 1960s and 70s. It argues for the idea that even an act of destruction can be a creative act, an act of expression by a person who has been beaten down or excluded by society so that he has no other way to make himself heard. (I use the male pronoun because the title is “Boy Breaking Glass.”) The poem asks us to see the destruction as a kind of artistic statement, while at the same time not losing sight of the fact that it is destruction and therefore “terrible.” (Here I hear echoes of James Baldwin; the word “terrible” does not just mean “bad” but also “inspiring terror.” It inspires terror not, or not only, because it is violent but because of what it says about our society.) In a society which denies the existence of such a person as this boy, which treats him as invisible, it may be that his only option for affirming himself is to smash a window.

(NB: The poem is collected in Blacks, © 1987, but may have been published earlier. Regardless of its precise date of publication, the political turmoil of the preceding two decades had long echoes and were still being heard in 1987. Also that political strife is part of a much longer history of struggle, so that the poem may be understood as referring to any and all such acts, not just specifically the riots of the 60s. Nevertheless, I see the 60s and their aftermath as the immediate context. But as recent events have shown, this poem exemplifies Ezra Pound’s famous definition of literature as “news that stays news.”)

I will offer a detailed, close analysis of the first stanza and then more general statements about the rest of the poem.

The poem begins by making a statement about someone “whose broken window is a cry of art.” (Notice that this is not a question, but rather a statement that uses an old-fashioned trick of the language to leave out the noun: It means “[the person] whose broken window is a cry of art.”) It already assumes that this act of breaking glass is a “cry of art.” A “cry” because it is loud, calling attention to itself, and possibly desperate, like a cry for help; “art” because it is an act of self-expression, even a creative act of making beauty out of the violence and devastation of a life that’s been marred by poverty, by racism, by neglect.

What does Brooks tell us about such a person? I’ll come back to the parenthetical comment (“success, that winks aware…”) in a moment. She says that he “is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.” For me the easiest of these to paraphrase is “raw.” It means he’s unfinished, like an uncooked meal, rough around the edges, because he has not had the advantages that society offers to more privileged members: formal education and other opportunities. (Upper class young women went to “finishing school” to acquire the “refinement” that defined them as members of the elite. “Refined” is, in one sense, the opposite of “raw.”) It also means raw like a wound: lacerated, open, sensitive, bleeding. He is suffering.

As for “old-eyed première,” “première” literally means “first.” Someone who has “old eyes” is old beyond their years, because they have seen or done or understood more than those of similar age. It is a common observation about those who grow up amid exploitation and oppression that they see too much, become old before their time: they become “old-eyed” first, before others. More precisely, “première” means the first public presentation of a play, movie, musical piece, or other performance, suggesting that the boy is already “old eyed” at his first public appearance, the first time the public takes notice of him. Or, it might mean that his première—his first appearance before the public—has an aged quality to it, as though we’ve seen it before.

I don’t have a simple paraphrase for “sonic,” but the image captures a number of feelings: “sonic” as in “supersonic,” a metaphor perhaps for speed and power; “sonic” as in musical; “sonic” as in making a noise with the breaking of glass. Finally, as the last two lines insist, he is “ours.” Here I think Brooks is speaking both as a Black writer, reclaiming the boy for her community from the position of silence and invisibility to which society as a whole would relegate him, but also speaking for society as a whole, insisting, as so many other Black writers have done, that America cannot fully be itself until it fully embraces its Black selves.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the image (the broken-window-as-art) resonates with major trends in virtually all the arts in the twentieth-century: the fascination with destruction as a principle of creation. The opening line deftly conflates these two very different types of destruction, and in so doing calls attention to a hypocrisy or double standard that lies at the heart of our collective life: in a different context, the vandal would be celebrated as an artist.

So much for the main statement of the first sentence. What about the parenthetical remark (“success, that winks aware…”)? I’m still working on this, but I see a couple possibilities.

Suppose for the sake of argument that “success” refers to the “cry of art.” By transforming a mere act of vandalism into a “cry of art,” the boy succeeds in transcending the conditions of his existence, much as any art is said to do for the artist and/or its audience. Or, to put it another way, the success comes in transforming, through an act of will, the broken window into a cry of art.

What of “winks aware”? When I read this, I often hear it as “blinks awake.” That is, one way of reading it is as a description of a process of awakening, or coming to awareness, helped along by the visual image of the broken window as suggesting a winking eye.

This act of vandalism or art comes into awareness “as elegance,” which is to say, as the grace and poise required to transform destruction into creation, rubble into art.

Perhaps the dominant meaning of a wink is to acknowledge tacitly that which is apparently overlooked, to be complicit in the maintenance of a secret. What is the “success” acknowledging, what is it “aware” of, slyly admitting to while seeming not to? Plausibly, it is those same conditions, the intolerable reality that has driven the boy to this act. The cry succeeds and in doing so both denies and acknowledges that reality. It denies the reality of the boy’s social context because insofar as it succeeds, it becomes detached from, and, at least to some extent, even opposed to that reality, if only by virtue of its success in (virtually) transforming it.

We might say too that the “treasonable faith” is faith in the values of a certain view of art: self-expression, rebellion, transcendence, turning the ugly conditions of our lives into something beautiful and noteworthy. It is “treasonable” because the boy, by insisting on those values for himself, is a traitor to the society that prefers him silent, invisible, and abject. Here I hear echoes of the grandfather in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man:

“I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open. … Learn it to the younguns,” he whispered fiercely; then he died.

This is treasonable faith in the values that our society hypocritically professes.

But as soon as we talk about “success” we are flirting with society’s values—the very society that wants to erase the boy breaking glass. Perhaps the poem is saying that as soon as you call the broken window “art” you’re labeling it “successful” on society’s terms. Another meaning of “wink” is to close your eyes to something, to look the other way and pretend not to see it. “The police winked at the gambling in the club.” The poem could be suggesting that when we take the broken window as a “cry of art,” we are already falsifying its true meaning: “Success” in society’s terms means pretending you don’t know what motivated the broken window; you’re only interested in half the story. “Elegance” can suggest concern—maybe too much concern—with style rather than substance, and so perhaps “success” means seeing the broken window voyeuristically, purely as an aesthetic object, without considering the suffering that led to it. A “treasonable faith” means faith in this notion of success, which betrays the experience that created it, the boy’s suffering. (This is the paradox that hip hop continually struggles with, in the perennial injunction to “keep it real,” the constant demand and struggle for an authenticity defined in terms of its opposition to our usual social markers of success.)

I’m not entirely confident about these interpretations. But I think the poem is hinting at a suite of meanings in this general area, including ones that may contradict each other.

“Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament” implies that the boy is both “beautiful”—that his creative destruction, and the part of himself that it expresses, are valuable and worthy of our attention—and a “flaw,” because there is clearly something wrong when one needs to destroy other people’s property in this way. It’s not so much that he is flawed as that he reveals the flaw, the mistake, in society. “Terrible ornament” is similar: “terrible,” as mentioned above, because of what he suggests about us, about society as a whole, and “ornament” because, however flawed he may be he is still worthy of admiration. And, at the same time, his destructiveness is the proper ornament to our destructive society, which has destroyed him. “Our barbarous and metal little man” reinforces this idea, with the image of the “metal … man” suggesting, perhaps, a robot or someone encased in armor, protecting himself because he is “raw” from the treatment he’s received. He is also “barbarous” by society’s standards because he is “raw” in the other sense, unfinished, not “refined.”

In the next stanza the boy speaks for himself, and it’s fairly straightforward: he tells us that his destructive impulse is really creative, and that it’s destructive because he has been denied the opportunity to create something more positive or acceptable.

The boy is “full of pepper,” hot and spicy, a metaphor perhaps for his fiery spirit, and “light,” something we typically associate with beauty and wisdom. “Salt” is flavor; “night” is mystery, maybe adventure, maybe the void out of which all creativity emerges; “cargoes” implies he’s full of goods, things worth having. The images play with contrasts of black and white (salt and pepper, light and night). More on this below.

Then we have more of someone, perhaps the boy, speaking. First he offers a word of caution (“don’t go down the plank,” etc. I’m still working on this part—walking the plank, of course, and the sense that it does lead to a sudden drop if there’s “no extension”), then a statement about how—especially for someone in the boy’s position—we are all alone, and must deal with our suffering and struggles on our own. “Fidgety revenge” is, perhaps, revenge for what society has done to him, though “each” implies that at some level we all experience some such existential erasure. As Ellison’s Invisible Man remarks at the close of his novel, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” The stanza ends with another declaration from the boy. Society has ignored him, treated him just as Ellison described, and now, by asserting himself, he has removed himself from that position of invisibility.

Not sure about “the only sanity is a cup of tea,” but it seems to be contrasting a very peaceful, domestic, everyday image with the image of the destruction of the “boy breaking glass,” suggesting that we, and the boy, need this kind of homey experience as an antidote to his rage and violence. It may also indicate that a peaceful social encounter, in which the boy is treated as a guest rather than a criminal, is the solution to the problem he represents.

“The music is in minors” has a triple meaning, perhaps: First, music in a minor key is often felt to be mournful or ominous, like the event of the poem and what it portends; second, this is about a “boy,” a “minor,” not yet an adult and yet already “old-eyed” from too much suffering; third, it’s about those whom society considers “minor,” unimportant.

From there we are reminded that the experience of suffering is a lonely experience, each person experiencing their own “weather,” their own emotional condition, different from what others are experiencing. Both this and “each to his grief, each to / his loneliness and fidgety revenge” speak to the existential wounds that come from being forced to endure the contradictions at the heart of our collective experience. But Brooks’ deliberately universal language reminds us, again, that this really means everyone, not just the boy—not just those who are ignored until their acts of self-assertion attract society’s horrified attention.

Next the boy speaks again, condemning society for stripping him of his most intimate possession, his identity, and asserting that his destructive act is all he can do to assert and affirm himself in the face of such monstrous treatment.

In the final stanza the poem returns to its original elliptical syntax. We should read the opening line as “[The person] who has not Congress,” etc. All these are examples of power and privilege: lobster is a proverbially expensive luxury food, “luau” is a kind of feast or celebration, the Regency Room is a typical name for a luxury suite or dining hall, and the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of national pride that a boy like this cannot claim as his own. (Remember that the poem comes out of the struggles of the sixties, and particularly the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, which were responses to the fact that America was still denying Black people their liberty even 200 years after the Revolution.) The person who does not have all this power and privilege, the poem says, “runs.” He cannot stay where he is, he must run—run away, perhaps, from the police; run to catch up to those who have left him behind; run to escape the conditions of his life; run simply to release the pent-up energy of anger at his oppression.

The poem goes on to call the boy several things: an “amalgamation” is a mix of different parts, and he’s “sloppy,” or he’s seen as “sloppy,” because he doesn’t have the advantages of more privileged members of society—he’s “raw” and unrefined. Another reason why he “runs,” then, is because he’s “sloppy”—he runs like paint or something spilled, unable to be contained within the boundaries that confine him. Society considers him a “mistake,” and his present condition, reduced to breaking windows for his only possible self-expression, is a mistake too.

Then Brooks throws in “cliff,” a startling image that on the one hand continues this train of thought—a “cliff” is the site of disaster, if you run or drive or fall off of it. But on the other hand it associates the boy with an imposing natural phenomenon, one that has grandeur, power and beauty. The last three images continue this double line of thought: “hymn” is a song of praise or worship, bringing out the sacred quality of this despised and forgotten boy. “Snare” is a trap, something to watch out for (though it also makes me think of “snare drum” and so reminds me that the boy is “sonic”). The boy is dangerous, because society has made him this way, and he will “trap” you if you make the mistake of looking at him as society does. An “exceeding sun” is a star, a cosmic source of light and heat, something we cannot look directly at and so beyond our power to completely comprehend.

Finally, a word about the word “boy.” This is a politically charged term, thanks to its use by white supremacists to disempower and emasculate Black men. But at the same time it counters another trope in the discourse of white supremacy, that of the Black man as an overpowering monster. By speaking of the rioter as a “boy,” Brooks is asking us to see him as young, vulnerable, not yet fully matured, deserving of nurturing care and concern—all at odds with the racist stereotype of the “thug” that is typically deployed in the aftermath of these events.

Technique

Part of what makes the poem so effective, beyond the simple statement of its idea, is the combination of various poetic techniques Brooks uses to shape the idea. Among these are her imagery (physical description or appeals to any of the five senses), lineation (the structure of the lines) and rhythm, the sound textures (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance), and the division of the poem into stanzas (groups of lines set off from others). I will say a little about each of these except the last.

Imagery

Brooks offers a complex variation between concrete imagery and abstract ideas. The concrete images tend to be either visual or auditory, though with a few other types.

The initial image is visual: the broken window. But Brooks immediately adds a sonic element with “cry,” initiating a series of auditory images that call our attention simultaneously to the sound the window makes when breaking, the sound of the boy (both crying and speaking), and the sounds of the poem itself, which I will discuss below. A series of visual images structures the remainder of the stanza, a number of which are also “visual” in referring, directly or indirectly, to eyes and other things associated with vision: “winks,” “old-eyed,” and of course the window itself. Eyes, as the cliché has it, are the windows to the soul. The window breaking can be seen as a “wink,” the eye closing. One meaning of “raw,” as noted above, has a strong visual dimension, the angry red of lacerated flesh. “Ornament” is a non-specific visual image, evoking Christmas tree ornaments, hood ornaments, architectural ornaments, and others as each reader is inclined. “Metal little man,” while predominantly visual, also, under the influence of “cry” and “sonic,” hints at the sound a metal man might make—when struck, for instance.

In the next stanza, the juxtaposition of “note” and “hole” continues the visual-auditory nexus from the first stanza.

In the following stanza, “pepper,” “light,” “Salt,” “night,” and “cargoes” present us with perhaps the most strongly visual grouping of images in the entire poem, while at the same time invoking a wealth of cultural associations. As already noted, one prominent feature of this group is that all of it except for “cargoes” involves the colors black and white. This is the only place where the poem hints at a racial dimension to the boy’s situation, but the hint is unmistakable. “Cargoes,” when associated with “pepper,” invokes the spice trade, travel to and from distant lands, and perhaps the European and European-American tendency to look on dark-skinned people living in the tropical places where spices grow as somehow exotic or fundamentally different from themselves. Brooks is playing with associations that have both positive and negative connotations, ones that have been celebrated in some instances by other Black writers but that have also been condemned as stereotypes. She is also mixing things up in a way that suggests the boy cannot be reduced to a single meaning, a single color, a single dimension: he is both “pepper” and “Salt,” “light” and “night.” We all are hybrids, a mix of races, histories, experiences.

(While it is not strictly speaking an image, the capitalization of “Salt” deserves a mention here. You can’t help noticing that “Salt,” the white element, is capitalized, while “pepper,” the black one, is not. It is impossible not to make the connection to race, which is troubling because Brooks seems at first glance to be privileging whiteness above blackness. However, it may be that she is really commenting indirectly on the fact that American society does this, rather than doing it herself. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this so far.)

The fourth stanza has almost no concrete imagery. “Plank” is the only specific image; nearly all the other substantive terms are abstract: “grief,” “loneliness,” “revenge,” “nobody.” “Fidgety” is somewhat more concrete; it’s what we might call a kinesthetic image, appealing not to sight or hearing, smell or taste or touch, but to our sense of our own bodies’ position and motion. It makes subterranean connections to other images of movement in the poem—most importantly, “runs” in the final stanza, but also the act of breaking the window—and even more indirectly to images of sound, which is a form of movement, and which is frequently associated with the motions that cause it.

“Cup of tea” offers us a very different sort of image from most of the others in the poem, one so familiar as to be almost a cliché, but the contrast with the surrounding images wrenches it out of its easy familiarity. Coming right after “fidgety revenge” it regains some of its power to soothe and comfort after a catastrophe. “Music” is too abstract to think of as an image; “minors,” as noted above, has multiple meanings, only one of which involves an appeal to the senses, and that is indirect: music in a minor key, but what key? With what instruments?

Stanzas six and seven are similarly abstract, with little if any concrete imagery. “Weather” comes closest, but you can’t see or feel “weather,” you can only sense specific types of weather—rain, sun, breeze, frost, or what have you.

The final stanza brings back concrete imagery (“lobster,” “Statue of Liberty,” “cliff”) and combines it in a characteristic amalgamation, to borrow Brooks’ term, with a fair amount of abstraction: “Congress,” “love,” “amalgamation,” “mistake,” etc. There are also some terms that straddle the line: “luau” and “Regency Room” are somewhat concrete—we can imagine what they look or sound or smell like, based on ones we may have experienced ourselves—but also somewhat abstract, because they do not refer to one particular luau or room that has specific dimensions, colors, and so on. (Any image has elements of abstraction, since that’s how language works: “lobster,” for instance, does not specify whether it is alive or cooked, its size, its setting—plate or ocean floor—or a host of other physical features that accompany any actual lobster. The same is even more true of “cliff,” since the category it belongs to is both larger and less well defined than “lobster.” All images lie along a spectrum from more concrete to more abstract, and at some arbitrary point near the middle we sometimes draw a line and say everything to one side is “concrete” and everything to the other is “abstract.” In this case I’m drawing the line at the point on the spectrum where “luau” falls, assuming that “lobster” falls closer to the concrete end and “love” closer to the abstract end.) The phrase “exceeding sun” is an especially compressed instance of this amalgamation of the abstract and the concrete, in which “sun,” while not highly concrete, nevertheless evokes visual and physical memories of our experience of the sun, and “exceeding” is almost completely abstract.

In all, then, Brooks modulates between more and less concrete images and abstractions, with the most vivid images coming near the beginning and the end of the poem. Most are visual, though a significant minority are auditory, appropriately considering her use of auditory metaphors (“sonic,” “note,” “overture,” “music,” “hymn,” etc.) to describe the poem’s subject.

Lineation and Rhythm

A big part of what makes this poem so compelling is its rhythm, which in turn depends significantly (though not exclusively) on Brooks’ use of the line as a fundamental unit of composition.

The first stanza is nearly perfectly metrical. All but the second line can be read as the most common form of all, iambic pentameter; the second line is iambic trimeter (a line of three feet instead of five). But the entire poem is clearly not in any regular meter; by the time we get to the final stanza we’re seeing lines of just two or three syllables (“a mistake / a cliff”), while along the way we’ve encountered lines of as many as fifteen, and a number of the medium-length lines do not fit easily into any metrical pattern. Rather, Brooks is making use of the technique T. S. Eliot described in “Reflections on Vers Libre” (which I first encountered in Charles Hartman’s Free Verse, 112):

[T]he most interesting verse which has yet been written in our language has been done either by taking a very simple form, like the iambic pentameter, and constantly withdrawing from it, or taking no form at all, and constantly approximating to a very simple one. It is this contrast between fixity and flux, this unperceived evasion of monotony, which is the very life of verse (To Criticize the Critic, 185).

[T]he ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the ‘freest’ verse; to advance menacingly as we doze, and withdraw as we rouse (To Criticize the Critic, 187)

By starting with nearly regular metrical verse and then moving gradually away from it, Brooks is using the technique Eliot has described—appropriately, considering Eliot’s concern with fragmentation both as theme and as formal device. We can read the shattering of the traditional verse form as an analogue of the window’s shattering; both, in turn, can be seen as metaphors for the social fragmentation or shattering that the vandalism and the poem reveal.

Most of the lines in the poem are end-stopped: they end where a clause or phrase ends. In most cases this is visually apparent from the punctuation: out of 27 lines, 21 end with either a period, a comma, or, in one case, a parenthesis. Only one line is obviously enjambed—that is, breaking up a tightly bound syntactical unit, such as a preposition and its object: “Each to his grief, each to / his loneliness and fidgety revenge.” Two others create pauses in the natural flow of the syntax, but in ways that are harder to pin down: “Success, that winks aware / as elegance, as a treasonable faith,” and “each one other / is having different weather.” Both of these lines owe more to their wrenching of ordinary linguistic patterns, than to the effect of the line break alone. The remaining three lines are all at the start of a stanza, and each one, while unpunctuated, ends where a syntactical unit ends: “Whose broken window is a cry of art” is a noun phrase that acts as the subject of the sentence; “Full of pepper and light” is an adjectival phrase separated by a conjunction from its companion phrases, and “Don’t go down the plank” is a complete independent clause.

And yet, somehow, this poem has a much more varied and, I would say, jagged or “fidgety” feeling than many poems with a similar proportion of end-stopped lines. This is partly the result of the variations on traditional meter, and the variations in line length. As already noted, some lines fit comfortably in the familiar rhythms of iambic pentameter. Others have the longer, looser rhythms of much ordinary speech: “Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.” Others combine these effects: “‘It was you, it was you who threw away my name! / And this is everything I have for me.’” Both of these lines can be read as iambic pentameter, though the trisyllabic substitutions (using three syllables where the meter normally has two) in the first line make it looser than the ten-syllable line of strictly observed pentameter. And still other lines have the staccato, punctuating effect of much free verse: “A mistake. / A cliff. / A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.”

But even this only crudely and incompletely accounts for the jaggedness or fidgetiness. Another aspect of Brooks’ rhythmic technique is her variation in the speed and texture within the individual lines. Take the last three lines. “A mistake” builds briefly with two quick taps, like eighth-notes in a march, and ends emphatically on the stressed second syllable of “mistake.” “A cliff” is even more abrupt—fittingly, given its image. But the final line (“A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun”) draws things out, while retaining much of the tension that the previous two created. Part of the tension is due to the fact that, like the other two lines, this is a sentence fragment—just a run of nouns, rather than completely developed thoughts. Another part is that, except for “exceeding,” every word is a single syllable, which sustains the emphatic drumbeat. But this line is more elastic too. Brooks has returned here to the iambic pentameter, and in so doing given the line a greater fluency than the previous staccato. But to fully appreciate the rhythmic effects, we must turn to the sonic texture—the way that individual sounds within the words echo and play off each other.

Sonic Texture

To start with the last line, we might begin by noting the alliteration of “snare” and “sun,” and the buried alliteration of “exceeding.” Although “exceeding” starts with a vowel, the main stress starts with an s-sound; it alliterates with “sun” and more distantly with “snare.” Another feature of the sound in this line is that quality of takeoff produced by the short, sharp first syllable of “exceeding,” followed by the drawn out “e” of its primary stressed syllable. Except for that quick catch and release of the “x” in “exceeding,” every other sound in the line is capable of being sustained indefinitely: all the consonants are liquids, nasals, and sibilants (l, r, n, m, s), not a single full stop among them. (They can run on, to use Brooks’ image, indefinitely.) This, combined with the regular iambic rhythm, goes a long way toward giving the line its unique musicality, while the majority of single-syllable words sustains the drumbeat established in the earlier, staccato lines.

Those earlier lines, in turn, have their liquids, nasals, and fricatives (the “m” and “s” of “mistake,” the “l” and “f” of “cliff”), while also, much more prominently, a cluster of emphatic stops—what linguists term plosives: “t” and “k” in “mistake,” “c” (same sound as “k”) in “cliff.” In conjunction with the short lines these sounds create a harsher, jagged feel. At the same time the echoing of similar sounds across all these lines clinches them together, creating a subliminal unity at the level of form that mirrors and reinforces the complex, contradictory unity of the thought.

Brooks makes similar use of complex sonic textures throughout the poem.

In sum: this is a remarkably complex poem in which Brooks deploys a range of rhythmic and imagistic techniques, the embodiment in sound of an equally complex and profound idea.

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