We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The poem “We Real Cool” from The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks is one of Brooks’ most oft anthologized poems.” We real Cool” is a condensed yet terse statement on the recklessness of youth who are like cars without brakes in the frenzy of youth. They do not anticipate an accident awaiting them in their uncontrolled life.The line :“The Pool Players. / Seven at the Golden Shovel.” functions as the subtitle of this short poem. It echoes their Big thought in their small establishment.

They do it as they perceive it to be “real cool”. For them this non-chalance is the latest in-thing and a means to grab attention. The act itself gives their ego a boost. This ego is part of a collective consciousness as the word “We “is reiterated. The unrestrained rate and haste with which they function is foregrounded in the title with the absence of the word ‘are’. They are so much immersed in action that they do not find the need for a ‘verb’ to define themselves.

Brooks has stated, “The WEs in ‘We Real Cool’ are tiny, wispy, weakly argumentative ‘Kilroy-is-here’ announcements. The boys have no accented sense of themselves, yet they are aware of a semi-defined personal importance. Say the ‘We’ softly.”

The alliteration and rhyme scheme add to the effect of the words to sink in. Also, the enjambment point to the uncontrolled alacrity of the youngsters. They call themselves “The Pool Players”. As they endeavour to identify themselves by this label in the practical world, it has no utility value. The word ‘seven’ may be used to signify unity- a sign of the seven colours of the rainbow. However, it may also have been utilized ironically, as with reference to the Bible the word ‘seven’ stands for completeness of a work.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.(Genesis 2:1-3)

God rested on the seventh day because his work of creation was complete, entire, perfect. Thus seven represents this perfect completeness and also it represents rest, as in the rest that is taken from work. It is from this same word that the Sabbath, the day of rest comes. But as well as this spiritual perfection, seven seems also to be used in another way in scripture.(

The poem refers to school dropouts who had disregarded their work and had not completed them. The title they attribute to their club “The Golden Shovel” implies transitory material glory. The word ‘gold’ also serves to illustrate the age-old adage that ‘All that glitters is not Gold” as life comes across as roseate at that particular age.

They assume pride in declaring that they had left school and were lurking around late. The poem in the first person adds to the feeling of self-obsession. The language used echoes the lack of education and the insouciance. They have a habit of striking it straight with the enemy. The monosyllabic words sound this trait. The wild life is suggested by words like ‘sin’ and ‘gin’ where gin is presumed to lead to sin. “Jazz” here refers to music and ‘June’ to the establishment. What the gang declares is that they would rather listen to music, than listen to the establishment.

© Rukhaya MK 2010

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