We Real Cool, Harlem, and The Secretary Chant: An Analysis
We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks, Harlem by Langston Hughes, and The Secretary Chant by Marge Piercy are all popular poems from the twentieth century. They represent the time and the social issues of their respective eras. Each poem speaks to others in a way that evokes emotion. They are all linked together by several qualities. The poems all have a rhythm, style, and message that evoke emotions from the reader.
Each of these highly acclaimed poets have a style that is truly their own. Gwendolyn Brooks in We Real Cool uses an upbeat tone about young adults who through their real future away because they think that an education is not cool but she ends the poem with a thoughtful message that the road that they have taken leads to nowhere. She states that the lifestyle that they have chosen, will lead to an early death. It literally means that the activities that they that engage them at the moment are dangerous, but it also means that they are dead figuratively. Her message is that education is extremely important and can be the only way that someone will not end up in a dead end life.
Langston Hughes, the author of Harlem, impacts the reader through his dark and shocking style. He stresses the importance of dreams and goals in a person’s life and he does this through imagery. He paints the picture of a sore that dries crusty, runs, and stinks. The image is sickening, but he intends for it to be. He also delivers a strong message at the end of the poem. He warns society that by repressing the dreams of its minorities, they will one day have taken all that they can and they will explode.
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? (Hughes)
Marge Piercy’s The Secretary Chant deals with a strong subject in a completely humorous way. Her tone is satirical throughout the poem. She, like the other two poets, waits until the end to reveal her message that women are many times taken for granted, and lose their humanness to their jobs. She catches one’s attention through her humorous images.
My hips are a desk,
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips. (Piercy)
Each poet uses rhythm to his/her advantage. Brooks emphasizes the word We at the end of every sentence. This gives a pause in the flow to highlight the jazzy rhythm that she employs. This not only grabs attention, it highlights the word so that she is not judgmental, but a part of the lifestyle. The speaker knows what he/she is talking about because of experience. Piercy is almost musical when read orally even though it is free verse. By humorous and light heartedly presenting the nonhuman form of the secretary, she can add her point with a tongue in cheek way Hughes uses a blues rhythm in his poem to sadden the meaning of the poem. Piecy, on the other hand uses a conversational rhythm which draws the reader into
Even though all three poems have universal themes, the authors are minorities. They all show the relevance of their minority status in the poem. Langston Hughes was an African American, and most of his writings were done before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In fact he died of cancer in 1967, when the movement was in its most intense moments. Therefore, his poem, Harlem, represents the dreams of the young African American who so many times has had his dream crushed by the white society in which he lived.
Gwendolyn Brooks was not only an African American, but she was also a woman. We Real Cool is about the disadvantages of those who chose to waste their educational opportunities.
We real cool. We
Left school (Brooks)
She is keenly aware that education is the only way that an African American woman could truly better herself in the early part of the twentieth century and through her poem she shares this view.
Piercy on the other hand dedicated her life to fighting the cause of her minority status as a woman, by focusing on women’s issues in her writing. In the poem, The Secretary Chant, she shows the dehumanizing of women in the work place. In the end she recalls that she once was a whole human being rather than an extension of her job.
While these universal themes were directed toward different minorities, it is easy to identify with them if one was not a minority. Most people feel that the achievement of dreams, education , and being dehumanized is something that everyone can agree are issues no matter what gender or race one happens to be. Hughes, Brooks, and Piercy do this with their unique styles that will allow their poetry to live on through many generations.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. We Real Cool. 1959.
Hughes, Langston. Harlem. 1931.
Piercy, Marge. Secretary Chant. 1988.