What shall I give my children, Gwendolyn Brooks

Poesía. Estados Unidos. Análisis

  • Enviado por: Dark Rosaleen
  • Idioma: inglés
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Análisis de Texto Literario - “What shall I give my children?” By Gwendolyn Brooks.

When facing such a fixed poetic piece as a sonnet, one has to seriously consider the relation between its form and its meaning as something more than closely related. Its fourteen verses corresponding to either three quatrains and a final couplet or two quatrains and two tercets act as spine for a similar division in the argument.

Starting with its form, and into the form, its rhythm, paying attention to the rhyme, corresponds with the scheme abba abba cdcd ee. This organization of the rhyme leads to the conclusion that the aim of the author was to create a three quartets sonnet with a final rhyme. These kind of sonnets are called hybrid, because the first half, the two abba quartets correspond to the English or Shakespearean kind of sonnet, while the third quartet and the final rhyme are used in the Italian or Petrarchan style. Great poets like Donne used this hybrid sonnet, which might mean that the labelling of the sonnet by critics or audiences have been flexible and have not been strictly tight to those two classifications mentioned.

This rhyming scheme is capital in the later interpretation (or at least analysis) of the poem, because one of the most genuine characteristics of the sonnet is the close relationship of the formal and the argumentative aspect of it. So, without even reading the poem closely yet, the reader can positively expect it to have three differentiated tones or aspects of the argument in each of the quartets, and a final conclusion or reflexion in the last two verses. Still, this conclusion tends to appear in the middle of the three quartet, as this is the case, around line 9, with a connector like but, and or then, to mark the turn in the tone. This line is called volta, turn in Italian.

Taking a close look into the first quatrain, it could be described as a presentation of the matter she is going to talk about. It is a starting point, an explanation of her present situation or view. In the first line there is a rhetoric question together with a description which continues along the whole quatrain. It is important to mention the fact that the so-called poetic speaker (who does not necessarily to be the author) has, in this case and in sonnets in general, a particularly intimate tone that makes the reader have the feeling that he is having access to inner thought or feeling through those verses. In this case, with this first question deliberately directed to the reader, the poetic voice is involving him into the subject. There is a description of those children who are evoked from the beginning and who are the leitmotiv of the sonnet. In that description, the language is shocking by contrast, like sweetest and lepers and velvet and velour. The reader is acquiring their very first impression about those children in discussion. Because of the use of my, in line 3, it could be inferred that the voice is the mother, real or metaphorical, of those children.

The second quatrain starts vigorously with a but, a connector which marks a turn in the tone, the subject or the development of what is being told. It refers to the third verse in the first quatrain, where the author explains how their children are outcasts, and in this second quatrain they are said to beg to their mother for support, for a comfortable background for them. The poetic voice justifies the begging attitude of the children talking, in the next verse, about “a hand” that should be taken care of them and does, but not in the way that it should be done. I believe that “hand” is undoubtedly the hand of the poetic voice, of that mother that, facing complains of her children, shows herself impotent but in a way that the reader cannot reach to understand completely. In the second verse there is a shocking use of the adjective quasi, of Latin origin, because a noun should be expected right after it, but there is a comma, and then the noun contraband, shocking also because of the context, but difficult to relate to the previous quasi, because of the comma. Contraband is more clearly linked to the following because unfinished, giving a sense of illegality or amorality in the behaviour of the mother, as she herself expresses it. The word unfinished also brings to discussion the real nature of those children, since it is difficult to have a children unfinished physically, they could have not been properly educated or abandoned. Or maybe those children are her poems and she their mother as she creates them from nothing, more easily left unfinished without a certain verse. But referring back to that hand mentioned before, which also makes sense with the “poems as children” interpretation, she not only seems to blame herself for the situation of the children, but also describes that hand negatively by starting the last verse of the quatrain with the negative adverb less followed by certain positive adjectives like angelic (linked to the previous adjudged -line 2- and begged -line 5- in the religious connotation the three have), admirable and sure. So the poetic voice points at herself as somebody who should not be admired, something easily related to a mother and also to a poet. She also refers to herself as somebody who is not sure of what she is doing, not reliable in her role as a mother, and maybe not even reliable as a poetic voice either.

In the first verse of the third quatrain the reader confirms the suspicion about the fact that the hand is hers and continues describing herself through that hand. That hand, she says, is full with three things which should be analysed, because she mentions mode, design and device. Those three nouns are, I think in first place, vague, unspecific and certainly unrelated with what she is describing, such as the hand of a mother. They are more related to another world, the professional world, business, modernity, and for sure outside the home in which children should be taken care of by their mother. It sounds as if she were lamenting herself of having experimented motherhood in an inappropriate way, with her brain instead of with her heart. In the following verse there is the but mentioned before in which the tone of the poem changes. This quatrain is closely linked to the final couplet. In them, she explains openly her limitations and her wrong approach to her motherhood, both of which result in the pitiful situation in which her children exist. She insist in the idea that design or, as she says in line 11, plenitude of plan, are not necessarily positive for giving birth or raise either a child or a poem. She confronts grief and love by mentioning that neither of them are helpful or, I think, neither of them are the only source in which a mother or an author should support herself. Then, following this very same verse in the next one, number 13, she uses another shocking verb as is ratify, in this context, in a very powerful last couplet. From my point of view, and continuing with the interpretation of the previous verse, which is the beginning of the sentence in this verse, she is still talking about those children as her creations, this time in a more artistic way, saying ratify as to give them right, weight. The poem finishes with the end of the same sentence, with a poetic image in a very sounding verse in which children are condemned to carry a cold autumn in themselves because of the weakness of their mother.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning how argument and form suits each other to create such an artistic piece, full of strength and meaning. About the central metaphor, I tend to believe that she is referring to something non-physical, could it be poems or even something more intimate like ideology or feelings. But the treatment of the words and poetic images make me think that there is a personification of something “not personal”, rather than a poetization of real children. In an artistic period like the one we are in, post modernity, in which fixed forms have been put aside, especially in poetry, it is amazing to rediscover the sonnet as a vehicle for intimate communication between author and reader.