Gwendolyn Brooks & Houseman Gwendolyn Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Thus only innocence in Brooks' poem is in relation to the likely readers. The innocent person is the naive reader, who might hope that things could be different for the students, or who thinks that the students' lives of petty criminality and sensual pleasures seem attractive, in contrast to a middle-class existence. This is not the case, advises Brooks, stressing her theme of thwarted and ignored promise with spare yet haunting poetic brushstrokes. To fully understand the meaning of the poem, and the voices of both the poet's foresight and why the speakers sound so falsely proud of their lifestyle, the reader must appreciate the social context from which Brooks is 'coming from.'

A.E. Houseman's poem is written in a far more formal style, along the lines of a traditional English lyric. The British poet takes on the voice of a young man, who was told not to give his heart away at the age of twenty-one, and who disregarded this advice, even though it came from a wiser individual. Now, the speaker is twenty-two, and unlucky in love, regrets not taking the earlier advice. Houseman's use of irony or tension between the surface, explicitly articulated meaning and the implied meaning the poet is far more acute than in Brooks. Houseman the poet knows, presumably that twenty-two is not old and wise, but the twenty-two-year-old, after his first failed relationship feels that he is much more experienced and wise in the ways of love and the world than he was at age twenty-one. A year seems like a long time to a young person, suggests Houseman.

Houseman writes from the British tradition of letters, and makes use of archaic turns of phrase to let the reader know that he is educated, and aware of a greater poetic tradition. Unlike Brooks, who mimics the common language of the street, Houseman makes use of literary turns of phrase like "one-and-twenty." People no longer spoke in this manner when he was writing in the late 19th and early 20th century -- except in literature. Houseman humorously elevates the sense of wise experience the twenty-two-year-old feels in doing so, while Brooks takes on the voices of people who are usually ignored by the community of letters and educated people and elevates their discourse through punchy alliteration and an even more startling 'punch line' for her poem. While Houseman may expect the reader to chuckle with him and the sad sighs of wisdom of a wise twenty-two-year-old, Brooks finds wisdom even while her drop-out students 'jazz June,' as they are filled with an intimation, just like Brooks, that they will "die soon."

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