Sinful and Rebellious Life in We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem We Real Cool written in 1960 tells the story of a group of rebellious pool players and how they live their lives. With intricate rhymes and hidden meanings, this poem holds a meaning much deeper than its face value can show. The overarching message being conveyed in this mysterious poem is that living a sinful and rebellious life may sound exciting and “cool” but will not end well. Brooks conveys this message with her witty uses of rhyme, imagery, and metaphor throughout the brief poem.

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We Real Cool starts off by introducing the subjects of the poem. “THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEL AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL” (1588). The Golden Shovel in poetry refers to the author choosing a word (or set of words) and using that as the last word in every line throughout their poem. Brooks’ use of “We” seven times at the end of a line in this poem shows the reader that the “We” he refers to the pool players. There is also a very subtle use of metaphor here. By referring to a shovel then ending the poem with the idea of death, Brooks’ is hinting to the readers at the beginning of the poem that the characters being discussed are digging their own grave with this metaphorical shovel being used to refer to them.

The first full stanza begins by reiterating the title. The author is giving a reason as to why these pool players are cool. He first reason she gives us is the fact that they have dropped out of school. This controversial argument that leaving school would make someone cool instantly grabs the reader’s attention. However, one’s attention is also drawn towards the rhyme between “cool” and “school” forcing the reader to focus on the sound as well as the message of the poem.

The second stanza introduces a visual aspect to the poem. The imagery of a group of people “lurk[ing] late” fills the reader’s mind with darkness to coincide with the rebelliousness later introduced in the poem. One can picture a gang of people in dark clothes sneaking around town at night. They would seem scary yet also give of a sense of being the “cool” kids in town. This is exactly what Brooks’ is trying to convince the reader of. She wants them to think that these characters really are cool because she wants to shock them at the end.

The last two stanzas are what introduce the concept of rebellion into the poem. With ideas of sin, drinking, and listening to jazz, the reader is bombarded with examples to prove how these seven pool players are absolute rebels. As these characters are walking around dark streets they are committing sins or crimes while getting drunk. If someone were to come across this group of people they would be scared. That is exactly what the writer wants the readers to think of these characters. She wants them to be intimidated by how cool and dangerous they are. During the time period that We Real Cool was written, the music genre of jazz was new and considered to be a rebellious type of music. The fact that these characters listen to it proves that they must be cool since they are going against societal expectations to avoid that genre.

Finally, Brooks’ ties the piece together with the shock that catches the reader off guard and conveys the overall message that she wants to get across – that being “cool” and rebellious does not end happily. The simple phrase “Die soon” is powerful and unexpected. This is what leaves the piece stuck in the reader’s head, making them want to re-read the poem over several times to try and understand it better.

After reading each part of We Real Cool and finding hidden meanings throughout, the reader is able to see new ways in which they could incorporate hidden meanings into their own poems. This poem shows that the language of a piece does not have to be long or complicated to still be complex and intriguing. This is an inspiring poem that will teach a reader how to read more carefully and teach a writer how to write more mysteriously.

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