On the surface of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, “a song in the front yard”, is a girl who wants to play in the “back yard” and “have some wonderful fun” (10) instead of staying in the front yard, but the deeper message is not just about more fun, but about a girl who yearns to have a life she is not permitted to have. Impoverished and wealthy lead very different lifestyles; this poem infers that sometimes having it all, isn’t enough to keep one satisfied. Through the first person narrative of a little girl along with the uses of symbolism, Brooks exposes and highlights the irony of wealth.
The speaker’s tone and descriptions suggest that she is a young girl. In line four, the speaker refers to herself as a girl; the word “girl” has a connotation as a younger female. The following lines sound very demanding and childish:
I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley
To where the charity children play
I want a good time today (ll 5-8).
The words “want” and “now” define the selfish tendencies of a child.. The importance of the speaking being a young girl, comes from the fact that young children are usually ignorant to wealth and status. Young children really only want fun and enjoyment out of life. In addition, the specification of the time being “now” suggests that it must be done before it is too late, and profile status becomes eminent in determining social relationships.
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The speaker uses the symbolic front yard versus back yard to infer status. The symbolism begins on the first line of the poem where Brooks discusses that the speaker has stayed in the front yard all her life, suggesting a desire for change. On a literal level, the front yard is a place people can see from the street. It is generally inviting, orderly, and beautiful. This leads one to assume a front yard can represent order, consistency, and status on a symbolic level. The speaker is apparently bored with her life in the front yard as is made clear when she says, “A girl gets sick of a rose”(Line 4). The rose is a beautiful, rich flower; only one with money would be able to get “sick” of it. A back yard is a place that you cannot see from the street and requires an invitation. The back yard is, “Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows” (Line 3). The back yard usually is not well kept because it is unseen, symbolizing how the poor are care-free and adventurous due to not being “radar” so to speak.
The backyard is symbolically a place for the poor, and therefore it becomes a place for the ugly in society. In one sense, Brooks utilizes the back yard as a place where people hide things for example wealthy people hiding the ugly, “hungry weed” (line 3) in the backyard. But the back yard is not only seen as the physically ugly place, but it has connotations of bad people. As the mother lists the types of people associated with the back yard, she says, “That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late/ (On account of last winter he sold our back gate)” (ln. 15-16). The emphasis on back gate alongside theft and jail reinforces the hideousness and bad that link to the back yard. In addition, the word “Jail” is capitalized showing that it has importance. It suggests that if the girl goes into the back yard she will be exposed to the bad in the world.
However, in another sense, Brooks crowns the backyard as a place that the wealthy person wants to be. A sort of secret garden for this young wealthy girl as she desires to explore the mysterious freedom the poor live with. In this sense the poor children are not forced to play in the backyard they are allowed to play there; while the rich girl is chained to her front yard of responsibility and strict restrictions. When the girl voices her desire to play with the children in the backyard, the mother sneers (line 11). The mother describes how much trouble the kids in the back yard will get the speaker in, but the speaker continues to desire to “â€¦do some wonderful things” (line 9) and goes against what her mother says.
The consistent contradiction between the mother and the daughter, connect to the ignorance and tolerance younger children tend to have. In the beginning of the poem, it seems likely the speaker is a young child, but the last stanza she imagines how she wants to be a woman. She says, “And I’d like to be a bad woman, too/ And wear the brace stocking of night-black lace/ And strut down the streets with paint on my face” (ll. 18-20). This description of a woman in makeup (line 20) and black lace stockings (line 19) is of a person in the back yard, a poor person, but a woman not a child. The younger fantasizes about playing in the alley (line 6), where the woman fantasizes about “strut[ting] down the streets” (line 20). The change from a child to a woman symbolizes the transition of adolescents overcoming the segregations made by wealth.
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The rhyme scheme is constant throughout the poem except for the last stanza connecting to the change from an adolescent to a woman. The rhyme scheme established for the majority of the poem is abcc, where the first two lines do not follow an established rhyme but the third and forth form a rhyme. But the last stanza forms two rhyming couplets:
But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brace stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face. (ll. 17-20)
The words “do” and “too” connect through end rhyme, and “lace” and “face” connect through end rhyme. The consistent new pattern shown in the last stanza relates to the new relationship established for the speaker.
Gwendolyn Brook’s poem “a song in the front yard” uses the first person narrative and symbolism to demonstrate the irony and relationship between the wealthy and poor. The young speaker shows how adolescence includes ignorance by desiring to go against her mother and play in the back yard. The front yard and back yard symbolize the different life styles: the carefree, un-kept poor lifestyle of the back yard, that the wealthy narrator living “in the front yard” (line 1), envies and the wealthy people sneering (line 11) in their front yards. Brooks reinforces that ignorance leads to accepting and allows the girl to desire close the gap of separation.
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