The poem is fairly short is quite easy to read. Brooks uses simple, direct language to describe what her speaker is thinking. It’s relatable and engaging. The speaker’s youthfulness comes through in the first lines, and despite her perhaps misplaced admiration, it’s easy to see where she’s coming from in ‘a song in the front yard.’
Explore a song in the front yard
‘a song in the front yard’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is an interesting poem that explores the speaker’s desire to see a darker side of life.
The young speaker begins by comparing her front yard to the life she’s living and her backyard and the adjoining alley to the kind of life she wants to experience. She’s jealous of the freedom the charity children have. It’s something she’d like for herself, even if it does come with implications of future crimes and bad behavior. Her mother doesn’t approve of these kids, but that doesn’t deter the speaker from dreaming about a life as a “bad woman.”
You can read the full poem here.
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
A girl gets sick of a rose.
In the first lines of ‘A Song in the Front Yard,’ Brooks begins by creating a metaphor using the front and backyards of a home. The front is clean, safe, and expected while the back is described as “rough and untended and” where “hungry weeds grow.” The speaker has spent her whole life playing it safe in the front yard. Now, she wants to see another side of life and step into the backyard. At some point, she notes, “A girl gets sick of a rose.” This powerful and memorable line suggests that even the most beautiful things become boring over time. Everyone has an urge to see something darker, surprising, or even frightening.
I want to go in the back yard now
I want a good time today.
In the second stanza, the speaker says that she’d like to explore the backyard and maybe even step out of her yard and go “down the alley.” There, she might run into people from different walks of life. She specifically mentions the “charity children,” or those who are taken care of by organizations and do not have a traditional home life.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).
The speaker celebrates the “fun” the charity children have that she doesn’t get to participate in. Her mother doesn’t approve of them, but the young speaker continues to defend the people she’s met. She doesn’t care that her mother thinks “Johnnie Mae” is going to grow up to be a “bad woman” and that George is going to go to “Jail soon or late.” These things either don’t truly register as “bad” in her mind, or she truly doesn’t care about what these children get up to or what their futures hold.
But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.
In the final stanza, readers can find a great example of anaphora. The word “And” begins in three of the four lines. The speaker thinks it’s “fine” that these children behave the way they do. In fact, she admires them. She’d like to step into their shoes and feel what it’s like to be a “bad woman, too.” She’s tired of being good and tired of roses, as the first stanza said. She’d like to dress up in black, wear makeup on her face, and “strut” down the streets. This way of rebelling is evocative of a kind of life that the speaker’s mother certainly doesn’t want for her daughter.
Structure and Form
‘a song in the front yard’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a four-stanza poem divided into uneven stanzas. The first two stanzas have four lines each while stanza three has nine lines, and stanza four has four lines once again. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are unified by their content and relatively similar lengths. Readers can also explore a few of the literary devices that Brooks used below.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and lines one and two of the second stanza.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “girl gets” in line four of the first stanza and “charity children” in line three of the second stanza.
- Caesura: a pause inserted in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially interesting and memorable descriptions. For example, “And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace / And strut down the streets with paint on my face.”
The tone of this poem is one of longing and curiosity. The speaker wants to know what it’s like to live a “bad” life after seeing children playing in the street. She’s tired of the front yard and wants to explore the metaphorical backyard.
The purpose is to speak about the darker streaks that everyone has within them and the excitement that a darker life can hold. The speaker doesn’t believe that the charity children are bad people, despite what her mother says. She’s interested in experiencing their way of having fun.
The themes at work in this poem include dark/light and life experiences. The speaker contrasts her own life, contained with the front yard of her house and represented by a rose, with the darker alley-based lives of the charity children. She’d like to experience the latter and uses images of darkness, like the “night-black lace” to express this.
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Song in the Front Yard’ should also consider reading some other Gwendolyn Brooks poems. For example:
- ‘the mother’ – an emotional poem that conveys the thoughts of a woman who has had abortions and regrets them.
- ‘The Old Marrieds’ – illustrates the eroding relationship of a married couple during a bustling Chicago spring.
- ‘Primer for Blacks’ – speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and the unified future that will result from that acceptance.