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The Sonnet-Ballad. by Gwendolyn Brooks. Gwendolyn Brooks. She was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 7, 1917 and raised in Chicago. She died on December 3, 2000

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the sonnet ballad

The Sonnet-Ballad

by Gwendolyn Brooks

gwendolyn brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks
  • She was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 7, 1917 and raised in Chicago. She died on December 3, 2000
  • Although her family lacked in material wealth, it was compensated by the interpersonal relationships that she formed, which is reflected in her work. (When she writes about families, she is drawing on her own experiences)
  • Her first poem was “Eventide,” which was published in the American Childhood Magazine in 1930
  • By 1934 she published over a hundred poems in a weekly column in the Chicago Defender
  • In 1943, she won the Midwestern Writers Conference Poetry Award
  • In 1945, she published her first book of poetry: A Street in Bronzeville
  • In 1950, she became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize
  • She was appointed poet laureate of Illinois in 1968
the sonnet ballad3
The Sonnet-Ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?They took my lover's tallness off to war,Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guessWhat I can use an empty heart-cup for.He won't be coming back here any more.Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knewWhen he went walking grandly out that doorThat my sweet love would have to be untrue.

the sonnet ballad4
The Sonnet-Ballad

Would have to be untrue. Would have to courtCoquettish death, whose impudent and strangePossessive arms and beauty (of a sort)Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

mike coggins please read the poem
Mike Coggins: Please read the poem

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?They took my lover's tallness off to war,Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guessWhat I can use an empty heart-cup for.He won't be coming back here any more.Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knewWhen he went walking grandly out that doorThat my sweet love would have to be untrue.

good job so far
Good Job So Far

Would have to be untrue. Would have to courtCoquettish death, whose impudent and strangePossessive arms and beauty (of a sort)Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

the speaker
TheSpeaker
  • The speaker is a woman whose lover has been sent away to war
  • She is lamenting
  • She questions her life (“Now I cannot guessWhat I can use an empty heart-cup for”)
  • She confides in her mother and asks her where her happiness has gone
the speakers attitude towards her lover
The Speakers Attitude Towards Her Lover
  • She does not believe that she will ever see him again (“He won't be coming back here any more”)
  • She believes that her lover will die (“Would have to court Coquettish death”)
organization of the poem
Organization of the Poem
  • The poem is a Spenserian sonnet
    • It has three quatrains and one couplet
    • The rhyme Scheme is:
      • a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-d-e-d-e-f-f
    • It differs from a traditional Spenserian sonnet in that lines 9 and 11 do not rhyme with 6 and 8
    • It is also a narrative of a woman who has lost her lover to war thus also making it a ballad as well hence the title
    • It is in iambic pentameter
organization of the poem10
Organization of the Poem
  • The poem breaks down into 3 sections:
    • Lines 1-4: She talks of how she feels about her lover going off to war. She mourns the fact that he will never come back and her happiness is gone. She also ponders on how her life will be from that point on
      • Now I cannot guessWhat I can use an empty heart-cup for.
organization of the poem11
Organization of the Poem
  • Lines 5-8: She accepts the fact that her lover will not be coming back to her. She says that although someday the war will be over, she knew that her love would be over as soon as he walked out the door.
    • I knewWhen he went walking grandly out that doorThat my sweet love would have to be untrue.
organization of the poem12
Organization of the Poem
  • Lines 9-14: The last quatrain and the couplet has the speaker thinking of her lover’s death. She describes Death as a woman whose beauty can cause even the most stubborn men to die.
    • Coquettish death, whose impudent and strangePossessive arms and beauty (of a sort)Can make a hard man hesitate – and change.
dominant imagery
Dominant Imagery
  • The Mother
    • Gives a sense that the speaker is asking for help from someone she looks up to
      • She beings and ends the poem with addresses to her mother
  • The War and Death
    • The cause of the woman’s problem and we usually thing of people dying in wars
    • We picture Death as another woman stealing her lover
diction and syntax
Diction and Syntax
  • Mostly simple language with a few exceptions (Coquettish)
  • The syntax is simple, straightforward and makes the poem easy to figure out literally
    • One exception is line 2
      • Left me lamenting.  Now I cannot guess
conclusion
Conclusion

“The Sonnet-Ballad” is a poem that I believe can be taken and read quite literally. Also, I think this poem is a comment on war in general and the effects it has on the women who are in relationships with the soldiers

bibliography
Bibliography
  • Williams, Kenny J. "Brooks' Life and Career." Modern American Poetry. 9 Apr. 2008 <http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/brooks/life.htm>.
  • Poets.Org. 9 Apr. 2008 <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/165>.