Gwendolyn Brooks

(7 June 1917 – 3 December 2000 / Topeka, Kansas)

the sonnet-ballad


Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover's tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What 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 knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive 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?

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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  • Rookie Kiarra Smith (10/30/2008 7:06:00 PM)

    This is an excellent poem by Brooks. It is almost a cross between ancient language and modern vernacular. The sonnet flows nicely. Basically, the poem is about a woman who's man went off to war and her heart is breaking. It shows the worries and heartbreak that many feel when a loved one leaves. But Brooks took an interesting twist on the 8th line. Instead of saying something along the lines of 'I fear he will die', she personifies death as a flirtatious woman. She describes death as having 'possessive arms' and also 'beauty'. If the man were in serious pain and about to die, he WOULD welcome death to take him out of his misery. That is why I consider the strongest line 'Can make a hard man hesitate-and change'. This pause between the lines is quite powerful. There have been many incidents where people seem to lose their identities in horrible moments of war. They never come back as the same person. There have been many soldiers who suffer from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Brooks nicely ends with the last two lines. Excellent sonnet. (Report) Reply

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