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the mother

the mother

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Analysis: Form and Meter

Free Verse, with Some Rhymed Couplets

G. Brooks had some real poetry skills. She wrote some butt-kicking sonnets about black soldiers returning from World War II in A Street in Bronzeville, and she wrote in tons of different poetic forms in her lifetime.

"the mother," however, is written in free verse. It has no prescribed form, and no regular meter, and its lines vary in length pretty drastically. It rhymes sometimes, but not always. The poem is not guided by form; it's more of an emotional rollercoaster.

Sure, the poem begins with a bunch of rhyming couplets:

The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet
. (3-6)

But these end rhymes don't last throughout the poem. These lines, which consider the imaginary futures of the non-existent children, are a little sing-songy, childish even. The rhymes dissipate midway through the poem, and it feels like the speaker is too deep in her sorrow to keep up with the rhyming couplets. And then when they come back, the rhymes are harsh, even deadly:

Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
(19-20)

The repetition of the word "all" in the final lines of the poem is a kind of rhyme too. But instead of rhyming "all" with another word, the speaker seems to be completely drained. The only thing that she has to rhyme "all" with is itself:

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.
(30-32)

Free verse allows Brooks to deploy rhymes—and to hold back on rhymes—whenever she wants. And the rhymes become a way for us to track the speaker's emotional state throughout the poem. Sometimes she seems hopeful or resolved, and the rhymes flow freely. Other times, she's doubtful, confused, or just plain exhausted. The (lack of) rhymes reflect that, too.

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