We Real Cool

Everyone defines the notion of "cool" as something different. For some people, being cool is defined by clothes, social status, or a feeling of satisfaction. For others, being cool is challenging authority. In Gweldolyn Brooks's poem, "We Real Cool," (1960) the audience learns that sometimes appearing cool and feeling cool are two different things. Can you think of a time when you told others you were doing alright, but felt panicked or worried on the inside?

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Contents
Table of contents

    We Real Cool at a Glance

    Poem"We Real Cool"
    WrittenGwendolyn Brooks
    Published1960
    Structure A subtitle and 4 couplets, using only single-syllable words
    Poetic devicesSymbolism, diction, enjambment, alliteration, internal rhyme
    ToneAssertive, arrogant
    ThemeRebellion

    Gwendolyn Brooks, a teacher, poet, and author, was born in Topeka, Kansas. Topeka is famous for the landmark case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, in which racial segregation in schools was ruled unconstitutional, and as a teacher herself, Brooks valued education. Much of her writing focuses on black identity, solidarity, and pride. Her skill as a poet is featured in her ability to express the internal struggles of her subjects. Gwendolyn Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950, and has the distinction of being the first African-American to earn that recognition.

    We Real Cool Summary

    "We Real Cool" is a brief 8-line poem, written in 1959 by Gwendolyn Brooks, and consists only of single-syllable words. It's written in the first-person plural using "we", and it's from the collective perspective of seven youths or "pool players". By using the first-person plural, Brooks gives the rebellious youths a voice and lends the poem an element of intimacy. The subjects of the poem are speaking directly to the readers and providing a first-hand account of their decision.

    Identified in the poem's subtitle as "pool players," the individuals have little else to do during school hours—implying they are either skipping school or they have dropped out—so they spend their time at a pool hall called "The Golden Shovel." Lacking work skills and education, the players spend their time loitering, drinking, and singing. The group maintains a collected and cool persona, underscored only by the stark realization that the road they have chosen may end abruptly.

    In first-person plural point of view, the narrator tells the story using the pronoun "we." Typically, there is no defining identity, and the narrative voice acts as a member of a unified group.

    Did you know Gwendolyn Brooks began her career as a writer when she was very young? Brooks was first published in a children's magazine as a 13-year old. By the time Brooks was 16, she had published nearly 75 poems.

    We Real Cool Poem Full Text

    The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel.

    We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon."

    We Real Cool, Boy Playing Pool, StudySmarterFig. 1 ‐ The poem describes a group of youths playing pool inside a pool hall.

    We Real Cool Analysis

    "We Real Cool" is skillfully written, and the poem expresses the ignorant pride rebellious youths often exude. It addresses how damaging some decisions may be.

    "We Real Cool" Symbolism

    The subtitle of the poem, written in all capitals for emphasis, informs the reader that there are seven individuals, or pool players, at the pool hall called "The Golden Shovel." The name of the pool hall carries symbolic meaning. A shovel, a common garden tool used for digging, is associated with both life, when gardening, and death, when digging graves. A golden shovel is unnecessary and wasteful because it is just going in the dirt. The name of the hall can represent how the pool players are wasting their time, and literally digging themselves an early grave by cutting their lives short and limiting their options by limiting their education.

    Symbolism is a literary device where objects become the physical representation of ideas, emotions, or situations.

    We Real Cool, Gold Shovels in Dirt, StudySmarterFig. 2 A golden shovel, which is used to dig or bury something, is excessive, wasteful, and unnecessary.

    "We Real Cool" Diction

    The first line of the poem, and title, show the lack of education the players have. Rather than using proper grammar, the assertive tone expressed by the pool players when stating "We real cool" in line 1 reveals their ignorance. The uneducated group of pool players lacks the skills needed to communicate effectively. Their lack of education is further emphasized by their limited vocabulary. Each word in the poem is a single syllable, showing the group's limited communication skills. Therefore, the first line of the poem is ironic. The group of individuals is not "cool" (line 1), because the group is not doing as well as they say. The pool players' act of leaving "school" (line 2) has left them with limited options and a bleak future.

    The next two couplets reveal how the players spend their time. Focusing on the verbs shows that the players "lurk" (line 3), "strike" (line 4), "sing" (line 5), and "thin" (line 6). The acts of lurking and striking indicate the players are mischievous. Although they "sing" (line 5), which can indicate happiness, they are singing of "sin" (line 5), showing again that they may be spending their time committing offenses. The succinct verbs and casual diction Brooks employs reveals the limited communication skills, minimal opportunities, and bleak future the players face. The succession of short verbs visually represents the idea the pool players have sold themselves short and given up before understanding their true potential.

    A couplet is two lines of verse within a poem grouped together. It is usually indicated by visual blank spaces on the page, but can also be identified by a common topic, meter, or rhyme scheme.

    How would your paper analyzing diction in "We Real Cool" reveal one of the messages you have identified in the poem?

    "We Real Cool" Enjambment

    Brooks's use of enjambment, or the continuation of a sentence from one line to the next without punctuation, pushes the reader forward through the poem and creates an incomplete feeling. Much like the players' incomplete education, or lack of direction, the enjambment in lines 1-7 leaves the audience searching for an ending. The subjects of the poem have lost their way, and the structure of the poem mirrors that lack of direction by providing incomplete thoughts through enjambment.

    "We Real Cool" Alliteration and Internal Rhyme

    The alliteration throughout the poem with phrases like "lurk late" (line 3), "strike straight" (line 4), "sing sin" (line 5), and "jazz June" (line 7) phonetically link ideas together and gives the poem a musical appeal. Coupled with the internal rhyme such as "cool" and "school" (lines 1-2), "late" and "straight" (line 3-4), "sin" and "thin" (lines 5-6), and "June" and "soon" (lines 7-8) in each couplet, the structure creates a feeling reminiscent of jazz music—a genre that African-Americans can easily identify with.

    Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound in two or more words on the same line or near one another in a verse.

    Internal rhyme is when words in the middle of a line rhyme with words at the end of the line or in the middle of the next line.

    Why do you think Brooks may have purposely made the poem mimic the sounds and rhythm of a jazz song?

    We Real Cool Tone

    The last line of the poem, "[d]ie soon" (line 8) brings the poem full circle, returning to the shovel and death. The tone shifts abruptly from being assertive and arrogant to apprehensive and somewhat disillusioned. The pool hall, "The Golden Shovel," where the players spend their days, is a figurative representation of their grave. Whether the death is figurative because the pool players lack viable options for a promising future, or a literal death where the rebellious youths continue down a path of destruction, the "golden shovel" from the subtitle proves to be a gateway to demise for the subjects of the poem. Their time spent wasting away at The Golden Shovel is leading them to an early grave, which contributes to the disillusioned tone.

    We Real Cool, RIP Coffin, StudySmarterFig. 3 With few other options after dropping out of school, the pool players foresee an early death in a literal or figurative sense.

    We Real Cool Theme

    "We Real Cool" expresses how rebellion can be both empowering and crippling. The pool players in the poem express a sense of freedom, as they have rejected a system that may not have served their needs or even welcomed them. But, they also feel worry and express a sense of foreboding toward the end of the poem, with the collective statement, "[w]e" will "[d]ie soon" (lines 7-8). Misguided youth and the uninformed decisions they make can have unintended consequences. The youth may have gained temporary freedom, but will account for their decision to leave school for the rest of their lives, however short. Their act of defiance, considering the social and political turmoil surrounding desegregation and racial discrimination during that time period, may have been necessary. However, their lack of direction, limited options, and current lifestyle, is destructive in the present and can have a damaging impact on their futures.

    We Real Cool Meaning

    "We Real Cool" is a poem about rebellion and the price people pay in order to assert themselves and fight systems that don't necessarily fit their needs. The pool players in "We Real Cool" seem arrogant, but that arrogance turns to disillusion upon the realization that the fun, or their lives, might end soon because of their decisions and actions. The pool players are just that—players in their own lives. They don't have direction, purpose, or the ability to take action for a better life or situation. They have their golden shovel—a place that is both a waiting room where they slowly waste away and the entry to their early graves. They are digging their own graves while waiting for a better life or a different option.

    We Real Cool - Key Takeaways

    • "We Real Cool" was written in 1959 and published in 1960.
    • The poem "We Real Cool" is one of Gwendolyn Brooks's most well-known pieces.
    • The theme of "We Real Cool" expresses how rebellion can be both empowering and crippling.
    • Brooks uses symbolism, simple diction, enjambment, alliteration, and internal rhyme to infuse the 8-line poem with meaning to show that some decisions can have detrimental effects.
    • The title of the poem is ironic because the pool players realize at the end of the short poem that their situation is far from ideal.
    Frequently Asked Questions about We Real Cool

    What type of poem is "We Real Cool"?

    "We Real Cool" is a short 8-line poem with internal rhyme.

    When was "We Real Cool" written? 

    The poem was written in 1959 and published in 1960.

    How does Brooks use alliteration in "We Real Cool"?

     The alliteration throughout the poem with phrases like "lurk late" (line 3), "strike straight" (line 4), "sing sin" (line 5), and "jazz June" (line 7) phonetically link the ideas together and give the poem a musical appeal.

    What is the tone of the poem "We Real Cool"? 

    The tone shifts from assertive and arrogant to apprehensive and disillusioned. 

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