What poetic devices does Gwendolyn Brooks use in her poem "A Song in the Front Yard"?
Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “A Song in the Front Yard” is about a girl who, despite the warnings of her strict mother, wants to experience the other side of life—a side of life that her mother fears will get her into trouble.
As is the case with all poetry, there are a number of poetic devices at work at the same time. The above post cited alliteration, hyperbole, and personification. I would add the devices of extended metaphor, repetition, and contrast.
Like many poems that utilize figurative language, this poem is built around an extended metaphor. An extended metaphor is a metaphor that is developed over the course of several (or many) lines. Brooks’ creates the metaphor in the very first line with the words:
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
Notice how the entire remainder of the poem is concerned with what is in the “front yard,” which is where her mother wants her stay, and what is in the “back yard,” which is forbidden but where the speaker wants to go. The two yards are metaphors two different paths in life, one good and safe, the other alluring but risky and socially questionable.
Brooks also uses repetition, which is simply the act of repeating key words, phrases or images. The speaker uses the words “I want” three times in the first two stanzas:
(line 2)I want a peek at the back . . .
(line 5)I want to go in the back yard now . . .
(line 8)I want a good time today . . .
This is a simple poetic device compared to devices like symbolism, irony, tone, etc., but when it is done right it can be very effective. By repeating the words “I want” so often early in the poem, Brooks establishes the speaker’s desire to escape her mother’s protectiveness. Notice also that the lines build in intensity with each repetition. At first she just wants to peek at the back yard, then she wants to go there, and finally she reveals her desire to have a “good time,” which also exposes the idea that she is not enjoying life living according to her mother’s rules.
Finally look at the contrast between the words “weed” and “rose” in stanza 1. She says that in the back yard, a “hungry weed grows.” This expresses the spirit of the life she sees but cannot partake of. In effect, she actually is that hungry weed (this is also called an implied metaphor). What is she hungry for? The end of the poem reveals her desire to:
. . . wear brave stockings of night-black lace
and strut down the streets with paint on my face.
She then finishes the stanza with:
A girl gets sick of a rose.
This line imparts the idea that living the proper life, which metaphorically means staying in the front yard and being something socially acceptable, like a “rose”, no longer appeals to her. Putting the words “weed” and “rose” so close together helps emphasize the difference between the two lifestyles that the speaker is thinking about.
Gwendolyn Brooks uses many different poetic devices in her poem A Song in the Front Yard.
Hyperbole: A hyperbole is an exaggeration which readers are not meant to take literally. An example of a hyperbole appears in the first two lines of the text.
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life. I want a peek at the back
Here, readers are expected to assume that the speaker (assumed to be Brooks) has not literally only been in her front yard. It is meant to be taken as a symbolic statement (detailing her removal from an specific aspect, or social circle, in life).
Personification: Personification is the giving of human characteristics to non-human/non-living things. An example of personification can be found in line three.
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
Here, a rose is given the capability to be hungry (a typical characteristic given to humans).
Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound found (typically) within a line of poetry. An example of alliteration can be found in line four.
A girl gets sick of a rose.
Here, the "g" sound is repeated in both "girl" and "gets."