Why is each word in the poem "We Real Cool" a single syllable?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Brooks employs a few different strategies to establish a rhythm in the poem and control the pace. The pause between two words is longer than any pause between two syllables of the same word. Therefore, by using only monosyllabic words, Brooks slows the pace at which we read the poem...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Brooks employs a few different strategies to establish a rhythm in the poem and control the pace. The pause between two words is longer than any pause between two syllables of the same word. Therefore, by using only monosyllabic words, Brooks slows the pace at which we read the poem aloud. Next, by finishing every line except for the last with the word "We," she compels us to pause at a rather awkward moment. Usually, when speaking, we would say,

We real cool
We left school
We lurk late

and so on. Instead, Brooks forces us to say, "We real cool. We," and then a pause. "Left school. We," and then a pause. "Lurk late. We," and then a pause. This is another way that she establishes the poem's expected rhythm—what we think we are going to hear as the poem progresses—in addition to the use of monosyllabic words. Finally, when we reach the final line, we see that it is the only line in the entire poem that deviates from the established "We" pattern. The culmination of the sound of two monosyllabic words and the missing "We" that we expect to hear helps to give this line a sense of finality, even the feeling that it is cut short, so to speak. It feels short because we are waiting for the "We," though it makes perfect sense why the "We" never comes: this lack, and the one-syllable word choices, emphasize how quickly death can come. When we are young, we may think that we have all the time in the world—signified by the slowness of the monosyllabic choices and the long pauses after the line-ending "We"s—until we eventually realize that we don't.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team