The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Gwendolyn Brooks’s “First Fight. Then Fiddle” is a sonnet that advocates the use of militancy to make the environment safe for art to flourish. The poem is the fourth sonnet in the sequence “children of the poor” in the “The Womanhood” section of Annie Allen (1949) and uses the persona of a black mother whose meditations on her fears, concerns, and hopes about her children lead to, in the poet’s own words, “preachments” to negotiate the pitfalls and dead ends they would face. “First Fight. Then Fiddle” can be better understood when discussed in the context of sonnets that precede it. The second sonnet of the sequence raises a question, “What shall I give my children? who are poor” and is followed by “And shall I prime my children, pray, to pray?” Finding solace in religion or faith, thus, is one possible alternative for the children. “First Fight. Then Fiddle,” the fourth sonnet, then presents another option, a resorting to violence for self-preservation.

“First Fight. Then Fiddle” begins with the speaker commanding aspiring musicians, ostensibly her children, to prepare to fight before turning to their fiddle. The fiddle is, in fact, the metaphor for all art, and the poem is an expression of the speaker’s proffered solution to the dangers faced by African Americans during the period of rigid segregation. The lines that follow the two short imperative statements “First fight. Then fiddle” depict what...

(The entire section is 480 words.)