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By Gwendolyn Brooks

1


People who have no children can be hard:

Attain a mail of ice and insolence:

Need not pause in the fire, and in no sense

Hesitate in the hurricane to guard.

And when wide world is bitten and bewarred

They perish purely, waving their spirits hence

Without a trace of grace or of offense

To laugh or fail, diffident, wonder-starred.

While through a throttling dark we others hear

The little lifting helplessness, the queer

Whimper-whine; whose unridiculous

Lost softness softly makes a trap for us.

And makes a curse. And makes a sugar of

The malocclusions, the inconditions of love.


2


What shall I give my children? who are poor,

Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,

Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand

No velvet and no velvety velour;

But who have begged me for a brisk contour,

Crying that they are quasi, contraband

Because unfinished, graven by a hand

Less than angelic, admirable or sure.

My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.

But I lack access to my proper stone.

And plenitude of plan shall not suffice

Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone

To ratify my little halves who bear

Across an autumn freezing everywhere.


3


And shall I prime my children, pray, to pray?

Mites, come invade most frugal vestibules

Spectered with crusts of penitents’ renewals

And all hysterics arrogant for a day.

Instruct yourselves here is no devil to pay.

Children, confine your lights in jellied rules;

Resemble graves; be metaphysical mules.

Learn Lord will not distort nor leave the fray.

Behind the scurryings of your neat motif

I shall wait, if you wish: revise the psalm

If that should frighten you: sew up belief

If that should tear: turn, singularly calm

At forehead and at fingers rather wise,

Holding the bandage ready for your eyes.


Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Children of the Poor” from Annie Allen (New York: Harper & Row, 1949). Collected in Blacks (Chicago: Third World Press, 1991).

Source: Blacks (Third World Press, 1991)

  • Living
  • Relationships
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, though she spent most of her life on Chicago’s south side, whose Bronzeville neighborhood she memorialized in her poetry. She received the Pulitzer Prize — the first African American so honored — for Annie Allen in 1950.  At age 68 Brooks was the first black woman appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Later she served as Poet Laureate of Illinois, personally funding literary award ceremonies and visiting grade schools, colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals, and drug rehabilitation centers. She was devoted to encouraging young people to write. See More By This Poet

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