Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gwendolyn Brooks: The Bean Eaters

A very quiet and simple poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:


The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full
of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco
crumbs, vases and fringes.


Age and poverty and isolation? It appears at first a sad poem about two old people who seem merely to be going through the motions, waiting to die. But, in the second stanza, they are putting things away. What are those things? Do they put them in their rented back room with the "beads and receipts and dolls . . ."? Are they putting away more memories for a later day?

"Mostly Good"--Brooks capitalizes the phrase, emphasizes it this way--not great saints, but not really bad people. They are more good than bad, perhaps the best that can be said of most of us.

And then--the last stanza, "And remembering." They have their memories and those are mixed memories--"with twinklings and twinges"--as are the memories of us all. What is more, those are shared memories.

Perhaps there is more here than is visible at a cursory first glance.



Perhaps it is best simply to read the poem . . .


The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full
of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco
crumbs, vases and fringes.

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