#51 “A Song in the Front Yard” (Gwendolyn Brooks)

“A Song in the Front Yard,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, is a famous anthology piece of great energy. The theme is danger, as in “The Steeple-Jack” or “The Armadillo,” but here the danger is deliberately courted by the speaker. She seems impelled by what Edgar Allan Poe called “The Imp of the Perverse.” Success, in her society, and particularly for a young woman, black, and middle-class (or at least with middle-class aspirations), depends on never putting a foot astray. But all the fun of life seems to consist in straying.

I continue to be amazed (because unless at some deep unconscious level, I didn’t plan it that way) that so many of these great poems depend on flower imagery or flower metaphor. In Brooks’s poem, weeds and roses become shorthand for back yard and front yard, danger and safety, libido and self-control. The binaries become a kind of system of metaphors, corresponding to one another, where to think about any of the pairs is to think about the rest.

The form of the poem is like that of Frost’s “After Apple-Picking”: lines of different lengths and rhythms, with frequent end-rhyme. But it’s also a colloquial poem. The speaker is educated; her native tongue is Standard English. But along with the stockings and the weeds and the back yard, she wants to play with a non-standard dialect that she finds more lively and exciting.

But does she really want to walk on the wild side, or does she merely want to play? “I’d like to be a bad woman,” she says, but the tone is still hypothetical. Poetry provides vicarious experience. Are most of our desires to pursue more dangerous experiences essentially vicarious? Maybe all poets, and lovers of poetry, are front-yard people longing for an evening “down the alley.”

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25 responses to “#51 “A Song in the Front Yard” (Gwendolyn Brooks)

  1. I liked this short and simple poem. Everyone at one point in their lives felt just like that little girl. Sometimes parents and or society don’t allow us to do the things that we want to. A mold is created by them in which we are supposed to fit in. When we don’t we are frowned upon. For this little girl a quarter from nine pm is when she must end her day while the rest of the children of the block keep playing if they want. When a person is denied the things that he or she wants ot do it is only a matter of time when they themselves will reach out and get them. Structure was inbeded into us by our parents and society. Life becomes a routine after a while and people crave a change. Crave for a walk on the wild side just to know that they are still alive. I don’t think that she wants to become a different person . I think that she just wants a little change. Perhaps she sees herself as the outcast compared to the rest of the children of the block. Different from what her parents advise her.

  2. I think this speaker in this poem is flirting with the “wild side.” People crave a break from the monotony of their everyday lives. The speaker of the poem admits she has stayed in the “front yard” all of her life. Good girls always seem to have a yearning to want to go “bad.” I can imagine that being a young girl always expected to lead a life that is rigid and conformed to what her mother deems right would eventually want to rebel against it. Little girls like to be prim and proper but there comes a time in a girl’s life when that gets boring. I don’t believe that the speaker wants to become a “bad woman” to the full extent. In the beginning of the poem she says that she wants “a peek.” She seems tentative about fully committing herself to being bad. She probably wouldn’t be able to do so without thinking of her disapproving mother. She mentions her mother twice in the poem which leads me to conclude that the speaker of the poem has a very close relationship with her mother. The mother no doubt has plans for her daughter to become a respectable member of society. Her mother would probably be horrified that her daughter would ever socialize with the “charity children.”

  3. But does she really want to walk on the wild side, or does she merely want to play? “I’d like to be a bad woman,” she says, but the tone is still hypothetical. Poetry provides vicarious experience. Are most of our desires to pursue more dangerous experiences essentially vicarious? Maybe all poets, and lovers of poetry, are front-yard people longing for an evening “down the alley.”

  4. A Song in the Front Yard

    My first thoughts toward the poem while sitting in class seem to only have relevance contrary to what the author wanted to become as a result of deep desire to stray from her teachings. I realized in my life that what we want to become isn’t always the example that we’d like to set for children. I thought about apartment living and how the speaker only experienced a front yard life. Meaning that she grew up not having an actual house to call home and living conditions would be considerably different if you were to walk into a wealthier household. As far as a backyard lifestyle, poor people that live less fortunate would love a house with a dream backyard with the kids in better neighborhoods and able to play without danger. Eventually I felt different about the poem which became contrary to people who live in poverty yet have the desires for a better life. In reality, the speaker seemed to live a moral life with the imbalances of worldly desires. She happened to want a good time doing the things that we’re disciplined not to do. “A girl get sick of a rose” reveals her bad side and the thoughts that would make her want the things that would take her out of her “perfection” revealing her inner mask and a more preferred self image. In other words some women don’t want to always fall for the good guy and live happily ever after. She could have implications to be with a man who may not have had a proper childhood and a strong education. We don’t know if she was bold enough to actually indulge in a more disobedient lifestyle. So hiding these feelings and fighting these feelings could lead to revelation. Either she’ll go on fighting inward desires to be the bad girl she was taught not to be or intended not to be, or she’ll step outside the box to find out if those desires were worth the stress.
    Mr. Morris you asked, “But does she really want to walk on the wild side, or does she merely want to play?” In this lifetime, only time will tell if our desires get the best of us. The poem doesn’t actually reveal if she decides to walk on the wild side and play a little. So we have the idea and find out that it’s a definite possibility and if she doesn’t do some of the things she occasionally hopes to squander into, then her fate didn’t need the access behavior. “I’d like to be a bad woman,” she says, but the tone is still hypothetical. Poetry provides vicarious experience. Are most of our desires to pursue more dangerous experiences essentially vicarious? I believe that if and when we do in fact decide to explore the very things that exploit truth in our life, it could definitely be shocking to us and to the people that eventually find out. Maybe sometimes we don’t realize the danger in the choices we make and those decisions could end up being life lessons. Eventually, disobedience could be lessons for wisdom to move forward without hesitating to make great choices.

  5. The message of this poem is clear and easy to understand. As much as I enjoy reading poems that make you wonder what the speaker is trying to get across to the reader, I must say I prefer reading poems that are more direct. I also, enjoyed reading this poem because it’s them is danger. Things that are dangerous are appealing. I believe that is why many deliberately do the wrong thing, even when we know what the consequences will be. It think it’s part of human nature. When you look at the way babies behave you see it clearly. When you tell a baby they cannot have something that becomes the object they want the most. For me, it’s an everyday struggle not to “wander on over to the bad/dangerous side.” I grow tired of doing the safe or right things. It seems as though the speaker comes from a “good” family that might just be living in a bad area, in which case she would be considered an outcast. It’s never any fun being an outcast, so perhaps it’s not only the change of her norm that entices her but also the wanting to be part of the norm in the neighborhood she lives.

  6. I found this poem interesting because the poem describes how the front yard is “picture perfect”, and the back yard holds the truth. This poem also reminded me a little of “We wear masks”. The way I compared the two was how the front yard is the mask of what is on the inside or the back yard.
    I think the speaker is more intrigued by what is on the other side, she thinks she wants that or she does but just for a little while and not forever, the reason being her mother always restraining her. Maybe she wants to break the restraints but only temporarily, so she can experience all that and then be back in her safe zone. Another thing I found interesting was that this poem talks about her growing up, her thoughts from when she wanted to go out and play with the charity kids to wearing “brave stockings of night-black lace”.

  7. During the class discussion, it was said that the front yard was a metaphor for conformity; it was well kempt, and what people see first. The rose was mentioned to stand for perfection, and “a girl gets sick of that…” The little girl in the poem seems as though she wants to experience something different than she ever has before; whether that be “merely playing, or taking a walk on the wild side,” I’m not sure.

    It really seems to me as though this is a little girl who is looking at something that is different, doesn’t really have any idea about what is going on, and is curious. She keeps mentioning “going to the backyard to have a good time,” but yet never seems to cross the line and actually attempt to do so. It seems almost like a dangerous fun, which is a good plan in theory until it is put into action. She could possibly be scared of a fish-out-of-water experience, and perhaps that is why she hasn’t made an attempt, or it could be the fact that her mother is holding her back, “sneering and telling her that they are bad people,” so she chooses to obey.

  8. This poem reminds me of some of my friends that have over-protective parents. Growing up, I noticed that some of my friends weren’t allowed to do some of the things that I could do. They couldn’t watch all of the movies that I could watch; they couldn’t stay up or stay out as late as I could. They couldn’t do a lot of things that my parents let me do. Their parents would make remarks similar to that of the mother in the poem, about how those with less-restrictive “boundaries” would get into trouble or somehow amount to less. I remember some of those friends expressing strong distaste with those “boundaries,” and they always said they couldn’t wait to get away from home.

    As we grew up and went off to college, and our parents weren’t able to control everything that we did, I watched what happened to my friends whose parents were very controlling. A few did just fine, but many were overwhelmed by the new freedom they had found at college, and wound up getting into a lot of trouble. Some dropped out of school, and some got involved with drugs and now have criminal records that will follow them for the rest of their lives. For some of them, their parents’ predictions about those who had a “less than conservative” lifestyle wound up coming true.

  9. A song in the front yard expresses a young girls yearning to experience the other side of life or see what the back yard is really about. Life in her world has been perfect. She wants to experience what her mother has been keeping her from with so many questions that have become desires. Have fun smell something different besides a rose; hang out past nine with the charity children. There is more to life than just the front yard; it is the back yard that appears to be better with freedom. Being held back from anything causes a person in becoming curious and eager in doing the opposite of what they are being held back from. Gwendolyn Brooks being a young [at the time] African-American in a middle class home is given a chance her mother felt to have a better life if she is kept in the front yard and not experience the back. Other people of her kind such as skin color will one day be placed in jail or becoming a bad woman. We are not always a product of our environment, good or bad. Where we end up in life is sometimes a decision we make based on life experience, morals, values, education, background, etc. In Proverbs it states train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Though we search for purpose and our place in life, it is done with wisdom and direction from a person that expressed hope for our future.

  10. This poem by Gwendolyn Brooks is easy to understand unlike some of the poems that we’ve gone through. I get the idea from this poem that the speaker is one who’s from a wealthy family; and also of the Caucasian race. It feels like she–the speaker–has been kept in this world of confinement where she’s not able to be free or interact with other kids; and she desperately wants to be free. She wants to express herself and do things that she’s never done. So when she talks of the front yard, I think it represents a social class or a wealthy environment; while the back yard represents lower classes and less attractive environment. Also I get the feeling that the speaker’s not happy with her life and she’s desperate to change that feeling. She expresses it by saying things like, ” I want to go in the bac yard now,” and ” I want a good time today.” I feel like this poem applies to some people in life today that just want to be free and be themselves; the “front yard” in their cases may not be a “perfect world, it could be an addiction or depression, and so on. I also don”t think that the speaker really wants to walk on the wild side but she does want to live in a less-perfect world–which is what I think the “wild side” is.

  11. WOW, what a great poem. While reading this particular poem, I felt as much a part of it as the writer herself. I grew up in the Midwest so I can see the small front yard and the fenced in back yard with the alley that separates my street from the other street. My mind ran back to “We wear the Mask” because the author speaks of how the back yard is rough and unintended with hungry weeds while the front is a rose. Many of us keep our front yards well manicured because it is we want people to see while our back yards suffer. This young girl has a desire to remove her mask and dabble in the back yard. As I remember it, our alley was rather dirty and sleazy. It was where all of the stray dogs, cats and rodents hung out. I can imagine that she just wanted to see what it was like to be a part of that environment because we all know “the grass is always greener…”. Obviously she has addressed this with her mother who is attempting to steer her away from that life style. The child though, thinks that she can handle it. Who knows, maybe she can.

  12. This poem reminds me of my thoughts growing up with a single mom. I had a million rules, chores, and other responsibilities for someone so young that I did not get to enjoy a “norm” childhood. My mom didn’t allow me to watch movies with sex, drugs etc she watched the music I listened to and who I associated with. She would always say watch the content you let in your life or you will become it. At that time I could careless I would rather be at the parties, then at every single church service, or deep cleaning the house. I always looked at situations and would say man if only I could only do this and only do that like it was going to dramatically change my life if I didn’t or did . However what I did like about my mom she explained often why I wasn’t to allowed to do certain things. In reality sometimes we are not ready for certain things we think we do because we see others doing it. No I wasn’t allowed to attend the parties at that time because she new I wasn’t mature enough. No I couldn’t stay out late because I was too young and it was dangerous. We sometimes don’t think about the “why”.
    I completely understand what she was going through. Parents can be over protecting to the point were you feel like you’re in a box and you can’t move forward. You get tired of the routine and want to explore other areas. I don’t think she wants to be a bad, she wants to see what all the hype is about.

  13. firewaterboi321

    Gwendolyn Brooks was born around the turn of the 20th century in the south side of Chicago. Is this poem about rebellion or rebellion in the sense of going against the structure (status quo)? This poem gives a sense of desire for freedom against the socialization (and constraints) made on women during this time period. “A girl gets sick of a rose.” Is it always preferred to be “perfect”? Brooks expresses a desire to go where conformity is not mandated, however there is no definite sense she’s sure she’s ready to actually “strut down the street…” The language she uses is well structured and would be considered “proper,” however she tries to write in the language of the “charity children.” This attempt to speak in a “foreign dialect” shows me that she saw the idea of freedom in the world of the charity children, yet she was not quite ready to make the jump from the safety of her world into theirs. The old adage “the grass is always greener” comes to mind when I read this poem. I also wonder if she ever found the courage later in life to try the “other side”.

  14. I love this poem and it is one of my favorites on the countdown. In this poem the little girl has is not able to do what she sees all the other children doing. She wants to go out and experience the wild side of being someone her age. Her mom has raised her in a more secure home than the other children. I have experienced this. My mom did not allow me to stay out all night and get into trouble. I always wanted to know what it felt like to be in the “back yard”. I think everyone has been in this situation or knows somebody who has.

  15. I think that this is a really great poem because it’s easy to understand without having to read between the lines. You instantly get what the poem is all about, which is something that we all are familiar with which is a good girl wanting to experience being bad. In the first stanza it reads,” I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life, I want a peek at the back, Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows, A girl gets sick of a rose.” To me I understand the young lady as saying that she has been good all of her life, she stays out of trouble, does what her parents tell her to do. She wants to see what it’s like when things go wrong, and wants to know what life is like for a person who is viewed bad by society. To a certain extent I could understand someone wanting to do something different because we tend to get bored doing the same things over and over again. As humans we sometimes have to learn things by doing them. Having someone give us advice isn’t always good enough for us, we have to act upon the continuous questions in our head in order to get satisfaction. Doing this is not always a good idea because people who love you tell you things in order to look out for your well being. It is to keep you from having a bad experience in life or keep you from danger that you are not aware of. I feel like all young people go through this stage because there is so much that you want to know and get a chance to see that it causes some people to end up learning the hard way due to their decisions.

  16. “A song in the front yard,” reminds me of a struggle, which is represented by the distinction between the front and the back yard. It appears as if the girl in the poem wishes to explore the unevenness that life has to offer, yet, she is being sheltered from such a reality because her mother fears it will corrupt her. Although the girl’s mother makes such prominent views about Johnnie Mae’s future as a bad woman, little does she realize that our experiences indeed influence us, but further exaggerate the difference between right and wrong. I am almost fearful for this child, because although she stays in the front yard, she doesn’t quite experience the roughness associated with reality. What if she is never able to discern between an act that is right and an act that is wrong? Being sheltered and over protected has its pitfalls and one of them is it makes the child act rebellious. This is the case here; the girl even goes as far to say that she wants to be a bad woman.

  17. The difference in the social classes and how they are represented is what stuck me about this poem. Here you see a girl I would say about 10 years old who is tired of the same old thing. Her mother is represented as a snobby over-bearing woman. She keeps her daughter with the class of people she thinks that she should be hanging around with. The girl in this poem is tired of being kept in a social box though. She longs to go and play with the kids that play in the alley. It brings to mind the scenario of the other side of the tracks. She just wants to cross them and see what there is to see over there. In the end of her poem she states the things that her mother says the children in the alley will grow to be. You almost feel the desire of the small girl who does not know exactly what she is saying feels. She longs to be what she thinks is normal and fun. I think that everyone can agree with that. The pure desire to be normal and have fun.

  18. My favorite line in this poem is, “A girl gets sick of a rose.” Sometimes you get tired of things being so perfect. At times things can begin to feel so routine and you yearn for a change of pace or scenery. The young girl in the poem wants something different. She wants to be able to do things out of the ordinary, something her mom may not approve of. I know in class we discussed how the poem is referring to the differences between social classes and I do agree with that, but because of the mood I’m in right now I don’t want to go that deep into it. I just feel that the young girl is seeing the grass as being greener on the other side, more exciting, eventful, and she just wants to leave her front yard to experience that whole new world.
    A lot of times it seems as though people just ruin a good thing with the decisions they make, at least that’s how it looks from the outside, but since I am usually one of those people who “ruin a good thing,” I have a different perspective. When I make the choices I make it’s because I want something new, so whatever seems good to others, isn’t necessarily good to me. That is the feeling I get from the young girl. To her mother the lifestyle she lives is good, but to the young girl, there is nothing wrong with crossing a couple of lines, and going into the back yard.

  19. I am not going to try to analyze the poem piece by piece or reiterate what different parts “mean” to me. That would be insulting to your intelligence. Everyone knows what the poem says. We read it in class, and I am sure we have all reread it on our own time. Instead I am going to touch on a few points that I found to be interesting to me regarding this poem. It’s interesting that cplummer would include that quote from Proverbs 22:6. It reminds me of the way politics are entering the classroom these days without the expressed consent of the parents. To me that is like someone trying to sell your back gate to your children. Would the child know any better? Is it not the parent’s responsibility to educate the adolescent? Even if the intentions are pure I would not approve of it. But I digress; in this poem there are many different ways to interpret this facade of social class that envelops the reader. One way to look at this poem is to assume that the girl will find her way to the backyard and come right back to her home. Another speculation would be that she could leave and never quite make it back. She might intend to come home eventually, but what she finds outside of the gilded cage may suit her more than if she stayed within the decent boundaries her parents would have her stay in. One may even go so far as to say a life of freedom is better than a life of austere opportunity. Personally I would choose the life of austere opportunity. One may say we get our direction and guidance from those who care about us, and I feel that for the most part that is true. However, the choice to curse God and man, drink, smoke, do drugs, sell back gates and other illicit acts will always rest with the individual regardless of morals, upbringing, virtues, education etc. That which is taught to us from a young age most definitely plays a part, but the choice will always be there knocking at our backdoor. A man can come from the best of families and still commit the most heinous of crimes. A congressman may be a drunkard, a bishop or minister may do cocaine, a president may smoke marijuana, a prestigious businessman may murder people for the fun of it. The choice to live in our world as civil human beings is made every day. It is not something that happens because of what your parents believe, the manner in which you hold your teacup or how you dress for work. It is a matter of free will that resides within all who recognize it. Some of us go through life completely asleep. Those of us who are awake will live in total constant astonishment. It is a choice made to live in the front yard that drives our desire to succeed in what we wish to accomplish. Not everyone needs to see both sides of the yard in order to make that choice. I feel that in this poem she needs to see the world outside of the protective boundaries. Perhaps if her parents never let her out she will eventually break out. If her parents were not so stringent on rules maybe she could’ve found out for herself that the back yard is not for her benefit. Who knows? Maybe it is in her nature to be the “doubting Thomas.” When it is all said and done I am continually amazed with the way all the poems we have read this semester draw from the question of identity.

  20. I think a lot of the fun that goes on in back yards and alleys out there is better than the average game you can play in your front yard where everyone can see what you are doing. For a lot of people, experiencing life and fun in the back yard is something they can only imagine and wish for and there could be many reasons for this. One may be scared of the possible consequences, or maybe scared of the actual idea of being in the back yard where nobody can see you. I think the speaker wishes she could take her walk on the wild side but is being held back for some reason. In the poem her mother talks down about the kids that do get to experience this, maybe she doesn’t want somebody to say the same about her. After a while you get tired of the same everyday routine. She quotes, “a girl gets sick of a rose.” Its fun to change up your routine every once in a while and I think she really wants to do just that. Life if fun in the back yard, but you have to be willing to take a risk and enjoy it because it won’t always be there. A lot of people live with regret in their lives because they never did what they really wanted to. This could be another reason she wants to go on the wild side and play, to at least get a feel for it and say she did it. You can always go right back to the front yard if you don’t like what you see in the back.

  21. Finally, a poem written in Standard American English! I was particularly interested in this poem because it is written in the language that I can best understand :) The poem, unlike some others (ex: Armadillo) actually reflects its title, it is like a song sung by this young woman. We can tell by her language that she is educated. The front and back yards could mean ‘segregation’ but I will agree with the professor that it is more about class. She has class, but would like to see how it is to visit the other side and interact with children of the lower class. So how seriously should we take her? I am thinking maybe she wants to let loose and see what else is out there because she is bored with her life and always staying in the ‘front yard’, but she doesn’t really know how the ‘back yard’ is! Life always looks easier when looked at from a different pair of eyes. One can only know the hardships and struggles of a way of life when they actually live through that. This poem expresses desire, and it pertains to everyone, since we all have a desire for something. I think that since the girl is so young, she doesn’t realize the actual risk she would be taking if she did in fact decide to change her life style. What if she changed it and didn’t like it and couldn’t get accustomed to it? What if she couldn’t go back to her old way of life even though she wanted to? I simply enjoyed reading this poem because it gave me so many things to think about, and at the end, we never discovered what her choice was…

  22. I like this poem, people can relate to this poem. There are people every day that do what is expected of them or do what they are told, even though they may look out there own window and wish to run out in the backyard. Everyone wants to do what they wish, how many stop when that voice in your head says no its not right. Everyone wants to walk on the other side experience new things, in the end people want their own experiences and stories.

  23. Wow, this poem sure has a lot of comments! Normally I like to address a poem that has little attention, but this one just hits too close to home not to talk about. I was so much like this girl growing up. My parents were overprotective and I always thought about going to “the back yard”. I feel like most things in my life were decided for me because I never had the chance to learn them on my own. Often times people see a child like the speaker and think of how spoiled they are, but as you can tell from the poem, one’s life is not always as it seems to another, the way I would not understand having a childhood without rules. I think we can all see where the mother comes from and may be right about the way she pictures her daughters future, should she be let to do whatsoever she pleases. Still, I think both in the poem have valid points, the mother wants to protect the daughter, and the daughter wants to experience the world outside the front gates. Being now in college, I feel like I can easily handle the things my own mother always “protected” me from, but isn’t everyone different? I feel like the point here is self-actualization. One cannot find who they are without first finding who they are not.

  24. I really enjoyed this because like I think most people I can easily relate to it. I had extremely protective parents and it seemed to drive me to do a bit more mischievous things because of the thrill. I always enjoyed getting away with forbidden things because there is a rush in it. I really like how the author separates the front and back yard. I suspect this represents the side of us that we most want people to see for the front. The portrayal of the back yard is that it is a kind of guilty pleasure that we try and sneak by people. The other thing I really appreciated was the innocence the child has in assuring the reader that the things found back their are not so bad. She writes “But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do. ” The child does not realize the possible dangers in toiling with the forbidden and the mother seems to know of them well.

  25. In the poem “A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks, an unrefined life is what is desired. In the speakers mind, the backyard represents freedom. In line 3 of the poem she states, “Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows”. She correlates rough and untended with no boundaries. During the class discussion, it was brought up how it seems as though in the final stanza of the poem she is yearning to sink to the deepest and lowest levels of the rough world through being a prostitute. I do feel this is what she is referring to but her seriousness is what is doubted. As with any vice people want a taste of the rebellion but rarely do they understand the repercussions of a life with no boundaries.

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