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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: May 2010

6 - Later inventions


In 1930, a thirteen-year-old aspiring writer published her first poem, entitled “Eventide,” in a magazine called American Childhood:

When the sun sinks behind the mountains,

And the sky is besprinkled with color,

And the neighboring brook is peacefully still,

With a gentle, silent ripple now and then;

When the flowers send forth sweet odors,

And the grass is uncommonly green,

And the air is tranquilly sweet,

And children flock to their mothers' sides,

Then worry flees and comforts preside

For all know it is welcoming evening.

Where Gwendolyn Brooks grew up, in Chicago, there were no mountain sunsets or purling streams, but she invented an idyll out of the language of poems she had undoubtedly read in anthologies. With its pastoral scene of children flocking to their mothers, the poem recalls Blake's “Nurse's Song,” in which a governess calls home her reluctant wards at twilight; and in the sabbatarian mood shared by children and adults, it echoes Longfellow's famous designation in “The Children's Hour” of the time “[b]etween the dark and the daylight” when children invade their father's study and summarily end the day's work.

In beginning my last chapter with this twentieth-century poem, I have gone far ahead of the post-Romantic history I wish to examine, but the anachronism of this choice has a point: the young Brooks was herself being anachronistic – imitating a descriptive and affective idiom from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry. The mature Brooks, however, realized that the poetics of evening had to change.