Craig Werner: On "Gay Chaps at the Bar"

The closeness of the end rhymes varies throughout the sequence, always reflecting the degree to which the persona has managed to come to terms with the jarring experience which surrounds him.  Consider the end couplets of the sonnets, "my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell":

My taste will not have turned insensitive To honey and bread old purity could love.

 "God works in mysterious ways":

Step forth in splendor, mortify our wolves. Or we assume a sovereignty ourselves.

 "love note II: flags":

Like a sweet mournfulness, or like a dance, Or like the tender struggle of a fan.

 and the sestet of the series' final sonnet, "the progress":

But inward grows a soberness, an awe, A fear, a deepening hollow through the cold. For even if we come out standing up How shall we smile, congratulate: and how Settle in chairs?  Listen, listen.  The step Of iron feet again.  And again wild.

In the first two examples, the speaker is making desperate attempts, in the one case optimistically and in the other pessimistically, to come to a clear apprehension of his situation.  His resolve to maintain his ability to love despite the horror of war is extremely artificial, a fact which Brooks underlines with the close juxtaposition of "insensitive" and "love."  In the second example, the speaker has been forced to confront the illusion-shattering power of war and he demands that God prove his presence.  His bitter rejection of all meaning, which can no more deal with the complexity of the experience than the simple resolve of "my dreams," is emphasized by the proximity and imperfect rhyme of "wolves" and "ourselves."  In neither case will Brooks endorse the persona's attitude with the synthetic technical devise of an exact rhyme.  Rather she draws our attention to their inadequacy.  "Love note II," the penultimate sonnet, presents a more experienced persona, who has resolved to love in spite of a full recognition of the horrors of war.  The rhyming of "dance" and "fan" is appropriate.  The sound value of "dan" and "fan" is almost exact, indicating Brooks' tacit acceptance of the resolve.  But the final sound (-ce) is missing from the final rhyme, reminding the reader that the resolve, as the persona realizes, is somewhat strained and artificial.   The final sonnet, "the progress," abandons the couplet altogether in order to stress the continuing emotionally disruptive power of the war despite its increasing distance in time.  The rhyme of "cold" and "wild" reflects Brooks' final statement on the nature of war and stresses the inability of the mind to come to terms with the radically apocalyptic experience.

Werner, Craig.  "Gwendolyn Brooks: Tradition Black and White."  Minority Voices 1.2 (1977): 27-38.

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Criticism Overview
Title Craig Werner: On "Gay Chaps at the Bar" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Craig Werner Criticism Target Gwendolyn Brooks
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Jun 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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