Decoding Poetry: #BlaPoWriMo, ‘The Young Ones'(Poem)

assorted colors of threads by Tim Savage

Welcome back fellow bloggers! It is BlaPoWriMo time again and this time we are traveling to the Harlem Renaissance era.

Today’s poem to decode is by Sterling A. Brown. He has deveoted his life to the development of authentic black folk literature. He was also a poet, critic, and teacher at Howard University for 40 years.

The Young Ones(July 1938)

With cotton to the doorstep

No place to play.

No time: What with chopping cotton

All the day.


In the broken down car

They jounce up and down

Pretend to be steering

On the way to town.


It’s as far as they’ll get

For many a year;

Cotton brought them

And will keep them here.


The spare-ribbed yard dog

Has gone away;

The kids just as hungry,

Have to stay.


In the two-roomed shack

Their mammy is lying,

With a little new brother

On her arm crying.

-Sterling A. Brown

When I read this poem and then reread it a second time, I felt as if I am torn between two worlds. The speaker mentions “cotton to the doorstep”, “chopping cotton”, and “mammy”. With those terms, I feel as if the speaker is vacillating between slavery time and the reality of the young ones “jouncing up and down”

On a third perusal of the poem, I find that I am caught by the verse: “It’s as far as they’ll get/For many a year;/Cotton brought them/and will keep them here”

Isn’t that how we all remained here?

We enjoy the latest cars, technology and fashion- but do we think about what brought us here and what is keeping us here?

I don’t know, the poem is written so that every word is understood, yet I feel there is still something profound I am not realizing.


~The Write Web

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9 thoughts on “Decoding Poetry: #BlaPoWriMo, ‘The Young Ones'(Poem)”

  1. WOW. I hadn’t thought about what that line could mean, especially in 2018, until you pointed it out. It really causes you to think…

    What is keeping us here? The short answer would be because it’s home now, but when juxtaposed to the question, “What brought us here?” it gives you reason to pause.

    My mind goes to the children of Israel, who were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. For 400 years, they waited for someone to come and deliver them out of Egypt and into the promised land.

    While we’re not slaves anymore (at least not in body), maybe that’s what we’re waiting for too…

    (that was my 2-minute sermon for the day, lol)

    1. And a lovely sermon you gave, Nortina!

      We can definitively look at it like a place we are just used to. We are born here so familiarity keeps us here. But our origins? History? Yep..

  2. Reblogged this on Lovely Curses and commented:
    For BlaPoWriMo, my friend Ericajean shares her thoughts on Sterling A. Brown’s “The Young Ones.”

    Looking specifically at the lines, “It’s as far as they’ll get / For many a year; / Cotton brought them / and will keep them here,” she raises two questions: What brought us, and what is keeping us here?

    A question I would like to add is: What is “here”?

    What are your thoughts? Please respond directly on Ericajean’s post, as comments here will be disabled.


  3. This is a good one but I’m not sure if it’s for us to decode or to just let it exists on its own terms. Then again, I agree with you that there may be something we’re not realizing. After reading it several times I’m always left with the same feeling of hopelessness but there seems to be more. I just can’t put my finger on it.

    1. Wow! I see what you mean. Perhaps that is why I almost did not include it in the category I’ve created for other poems. Some are just meant to be said. Thanks for the comment!

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