An Analysis of Brooks' First Fight.Then Fiddle Essay
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An Analysis of Brooks' First Fight.Then Fiddle
Gwendolyn Brooks' "First fight. Then Fiddle." initially seems to argue for the necessity of brutal war in order to create a space for the pursuit of beautiful art. The poem is more complex, however, because it also implies both that war cannot protect art and that art should not justify war. Yet if Brooks seems, paradoxically, to argue against art within a work of art, she does so in order create an artwork that by its very recognition of art's costs would justify itself.
Brooks initially seems to argue for the necessity of war in order to create a safe space for artistic creation. She suggests this idea quite forcefully in the paired short sentences that open the poem: "First…show more content… Then fiddle." While this initial command seems to promise that one will only have to fight once in order to create a safe space for art, the phrase "a while" implies rather that this space is not really safe, because it will only last for a short time. War will begin again after "a while" because wars create enemies and fail to solve underlying conflicts. The beauty of violin playing remains illusory if it makes us forget that the problem of war has not really gone away.
Brooks suggests moreover not only that war cannot really protect art but also that art is not really a just excuse for war. Indeed, she implies that art might be responsible for war's unjust brutality toward others. This idea is most evident in the poem's final sentence: "Rise bloody, maybe not too late / For having first to civilize a space / Wherein to play your violin with grace." Though on first read it seems like this sentence repeats the warning to fight before it is "too late," its language has a number of negative connotations that undercut this exhortation. "Civilize" might at first seem a laudable goal, but it is also hard not to hear in this word all the atrocities that have been committed because one group believed another group needed "civilizing" or lacked civility. Moreover, if war inherently makes even "civilized" people uncivil because of its brutality, war's final achievement in the poem--"a space / Wherein to play your violin with grace"--seems heavily ironic. "Grace"