I like this poem a lot. It reminds me of my friend Sarah who hates romantic comedies with the fire of a thousand suns (well, not so much hate as they annoy the hell out of her). She did profess, however, to being quite particular towards romantic movies where an old married couple have to find a way to rekindle their romance, or move past some terrible family tragedy. In her mind, that is real romance, not a story about two, young twenty-somethings who don’t know anything about the real world, who they are or what they want; two mismatched people who would never get together in real life getting over false obstacles.
It is strange to call this couple Bean Eaters, something now used as an insult to the Hispanic community. They are referred to as an “old yellow” pair which implies that they are East Asian. The poem was published in 1960. I don’t know if the disparaging term was in use at that time, but I do know that people from East Asia were being referred to as yellow, but I wonder if that is what the focus is on. Perhaps “yellow” is in reference to their age – as in the pages of a book starting to turn yellow. Growing into their golden years, creatures of long time habit.
The habits referred to feel old, comfortable and homey, but poor. You can tell they’ve done their best to carve out a life together. Their ware is chipped, their wood creaks and their flatware is tin. There is a feeling of comfortable love here, of a life lived together worn down but sturdy.
The Bean Eaters
by Gwendolyn Brooks
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting one their clothes
And putting things away.
Remembering, with tinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of
beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.