How Themes of Love Appear in Gwendolyn Brooks’ Sonnet “The Rites for Cousin Vit”
The sonnet is a quite structured type of poem, usually having to consist of a rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter, as well as always just 14 lines. A common theme among sonnets throughout history as well as still today is love, all different kinds. In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks wrote a sonnet titled “The Rites for Cousin Vit” that is fast paced and seemingly describing “Cousin Vit” as a character who lives life to the fullest no matter what. With that, I believe there is an underlying theme of love in this Brooks’ sonnet, a friendship kind of love that makes the poem full of life and emotion.
Brooks starts this sonnet painting the scene of what appears to be a funeral, while also introducing Cousin Vit who behaves almost opposite as to what one would expect at that type of scene. The sonnet starts, “Carried her unprotesting out the door, Kicked back the casket-stand” (Brooks 307). This opening line, as a few that follow, give the clues that Cousin Vit and the narrator are at a funeral, and from there on, the narrator describes Cousin Vit’s behavior, and as I previously said, she is very much a character. That character, though, is one the narrator seemingly adores, appreciates and maybe even looks up to. The short, quick descriptions of the spirited way Cousin Vit socializes and dances and carries herself are very surprising, but yet admirable, and this is how and why it feels the narrator is expressing her love of this character. Brooks ends with, “In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge, Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.” (Brooks 307). This end is really what made me see Cousin Vit is a character who is just happy. The short, alone “Is” at the end I also took as she just “is” these things, happy, lively, and alive, which is what makes her so loved by the narrator; she’s different. Love appears in this very beautiful sonnet as that admiration for someone, like a friend, who is just so themselves and lovable.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. “The Rites for Cousin Vit.” An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art. Edited by Anne Finch and Kathrine Varnes, U of Michigan P, 2002, p. 307.