I completed an essay a couple months back for a course at Mills College which was an in-depth analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story". It is a gorgeous poem, and moves me in the quietest corners of my heart. As challenging as it was, I enjoyed pulling this apart and digging into her work. For reference, the original poem is cited in my "Inspiration" section.
What follows is the analyzation by me:
What follows is the analyzation by me:
In Fear of Trust
Gwendolyn Brooks illustrates the motif of trust versus distrust in her poem, “when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story”. In this she shows the distrust of her former love’s* oral/written expression by not believing - or not being willing to believe - the statements that we, as readers, are under the impression the mystery character and Brooks have previously exchanged. In order to fortify the premise that Brooks is untrusting it’s important to address that she must inversely be trusting of something. We can relate that she trusts, 1) the notion that her former lover could only forget her, and their relationship, if the former lover successfully forgets Sunday and everything it represents and, 2) in Brooks’ own concept of Sunday; how powerful it is a metaphor and what this metaphor represents.
Brooks distrusts the validity of her lost love’s expression and feels that them being over her is basically false. In order for her former lover to achieve this, they would have had to entirely forget Sunday, which is synonymous to Brooks.
* for the sake of clarity, I will refer to the person about which Brooks writes as the following: former love, mystery character, and lost love.
She does not trust her former love’s statement that s/he is no longer invested in their relationship for how could her lost love simply forget the entire repeated experience that was Sunday? Brooks views it as an audacious statement on her former love’s part.
To distrust someone’s words is understandable enough. To distrust the words of a former love is a little trickier to unpack. On one hand, we assume a previous partner would be more trustworthy than just a regular stranger, yet the words of an old flame hold considerably more weight, as well as murky layers of connotation, than those of the stranger. Not only does Brooks not trust this person, but she appears to be unwilling to trust them unless they can fulfill the task she later alludes to being almost impossible. Her experience can then be seen as a fundamental refusal to allow this person to get over her. Within the parameters she has constructed, this former love must not only defy the overwhelming odds against him/her to carry out the said task, but s/he must also succeed in convincing Brooks that s/he speaks the truth. In effect, s/he is not allowed to be over Brooks until they satisfy her requirements.
As we are speaking so much of this former love, we come to wonder who in the world is this mystery character? Let’s exclude such aspects as sex, race, and political preference and consider more along the lines of: What does this character represent?
S/he is a bold representation of Brooks’ inability to trust. But why would Brooks distrust her former love? For one, she believes it to be ridiculous of her lost love to even fathom forgetting her and the relationship. To Brooks, in order for her them to detach from what they had together s/he would have to fully erase from memory one of the best parts of their relationship. Or perhaps, Brooks is simply in denial.
These possibilities directly tie into the premise of distrust. Considering we know the mystery character only through the image Brooks constructs for us, there is the possibility for us to distrust Brooks. By not providing any lines from the mouth of the lost love, we never get more than a 2nd person perspective of this person and we fail in understanding the emotional perspective they originate from. It’s akin to listening to the story of your friend’s breakup and disregarding the ex’s version. It is important to remember that Sunday represents a myriad of poignant things for Brooks, joy being a paramount one - joy in the tranquility - joy in the “nothing-I-Have-to-do and I’m happy-why?” type of joy (8). This quote exemplifies that she feels the neutrality and routine predictability of Sunday equal to comfort. What may appear mundane to someone outside the relationship was, in fact, a source of stability, ease, and perhaps even, freedom for Brooks. By speaking of Sunday in the way she does Brooks deems it as a pinnacle of their union. But we do not know whether the mystery character mirrors this reverence. Therefore we must assume that it is Brooks alone who appreciates Sunday as the quintessential representation of their happiness.
Though the sensation Brooks possesses for Sunday is clearly palpable – and easily related to- it does not seal its place in the sphere of reliability. This feeds the notion that Brooks may be alone in recounting the romance and that her former lover may have had quite an opposite experience. It trickles into the concept of Brooks’ reliability as a narrator and again raises the question, is she simply in denial? The issue is less that she cannot trust this former love but instead, that she is essentially unwilling to, insomuch as it would risk her having to let go of him/her.
Without the other character’s input, we only know how Brooks feels and we, as readers, must then trust the validity of her experience. By employing this literary tool, she effectively places the reader in her shoes. We come to understand what it feels like to not entirely trust the situation before us. Along this vein, Sunday is then equated to a certain set of sensations possessed and related to by Brooks only, underlined by the projection that there is some ultimate failure undermining their relationship; failure at sustaining it, but more importantly the failure of remembering it. The concept of forgetting is bold and pervasive through “when you have forgotten…” The literal description of forgetting is failing to remember and here we see that motif in the last three lines of the poem which summarize the dualistic nature of this concept with, “When you have, I say, forgotten all that/ Then you may tell, / Then I may believe/ You have forgotten me well” (25-8). In this quote, Brooks claims her lost love has both failed in the past, by prematurely and falsely announcing his/her forgetting/getting over her, while also projecting that s/he will continue failing in the future. All is not lost though, and even while condemning him/her to future failure, Brooks still holds out for the possibility of an alternative outcome. She creates a game out of it and prescribes the rules of this game in simple oration: when her former love has forgotten the image of Brooks resting in comfortable clothes; when s/he fails to remember getting undressed together and folding into one-another…then they can forget Brooks. Considering the whole concept of forgetting is such a blow to Brooks, it is sensible that the entire poem is a gently winding set of memories aimed at proving why her former love cannot forget her. What we come to understand is the word forget represents finality; the end of her relationship and time and memories with the lost love.
The fixation of finality and forgetting thus becomes a hindrance to the development of their situation. Words are sometimes distractions to the true meaning of their motivating emotion. Brooks gets stuck on words. Perhaps she has yet to consider those words may not be the full expression of the mystery character’s feelings. Her psyche craves to summarize the situation and abbreviate the possibilities in order to rationalize her own emotional expression. We witness her perpetually considering the infinitesimal possibilities that these certain strings of words create. To continue following this path would surely prohibit Brooks from proceeding, in trust, with any singular route of action.
What this analysis really boils down to is how the oral/written expressions featured in “when you have forgotten…” become so problematic. As discussed previously, the perspective from which the words emerge is from an unreliable narrator while the absence of words from the mystery character only strengthen the notion that s/he is also unreliable. It is only through the provided medium of expression –words - that we can decipher the meaning of this poem, and frustratingly this medium is malleable and vagarious in it’s shifty emotions and multi-layered connotations. These words we rely upon for comfort and resolution are constantly up for interpretation, directly relating to the motif of trust versus distrust.
Brooks distrusts the words of her lost love - her lost love’s words are never present, therefore untrustworthy - and words in general are not consistently reliable vehicles for expression. Well then does anything do a better job at conveying the claustrophobic stratum of emotions once words prove inadequate? Yes. Simply put, it’s human interaction. The type of trust that human connection has the potential to foster is hyper- relevant to this poem and paper’s main arguments. The longing that resounds in her words highlights the absence of authentic connection between Brooks and the mystery character in “when you have forgotten…”. If Brooks was able to transcend the microcosm of expression-through-words with her lost love perhaps there would be less distrust. Throughout this poem there exists a universal sense of failure through the distrust of oral/written expression. Brooks’ set parameters embed the deep distrust she harbors for her lost love and make it impossible for him/her to get over/forget Brooks unless s/he forgets the concept of Sunday in Brooks’ opinion. The limited scope from which we must interpret this poem alters our perception of her former lover and the scene altogether yet it does not diminish the importance, beauty, or relevancy of Brooks’ expression.