The Bean Eaters

The Bean Eaters Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss how the form of the poem mirrors the attitudes of the bean eaters.

    The irregular metrical structure of the poem still maintains a sense of rhythm and control. There is an internal balancing act going on within each stanza and with the poem at large, where when lines become clipped or especially quippy, they are answered with a longer and more ruminating line or stanza. For example, the first stanza establishes a rather airy, nonchalant tone towards the poverty and monotony of the aging couple's lives, but the second stanza answers it with regal, axiomatic repetition about how their time has passed. The reader can imagine that the old couple, with such strong nostalgia for their youth, holds onto youthful feelings. They, like the meter of the poem, wish to be spontaneous and unpredictable; but in the end, their desire balances out with the need to be constrained. They eat beans every day because they cannot afford to do otherwise, and though the poem ends with a long outpouring of passion in that final line, it still ends in a perfect formal rhyme.

  2. 2

    Discuss the significance of nostalgia in "The Bean Eaters."

    This poem was published at a time when the fate of the United States was thought to be in the hands of a new generation, just coming into adulthood. With Civil Rights demonstrations and student protests and the Vietnam War ramping up, the concerns of the elderly were not often the first consideration. The couple spends all their time remembering because they have, according to the poem, nothing to look forward to on the horizon. They have "lived their day," and presently, while the youth live their day, the couple entertains themselves by looking back at a time when they were the future.