With few but precise details, the opening line of the poem informs the reader of the couple's poverty and engages with identity politics by identifying them as an "old yellow pair," which inextricably links their identities with the shade of their skin. Beans are a marker of poverty, being a cheap and filling staple; eating them most days alludes to the monotony of the couple's lives. The term "yellow" to describe or refer to a Black person is politically loaded, and was often used in the phrase "high yellow," with "high" referring to the relative status of a Black person with lighter complexion over Black people with darker skin.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood
This line includes a word that Brooks made up entirely, but which flows so naturally with the sound of the rest of the stanza that one may hardly notice. The word is "chipware," and it replaces "dinnerware" and eliminates any need for description. It makes their dinnerware undeniably chipped, worn, and damaged, as if there were no other possibility. The word is a totalizing reflection of the way the couple lives. The repetition of the word "plain" reinforces the sense of monotony and blandness that characterizes their impoverished old age. The fact that the wood creaks gives a sense that every move the couple makes in their little back room, every time they lean an elbow on the table or pass the salt, their worn-out possessions have something to say about it in the language of creaks. In other words, they cannot escape the evidence of their possessions' age, and by extension, their own aging.
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day
The old couple is portrayed as a unified persona; there are no separate individual traits to differentiate one person from the other. The word "two" that opens these lines reinforces this notion of oneness between them more than, say, the third-person plural pronoun "they" would, because it's a less-conventional way of referring to a unit of people, and readers are more accustomed to the use of "they" still suggesting individuality within the unit.
The phrase "Mostly Good" communicates that the couple lived lives with a degree of excitement and rebellion, but that their transgressions were small and benign in the grand scheme of their lives. That they "have lived their day" communicates that their time in the limelight has passed, and suggests that the youth-obsessed culture of the sixties doesn't belong to them, that the current day is "someone else's day," namely, the youth who power the engines of protest and rebellion.
And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges
The use of ellipsis after the word "remembering" leaves the concrete memories up to the reader's imagination. The omission of the specific memories gives the impression of closeness to the subjects' perspectives, as if there was no need to explicitly state the memories because we can easily imagine them as they sit and forlornly eat their beans. The words "twinklings" and "twinges," though sonically compatible, communicate two very different reactions to past memories. Twinkling may denote a fond or tender memory, while a twinge is more akin to a wince or flinch, denoting a painful or somehow regretful memory.
The Bean Eaters Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Bean Eaters is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.