The Bean Eaters

The Bean Eaters Summary

"The Bean Eaters" is a poem describing the simple, frugal ritual of eating beans as enacted by an aging Black couple in the 1960s. The first stanza establishes the ritual—"They eat beans mostly"—and the airy, ironic tone with which the speaker discusses the couple's limited means—"Dinner is a casual affair." Brooks ornaments the scene with descriptions of their dinnerware, which she calls "chipware," to communicate its chipped, worn-out state. The poem then moves into more abstract territory in the second stanza, where the speaker comments on the couple's age and the way that they've lived their lives. They are described as "Mostly Good," and it is suggested that their time has passed. The monotony of their daily lives is described as "putting on their clothes / And putting things away," and we can imagine that these kinds of banal activities constitute their entire existence. The poem ends on a note of nostalgia; the final stanza communicates that the couple lives inside their memories of younger days. This fixation on memory is put into relief against the backdrop of clutter in their rented back room, which is described in detail in the final line of the poem.