Gwendolyn Brooks' "First fight. Then Fiddle" initially seems to argue for the necessity of brutal war in order to create a space for the pursuit of beautiful art. The poem is more complex, however, because it also implies both that war cannot protect art and that art should not justify war.
She suggests this idea in the sentences that open the poem: "First fight. Then fiddle." One must fight before fiddling. Playing the violin wouldn’t be a pleasure if an enemy was threatening one's safety. And also, fighting the war might eventually secure a safe place to pursue the pleasures of music if one wins. One has to "civilize a space wherein to play your violin with grace." The author seems to be using this playing as an image for art in general, as her more expansive references to "beauty", "harmony" and “pleasure.” Brooks also describes making beautiful music as being "remote | A while from malice and murdering." As murder was motivated by malice, the phrase "a while" significantly qualifies the initial command to "First fight. Then fiddle." While this initial command seems to promise that one will only have to fight once in order to secure a safe place for art, the phrase "a while" implies rather that this space is not really safe, because it will only last for a short time. War will begin again after "a while" because wars create enemies and fail to resolve the conflicts. The beauty of violin playing remains illusory if it makes us forget that the problem of war has not really gone away.
War cannot protect art and that art should not justify war. Indeed, she implies that art might be responsible for war's unjust brutality toward others. This idea is most evident in the poem's final sentence: "Rise bloody, maybe not too late / For having first to civilize a space / Wherein to play your violin with grace." This seems like it gives a warning to fight before it is too late and never give up.
"Civilize" might at first seem a goal, but it is also hard not to...
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