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EE Cummings Anyone Lived In A Pretty

E.E. Cummings: Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town Essay, Research Paper

anyone lived in a pretty how town


e.e. cummings

‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ is about how commonplace language and commonplace lives can be intimate and profound. It is a technically innovative poem which designed so that the reader cannot know what is going on from a ‘distant’, perfunctory viewpoint. Repetition, strange grammatical usages, and impersonal nouns demand very close reading – in effect, an emotional investment from the audience. There is also a sense in which e. e. cummings is educating us. As we pick out the story of the everyday man and woman who grow up in the same town and get married, we are also being attuned to the importance of simple joys and love. This is also a poem about the sort of values which we should not live by, that is, those of the official looking ( because of the capital letter ) ‘Women and men’ who ’sowed their isn’t’ and ‘reaped their same’. There are no visionary reforming solutions offered here however, but this is not a fault: cummings is not so much concerned with broad, sweeping philosophy as with the quiet quality that can be found in everyday lives if we are bothered to look.

The poem is arranged typographically in nine quatrain stanzas. The rhyming scheme in each stanza is AABC except in the sixth stanza which does not have any rhyming couplets. In addition to a rhyming couplet at the end of the first and second line, stanzas two and nine have an assonance couplet at the end of the third and fourth line (’same’ ‘rain’ and ‘came’ ‘rain’). Even though the poem is fairly uniform in structure, following the regular beat of four stresses on each line except for the line ’sun moon stars rain’, the stress pattern varies noticeably from rising duple rhythm (’he sang his didn’t he danced his did’) to falling triple rhythm (’anyone lived in a pretty how town’) and even to a strong spondee (’sun moon stars rain’). This variety of stress patterns gives variety in the pace with which the poem proceeds when read aloud.

One of the most distinctive features of the poem is repetition. This happens on three levels: words and word groups(’dance/sun moon stars rain’), sentences (’with up so floating many bells down’) and two kinds of syntactic structure. The repetitive sentence patterning is built upon the structure ’subject-verb-possessive determiner-object’ as in:

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

The other type of syntactic structure is the combining of two words of any word class with word ‘by’. There are usually two ‘by’s in one line, as in:

little by little and was by was


noone and anyone earth by april

The sixth stanza stands out as the only verse without either of these structures.

This is a poem about two people and their social environment. Because of the choice of words the people remain very indistinct to the reader. They are referred to throughout the poem with pronouns such as ‘anyone’, ‘they’, and ’someone’. As in the third stanza

children guessed (but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew)

autumn winter spring summer

that noone loved him more by more

it is left for the reader to find out who ‘noone’ is or who ‘they’ are, here we must try to discover who ‘him’ actually refers to. The reader is invited to investigate in order to find out what is actually being told. However, in the beginning of the poem it is revealed to the reader that certain personal pronouns refer to specific people: ‘anyone’ is the main character and ‘noone’ is a woman, who falls in love with him. After the fourth stanza the connection is not that clear, but if the reader bears in mind that in this poem these personal pronouns are used instead of names or nouns, he/she will be able to follow the storyline.

That the man is referred to as ‘anyone’ and the woman is referred to as ‘noone’ also informs us about their characters. They are two ordinary people who are important to each other, but in the eyes of women, men and children ‘anyone’ is too ordinary to be noticed. As his ‘name’ tells, he could just be anyone. ‘Noone’ is even more ignored: she is not even anybody, to other people she does not even exist. In spite of being ignored by other people, to each other they are ‘everyone’ and ’someone’ (’someone married their everyones’). The vagueness in the way they are referred to is also shown in the absence of the definite particle ‘the’. Also, even though children are mentioned in the third and sixth stanza, in both times they are mentioned as if for first time. Again, it is for the reader to decide if they are the same children in both times. The poem is open to different interpretations and choices all the way through.

The poem is a modern ballad about a man living in ‘a pretty how town’. He is rejected by town people who are narrow-minded (’both little and small’) and living the ongoing cycle of their work.

‘Women and men (both little and small)

… they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain

This quotation shows how they repeat certain patterns in their lives again and again, while time moves inexorably on. The poet has chosen to tell us about time going past in a very ‘primitive’ way by reciting the most basic symbols of periods of time: ’sun moon stars rain’ / ’spring summer autumn winter’ and ’sleep wake…’ Whether this means days or years is not important, but what is significant is that the time moves forward continually, and the rhythm of life is constant.

In the third and fourth stanza noone’s love toward anyone is revealed to the reader:

‘noone loved him more by more’

’she laughed his joy she cried his grief’

This is a point which the reader does not have to interpret as such. These lines are distinctively clear when compared to other lines in the poem. It particularly emphasises the deep understanding and empathy between these two characters. Time, place and names are irrelevant.

This couple’s relationship leads to marriage. ’someones married their everyones’ may seem to refer to more than one couple, but bearing in mind that personal pronouns in this poem refer to specific people, ‘anyone’ and ‘noone’ are both ’someone’ and ‘everyone’, ie. they married each other. The poet has chosen to use this particular method of presentation to show that they both were subjects of this action and equal when making the decision of marrying each other ( instead of employing an alternative method: for example, merely saying that ‘anyone married noone’ ).

They turn their past grief into joy (’laughed their cryings’), celebrate the wedding (’did their dance’) and the next day (’sleep wake hope and then’) promise never to leave each other (’they said their nevers’).

As stated before, the sixth stanza stands out as a very different verse because of its lack of repetitive structures. It also is the only stanza that begins with the word group ’stars rain sun moon’. When read aloud, this line of strong double spondee forces the reader to say these words slowly, to a regular beat. The rest of the verse is all in brackets, giving the impression that what is contained within those brackets is particularly commonplace, almost like a colloquial saying. Both the effect of slowing down at the beginning of the poem and also the stark difference in context in these type of bracketed expressions means that this verse forms a pause in the middle of the poem. It is a break between two scenes.

In the second scene ‘anyone’ dies and ‘noone’, who is still ignored by other people, stoops to kiss his face. Her own death is not stated directly, but it is made clear that she also died, as they are buried ‘by april’ side by side. Although dead, their life together still continues (’they dream their sleep’). The wish made earlier about togetherness becomes true and deep (’wish by spirit’) and uncertainty becomes certainty (’if by yes’).

The last stanza is a collection of elements used before in the poem. Both symbols of time and era (’summer… and sun moon stars rain’) are there. The message is that the life of other people continues unchanged. The lives of ‘women and men’ have a tedious rhythm of monotonous days, as predictable as the movement of the church bell (’both ding and dong’). The material of such lives is predictable (’reaped their sowing’) and circular, in that they never really reach a conclusion (’went their came’). The rhythm of the last time gives an impression of narrator’s voice fading away – implying that the time keeps going on in the same familiar rhythm.

To sum up, ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ is a short narration about lives of too very similar kind of people. The way it is written makes it very easy for a reader to ignore these two characters in the same way as people in the poem treat the two characters. Nevertheless, e.e. cummings gives just enough hints for the reader to notice the storyline and step out of the mass that tend to not notice the events that are really meaningful and change peoples lives, such as friendship, love and death.

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