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Explain the poem "anybody lived in a pretty how town" by e. e. cummings.

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sailorman222 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:07 PM via web

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Explain the poem "anybody lived in a pretty how town" by e. e. cummings.

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:37 PM (Answer #1)

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A remarkable poem, and emblematic of Cummings’ skewed treatment of the English language, especially his fresh use of words out of their expected slot in grammar—the title (first line), for example, uses the (assumed) adverb “how” as an adjective (“a pretty how town”).  This poem is a celebration of common everyday life, of people never destined for fame or even Wikipedia, people living anonymous lives, going through all the human emotions, wishes, hopes, dreams, and (compare Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like It) living each of the stages of man’s progress “children guessed..”, “someone married their everyone’s…”, “one day anyone died…”).  What is remarkable is how Cummings captured the universality of life’s events by using non-definite forms, such as “anyone’s”, “they sowed their isn’t”.  By not naming a specific town, person, or time, he broadens the whole paean to include everyone.  The poem celebrates, not the uniqueness of individuals, but the universality of our species, who all undergo similar experiences on our way to “Went they came” while the universe stayed the same—“sun, moon, stars, rain”.   

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:38 PM (Answer #2)

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The poet e. e. cummings, educated at Harvard University, understood all the "ins and outs" of syntax and mechanics of writing.  What he believed in was individualism.  Highly acclaimed as a unique poet, cummings achieved success in his lifetime.  This poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town" stands as cummings most famous  and best work.

Satire is cummings' choice to look at small-town America and the attitudes of its citizens. The style of cummings comes from his intention to confound  and surprise the reader  at every turn of the word. Cummings did not name his poems, so critics use the first line of his poems as the titles.

The form of the poem is basically free verse although the first two lines or couplet of each stanza do rhyme. The narration is third person.  Each stanza has a particular message the poet emphasizes.

The first verse tells the reader that anyone is the subject of the poem. The name is a double entendre stands for any person or a person who stands alone isolated from society. The events take place in "pretty how town." The word pretty is used as a modifier not saying that the town is beautiful, but rather becomes an indictment of the boring, routine activities of the town.

The second line of the poem using the bells to describe the passing of time and anyone's actions that occur repeatedly.  To further indicate the time, the poet lists the order of the seasons.  Anyone goes on with his life and sings and dances his way along.

The people in the town do not like anyone; their lives go on despite anyone. Using the terms little and small as descriptors of the town offers a negative opinion about the willingness of the townspeople to accept new people. His listing of the parts of nature indicates that no one changes the routine lives of these people.

Some of the innocent children were able to see that anyone was different and special. However, even those eventually forgot about him, proving that no one really loved anyone. Again, the poet notes the passing of time using the seasons of the year. 

Now, someone else enters the picture: noone.  Anyone is no longer alone because noone loves him more and more.  Obviously, the name noone as used the poem again has a double meaning.  Possible, it is that noone partakes in anyone's life, or it is that noone is a person who has come to be with him.

noone loved him more by more...

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and still by still

anyone's any was all to her

Anyone and noone are in love but not married.  The someone's marry and seemingly lack understanding in their communication.  Some laugh while the other cries. Insensitivity and and confusion reigh in the married life. These people continue their routine lives lacking in vision, hope, and dreams.

Again, the passage of time is shown: the indicators of daily life; the seasons, and children growing up with the passing of time.

one day anyone died I guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was

There will be no grieving of anyone's death.  The people are unconcerned, and their routine lives keep on...Yet, anyone and noone are buried together and pass into dust and pass into the dreams they shared. 

Cummings renounces those who go on in their lives ignoring or disliking those around them that are different or nonconforming. It does not matter because these "ding -dong" men and women are unbothered by the rest of the world. 

 

 

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jacobsr | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:36 PM (Answer #3)

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Cummings is telling a story of a man who is an outcast in a town. He relates how he "dance he did", But the townspeople,"cared for anyone not at all." The male character is an outcast because he is lively and frivolous. The townspeople are dour and gray. He meets a woman he loves. He loves her until he dies. She dies and the townspeople bury her beside him. This seems to be done without emotion, just as a courtesy.

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