How does "In Just--" portray a subtle lesson about childhood, growth and change by describing the balloon man using three different descriptions?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem captures the joy of spring and the rejuvenating impact it has not just on children but also on adults, as the references to the balloon man suggest. On the one hand, the balloons suggest childhood excitement and parties that cause even the balloon man himself, who is described at first as "little / lame" and then also "queer / old" to join in the excitement and feeling of joy that is indicated by his whistling.

The sense of renewal is completed by the final description of the balloon man whistling, as he is now said to be "goat-footed," which is an interesting compound adjective to use. On the one hand, goats are imagined to be incredibly dexterous and nimble creatures who are able to scale mountain paths with ease that humans would stumble on. This meaning suggests that the rejuvenating impact of spring, when everything comes to life once more, impacts adults and even the elderly just as much as it does the excited children who play in the mud in this poem. However, at the same time, "goat-footed" also could be used to refer to the goat as a symbol of sexuality. The old balloon seller may also be aroused sexually in addition to his feelings of youth and spryness. This alternative meaning that Cummings plays upon in this poem signals a more disturbing element in his portrayal of childhood. Eventually, as the sequential description of the balloon man demonstrates, the childish innocence of playing in the mud must end, and experience takes its place.

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in Just-

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