(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Anyone lived in a pretty how town” is a poem in which Cummings’s wordplay is especially effective. The poem contrasts “anyone” and “noone” with “someones and everyones,” the first pair being the hero and heroine who love each other, the second pair being the anonymous mass of nonbeings who live lives of quiet desperation, as another New Englander, Henry David Thoreau, once lamented. Eventually “anyone” and “noone” die, but their lives have been meaningful and enriching; the rest of the townspeople—the “someones and everyones”—continue to live, though their existences, like those of the Cambridge ladies, are characterized not by life but by living death.

In the first stanza, Cummings reveals a number of technical innovations. In addition to his inventive use of the pronoun “anyone,” he plays with the phrase “a pretty how town,” suggesting that the saying—“how pretty a town”—conceals something not so pretty after all. The second line is a syntactical jolt: “(with up so floating many bells down).” It is followed by a line in which four words, without punctuation, imply the tolling of those bells to signify the passing of time: “spring summer autumn winter.” The final line of this first stanza returns to the first line and anyone, who “sang his didn’t he danced his did.”

Unaware of and unconcerned about the “someones and everyones” who “cared for anyone not at all,” the hero...

(The entire section is 414 words.)