The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem “anyone lived in a pretty how town” is basically a narrative with a strong lyric component—that is to say, it is a ballad. Written in nine variably rhyming quatrain stanzas, it does not show a normative or “running” verse foot, such as the iamb; therefore, the poem is written in podic prosody, a system of accentual verse that is sometimes called “folk meters.” It is the prosody in which most nursery rhymes and folk ballads are written, which accounts for its strongly rhythmical quality. Specifically, the lines have four stresses, or are “tetrapodic.”

E. E. Cummings was in many ways a sentimental poet, although he hid this sentimentality with all sorts of typographical, grammatic, syntactic, and rhetorical tricks and, sometimes, with a slangy and “wise-guy” level of diction, though that is not the case with this poem. Complicating his essential sentimentality was his rather sarcastic outlook on life: Cummings did not care for what he called “mostpeople,” who, it seemed to him, were against culture and art and were too wrapped up in the quotidian—Cummings’s “mostpeople” were what H. L. Mencken called the “booboisie.” Very often this split-mindedness of Cummings led to what might almost be called a schizoid poetry, and no poem more so than “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” which tells the story of a person named “anyone” and his lover, “noone” (that is to say “no one”). Anyone lived in a town...

(The entire section is 490 words.)