The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In only twenty-four lines, E. E. Cummings captures both the feeling and the meaning of spring. Only in spring, or “just” in spring, is the world a kind of wonderful mud bath for children. Spring rains make puddles in which children love to play. Spring is a carnival season—a time to celebrate nature—which accounts for the appearance of the “balloonman,” who adds a festive air to the season.

The first stanza and the next line also suggest that adults spring to life “in just,” or precisely in, spring. The balloonman may be little and lame, but he is whistling and apparently happy to be out and about. Cummings suggests the enthusiasm of children and the childlike enthusiasms of adults in his first use of the word “wee” in line 5. The word “wide” is expected after “far and,” but Cummings changes this clichéd expression to convey the “wee” of the fun that spring represents.

In the second stanza, the childlike speaker of the poem revels in playmates and their games. Playing marbles and pretending to be pirates are examples of the energy and imagination that spring stimulates. The poem itself is a manifestation of vigor; it is at once a description, celebration, and evocation of what spring feels like.

Line 10 suggests that spring turns the world into a splendid playground. The balloonman enters the poem again—this time described as “queer” and “old” but still whistling, as if in spring he...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cummings has been justly praised for his innovative use of typography. Beginning with the poem’s title, “in Just-,” which begins in the lower case and ends with a hyphen, the poet is evoking a fresh way of rendering the freshness of spring. The season is a part of the unending cycle of nature, and the poem’s title is an expression of that ongoing cycle. Spring is both a season and an action (a noun and a verb), and to capitalize it—or to capitalize the first word of the title “in”—would be to make spring as a season and a state of mind conform to typography. Cummings takes the opposite approach, making typography conform to the feeling of being in the season of spring.

Similarly, by ending the title with a hyphen (a punctuation mark that usually connects two words) Cummings is emphasizing that spring is connected not to one word or idea but to many—to a sense of the wide world, of its possibilities. Spring makes people feel expansive and connected to each other and to the rest of the world, the poem implies. Finally, “Just” is capitalized because of the poem’s insistence that it is “just” in spring that people feel so in touch with everything.

Note also that there are gaps or spaces between words in lines 2, 5, 13, and 21. These intervals between words are filled, so to speak, with the actions and feelings of the poem, with its springing words that imitate the jumping and playing of the children and the balloonman....

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Bloom, Harold, ed. E. E. Cummings: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Dumas, Bethany K. E. E. Cummings: A Remembrance of Miracles. London: Vision Press, 1974.

Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994.

Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Lane, Gary. I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ Poems. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976.

Norman, Charles. The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings. Rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E. E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2004.

Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.