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“anyone lived in a little how town” ee cummings

• non-conformity • form = function o Poe’s unity of effect o poem = unique, does not conform to any poetic standards, grammatical rules, expectations • songs: o Justice & Independence, Jack & Diane (JC Mellencamp) o The Dance, The River (Garth Brooks)

E. E. Cummings' "anyone lived in a pretty how town" tells the story of anyone. The name has a double meaning; anyone could be anyone in the dictionary definition sense, and could be seen as a singular entity, reinforcing the theme of isolation the independent individual has from the rest of society. The events all occur in a "pretty how town". "Pretty" connotes a mere façade, describing the superficiality of the town's inhabitants. "How", an adverb, is used as an adjective here. It could be describing the extent of the town's prettiness, but a better reason is that it describes the routine humdrum of the town's activities, since "how" also means "in a method or manner".

The juxtapositions continue into the next line, "(with up so floating many bells down)". The rhythm of the line and the vowels emulate both the motion and the sounds of bells. This line occurs again later in the poem, and its function here is the same as it is there - to signify the passing of time. The next line is an ordered list of the seasons, also symbolizing the passing of time, describing anyone's activities as occurring continuously. The activities are grouped as failures (his didn't) and his successes (his did). Regardless of the outcome, anyone is singing and dancing, happily.

The women and men of the next stanza are described as "little and small", referring not to their physical size but their capacity and willingness to explore new dimensions. In the next line, "anyone" serves a double meaning. The townspeople did not care for the individual named anyone, nor do they care for any of each other. They do not attempt anything (sowed their isn't) outside their known habits (they reaped their same). The next line is a list of heavenly bodies and weather conditions, signifying the fact that the townspeople never change their standardized routines even when other things do.

The third stanza introduces characters common to Cummings' works. He viewed children as innocent, and because of their innocence, can see the love noone has for anyone's individuality. Again, noone's name has a double meaning, expressing the degree of noone's love ("more by more") as well as anyone's intense isolation from the rest of society. The children's ability to see this love fades with the passing of time as they get older, and it is interesting to note that the list of seasons this time starts with autumn. Autumn leads into winter, which is often a symbol of death and sleep. The seasons describing anyone started with spring, which is a symbol of rebirth and change, characteristic of his personality.

Noone and anyone live spontaneously for the present ("when by now"), gaining large advances from small things (tree by leaf). Cummings considers risks as tiny compared to the possibilities resulting from pushing boundaries. "Tree by leaf" could also be referring to parts as the sum of a whole, suggesting the depth of anyone and noone's shared experiences. Noone partakes in all of anyone's activities, laughing and crying with him. She does this through all circumstances. The symbols bird and snow describe the seasons as opposed to an obvious list, contrasting anyone's abstract creativity with society's literal inflexibility. "Stir by still" illustrates rest and motion, but the "by" implies that even at rest, the couple was dynamic. The next line, "anyone's any was all to her" explains how much noone loved everything about anyone, as well as reiterating the isolation motif.

The non-specific "someones" marrying their generic "everyones" shows Cummings' attitude towards the institute of marriage. Note that anyone and noone have love, but they are not married. Marriage is a social convention ("did their dance") that does not necessarily have anything to do with love. The next paradoxical line, "laughed their cryings", is an example of these ordinary couples' lack of understanding of each other, implying at best, an incomplete type of love. It also suggests insensitivity, in that they laugh at other people's cryings, and confusion about their own misfortunes, laughing at themselves.

"Did their dance" is an inversion of anyone's "danced his did", another example contrasting anyone with everyone. The townspeople continue their cycle of sleeping, waking, and hoping, although hope achieves nothing as long as they say "their nevers". They restrict their hopes and dreams to the realm of sleep ("slept their dream").

Stanza six describes the passage of time, as the children grow up and become everyones. The snow archetype is present here again, symbolizing the end of children's innocence, as they "forget to remember" the happiness anyone achieves, opting for society's mechanical activities.

The narrator tells us of anyone's death with a resigned apathy. He knows that this event will not change the townspeople. It also evokes the unconcern the townspeople have for anyone, how they allow events to merely pass by. The double meaning of "noone" is used again to display this detachment ("noone stooped to kiss his face"). Anyone and noone are buried together, their physical bodies returning to dust ("earth by april"), but they become part of a shared dream ("dream their sleep").

The townspeople take no notice of this and continue their fruitless cycle. When they die, they achieve nothing ("reaped their sowing", when they sowed nothing in the second stanza). They merely become dust and disappear forever ("went their came"), as opposed to anyone and noone, who achieve immortality, much like the eternal sun, moon, and stars. There are very few breaks in the poem - only two periods, each occurring before "Women and men". This is a disruption in the poem, perhaps signifying the townspeople as an aberration in the order of the universe, and anyone and noone being more akin to it, blending in. The poem does not begin with a capitalized letter, nor does not end with a period, showing that the cycle begins where it left off.

The poem is a criticism of blindly following social conventions, as well as society's intolerance of nonconformists. Cummings shows us how society is not willing to acknowledge differences. He asks us to question traditions, and to understand them for their true intent. He is challenging anyone, meaning any one of us, to push the boundaries of our known space so that we may achieve our dreams.
< http://everything2.com/title/anyone+lived+in+a+pretty+how+town >
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On "anyone lived in a pretty how town" by Theo Steinmann (1978)

In his poem...E. E. Cummings cumulates different kinds and levels of rhythm in order to suggest the complexity of superimposed sensuous and mental impressions. The most striking pattern is obviously the revolution of the seasons, which is indicated by the rotating list of their names. With each of the abstract terms the poet associates a natural phenomenon characterizing the particular season on the sensuous level of human experience so that one may stand emblematically for the other: sun -summer; moon -autumn; stars - winter; rain - spring. Their vertical sequence in the poem corresponds to our anthropological expectations and yearnings: Spring (3), summer ("sun" 8), autumn (11), winter ("stars" 21), summer (34), summer ("sun" 36)....

...The regular rhythm of nature is distorted by man's emotional responses to the seasons. Winter, metaphorically synonymous with death, means to many persons a depressing and seemingly endless period. The poet echoes this disproportionate impression by referring to it insistently in the following lines: "snow" (22), "died" (25), "buried" (27), "was by was" (28), "deep by deep" (29). The shift from single words to pairs of words announces rhythmically the return of the pulsating movement of life. "Earth by april" (31) juxtaposes no longer two identical elements but associates two opposites, death ("earth") and spring ("april"); the block of sameness is falling apart, a movement in time and away from the barren element becomes obvious. After this parenthetical reference to spring, the text moves on directly to summer (34), pointing forward to autumn, however, through the association of "reaped - sowing" and the synonymous "went their came" (35). Yet the final emphasis remains on "summer" and "sun" at the beginning, "spring" and "rain" at the end of lines 34 and 36 respectively. Thus spring opens the cycle In the first stanza and it concludes two lines in the last. Life has come full circle, but the end is also a commencement....

...The cyclical recurrence of birth, growth, and decline, represented in the movement of the bells and seasons, finds another parallel on the level of man. The poem has three parts of three stanzas each. These parts contain a pattern of references to the different groups of persons mentioned: I, anyone; II, women and men; III, children; and IV [noone]; V, someones & everyones; VI, children. So far the hierarchy descends from the lovers through the indifferent mass of adults to the children who now fail to remember their young, naive experiences. In the third part, stanzas VII and VIII concentrate on anyone's and noone's death and burial. The lovers, the only gay and happy individuals, have left the stage. The children have dropt out.... They have grown up and rank among the "women and men" (IX) who dominate the last stanza. What remains is their only interest in reaping and sowing, with the overtone of dullness and inadequacy which the poet associates with them.

from Theo Steinmann, "Semantic Rhythm in 'Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town." Concerning Poetry 11 (1978): 71, 72, and 73.
< http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/poets/a_f/cummings/howtown.htm >
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anyone lived in a pretty how town by e.e. cummings by Jough Dempsey, 26 March 1999

Modern poetry comes in many flavours. Anything can be considered a proper poem, and poets are free to write in many differing styles about an infinite variety of subjects. However, that freedom comes with responsibility. Modern poets must make certain that their readers are not abandoned by the poem’s form or content. Poetry can be abstract, but it is never allowed to be sloppy. The sheer amount of poetry written this century offers readers many alternatives, and poets must be as vigilant as ever not to alienate readers. Being able to experiment in form while remaining accessible is one of the more difficult balancing acts that modern poets can perform, and when they accomplish a synthesis between form and expression, readers recognize the poem’s success.

One Modern poet who is quite successful in this synthesis is E.E. Cummings, who may be considered one of the most experimental poets of the century. Cummings’s manipulation of syntax and grammar is extraordinary, and rarely serves to alienate the reader because Cummings pays careful attention to how words function in language. He may use what is commonly considered a “verb” as a proper noun, or may make an adjective a conjunction, but usually the meaning behind the words, and the poem, is quite clear.
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He rarely titled his poems, but critics have gotten around this by referring to Cummings’s poems by their first lines. “anyone lived in a pretty how town” is an archetype of Cummings’ work, and its analysis is an excellent starting point into discovering how language and grammar function in Cummings’s poetry.

The plot of “anyone lived in a pretty how town” is simple, but it is in the subtle language choices that this poem succeeds. The story begins with “anyone,” which can be considered a proper noun for a specific person here. The term “pretty how town” is analogous with the phrase “pretty soft rug” where “how” is an adjective, and “pretty” is a degree modifier of that adjective. Anyone is a man who is loathed by the “Women and men,” or the “someones” and “everyones,” of the town, because he is different than they are. Only the children of the town could recognize the love of “Anyone” and “Noone,” but even they begin to fear and despise Anyone’s individuality as “down they forgot as up they grew.” Anyone and Noone are buried side by side, as the townspeople carry on in their mechanized fashion, having learning nothing from Anyone and Noone.

Cummings does not pretend to be ignorant of the ordinary meanings of the words his uses, and instead plays with the confluence of his own invented grammar with standard English usage. He uses “Anyone” as a proper noun, but is aware that this person isn’t just anyone , and describes his relationship with Noone by playing with the use of “Anyone,” writing that “anyone’s any was all to her.” Cummings shows us that Noone appreciates Anyone’s individuality through this line. His “any” is contrasting with the “some” or “every” of the rest of the town, and it is in this linguistic particularity that Cummings is able to give Anyone a uniqueness. Cummings gives Anyone and Noone an emotional authenticity that the rest of the town don’t share, by showing how Anyone “sang his didn’t he danced his did” and how Noone “laughed his joy she cried his grief” which contrasts greatly with the confusion of the someones and everyones, who “laughed their cryings and did their dance.”

Rhythmically, the poem can be considered to be written in free verse, although there is a certain regularity in the stanzas that refer to Anyone and Noone that does not exist in the stanzas that feature the Someones and Everyones.

The poem lives solely in the past tense until the point as which Anyone and Noone are buried, and then it switches to the present tense for a single stanza, as they “dream their sleep,” in the afterlife, which if eternal continues even now, in any foreseeable ‘present’.

Cummings handles the passing of time in the poem in three different, yet equally effective ways. The most obvious temporal element in the poem is the use of the seasons, and Cummings inverts the order of the seasons as the poem progresses. The first stanza, which introduces Anyone, presents the seasons in their expected order, “spring summer autumn winter”. The third stanza, which mentions the children of the town, changes the order slightly with “autumn winter spring summer,” but still keeps things moving in a linear, expected order. The final stanza about the “Women and men” orders the seasons “summer autumn winter spring” and suggests movement through time by keeping the circular order consistent but rearranging which season comes first.

The second manner of suggesting passing time is through the natural phenomena of the “sun moon stars rain,” which is used in the second paragraph that talks about the “Women and men.” These are re- ordered when the children begin to forget to cherish individuality, by saying “stars rain sun moon,” but after Anyone and Noone have died, and the children have grown up to become “Women and men” themselves, the order of the natural phenomena have returned to their original state of “sun moon stars rain.”

The third, and slightly confusing passage of time in the poem is the repetition of “with up so floating many bells down” which seems to suggest different symbolic tolling in both instances. In the first stanza, the bells seem to be heralding Anyone’s entrance. In the sixth stanza, the bells seem to be tolling both the end of the children’s innocence and acceptance, as well as Anyone’s death. As the bells only appear after the mention of Anyone, and just before Anyone’s death, it seems significant to associate the bells with Anyone.

Capitalization is an important element in Cummings’s grammar. Rather than capitalize the first word of every sentence, or every proper name, Cummings seems to have an entirely different use for capitalization in a poem. There are only two instances of capitalization in “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” Both instances follow the only two full stops in the poem and capitalizes “Women and men”.

The rhythm of the poem is simple and sing-songy. The complex grammar is effective in conveying the meaning of the words, but in attempting to translate the poem to “standard” English, much would be lost. The forth line, for example, would make little sense if re- written with normal grammar. “he sang his didn’t he danced his did” has a beauty to it that can’t be altered without altering the meaning of the line. One could say “he sang when he failed, he danced when he succeeded” to imply that Anyone possessed a certain joie de vivre in every aspect of life, but that’s not exactly what the line is saying.

One aspect of Cummings’s style that “anyone lived in a pretty how town” doesn’t exemplify is the use of typography and layout. This poem is rather conventional in its layout, and is not representative of Cummings’s visual art influence of his written words.

Cummings’s work is daunting for a reader who wants poetry to conform to certain grammatical standards, but for those who are willing to stretch the limit of acceptability of words in English, Cummings’s work is refreshing and invites us to examine how words function in both communication and art.
< http://articles.poetryx.com/5/ >

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Anyone is a man living in a town. He could be anyone, the town could be anywhere. The town is a lovely town (with up so floating many bells down) and Anyone lives a full life, singing of roads not taken and dancingly engaging in his choices. The seasons are passing by, one after each.

The other men and women, or so it seemed to Anyone, did not care whether he lived or died. They did not notice him, for that matter, and their lives were not enriched by what Anyone had to offer. In fact, they saw him not, as we see the sun and the stars and the moon during a rainy day.

Children in Anyone's town were more observant. They had not yet become so self-absorbed and so disinterested in others that they did not see Anyone.
And so seeing him, they could see that he was in love with, and loved by,
Noone. The seasons continue to pass.

Anyone and Noone were lovers, they were best friends, they were everything to each other. They shared the joys and sorrows, quiet times and active times and they made each other's world complete.

Meanwhile the other people in the town were also marrying their loves, sharing their ups and downs, saying their prayers and dreaming in the night. This is not to say that these others were negative, but that they were simply unknown to Anyone, who could not have guessed their dreams had he tried.

Again, the passage of time in the world gives rise to the curious question of how children living in such a lovely town can lose their wonderment and joyful innocence as they grow older. Perhaps this is caused by the stark cold and frigid landscapes of winter (inside and out?).

Eventually, as we all do, Anyone died. Noone was there and kissed his face.
Again, as time passed, they were eventually buried side by side by the seemingly "busy folk" of the town. Again, we all look "busy" to each other.
This is not a negative, but a poetic way of handling the natural distance that exists between even the closest of neighbors.

Anyone and Noone have gone on to the "after-life" where their memories, their hopes, their dreams, are all just fancies that are now buried into the earth. They are spirits now and the answer to the question "if...?" can always be yes if we wish it to be so, romantically.

Meanwhile, the rest of the men and women of the town went on with their lives, with the seasons passing in succession. They reaped the fruits of their efforts as they continued their coming and goings (busy lives). And nature abides...

-Troy < http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/eecummings/11880/comments >

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