“anyone lived in a pretty how town”
E. E. Cummings’s poem “anyone lived in a pretty how town” is about a small town filled with people caught up in going through the motions. The protagonist is a man referred to as “anyone” who is different from the other townspeople. People shun him for his individualism. Cummings throughout the entire poem is stressing the importance of people being unique in their own way instead of conforming to others’ ideas. His sidekick and lover is “noone,” the heroine of the story who loves “anyone” dearly. The children of the town at first can see “anyone’s” loving nature, but as they begin to grow up, they began to fear and despise him, like their parents. Time is an important element of this poem and as it passes, “anyone” eventually dies. He is buried with “no one,” and the townspeople carry on in their busy, monotonous lives. They did not learn the important lesson he was trying to teach them. In his poetry, Cummings does not follow the conventional grammatical rules. Instead, he likes to flow freely in his writing and add words to his own dictionary. He is probably one of the most experimental poets of the century. He switches the order of words around. A noun could be a verb or an adjective could be a conjunction. This causes many of his readers confusion but supports his idea in “anyone lived in a pretty how town” that it is a better life to be individualistic. The tone of this story is written in a very sing-song manner. The poem’s main theme is about busy people, and when this story is read out loud, it sounds very eventful and active. All of the lines are similar in length, and each stanza is four lines long. There are an even thirty-six lines comprised in eight stanzas. A couple of the lines rhyme, but these are the only examples of some form of organization. Most of the poem is somewhat jumbled and keeps the reader in tune to find out what is going to happen next. The setting of the poem is in a small town very similar to one that could be found in the plains of Kansas. The town experiences a wide variety of weather conditions in its four seasons, something that we are very used to here in mid-America. The poem could have taken place anytime from the 1800s to the present. The first line of the poem is its title ”anyone lived in a pretty how town.” This, like many lines in the rest of the poem, can be very confusing when rolled off the tongue for the first time. “Anyone” is our hero who is residing in this town full of busy people. Cummings is being sarcastic when he used the adjective “pretty” in this line. His “pretty how town” is not actually a quiet, pleasant settlement but a small town full of busyness and work. The next line, “(with up so floating many bells down)”, is the first time we see Cummings refer to the passage of time. The wording can be changed around and read “with so much going on all the time” in both of its locations in the poem. The parentheses around this line show its significance to the poem and how it backs the meaning of the first line. Time is also referred to in lines three and thirty-four. The naming-off of the seasons is showing how everybody in the town experiences the passage of time. Line four, “he sang his didn’t he danced his did,” shows a strange occurrence at the conclusion of the line. Cummings placed one of the poem’s two ending periods here. This poem uses almost no punctuation, so what few marks are used indicate special emphasis. This line was very important because it gives us great insight to what kind of person “anyone” is. The period makes us stop and read over the line again. It makes it easier for us to see how unique “anyone” is compared to the rest of the town. The next line is also different because it begins with a capital letter. There are only two instances in the entire poem where a capital letter is used. The word “women” is capitalized in two different places. Both times, it is following a period, but another reason is he wanted to suggest the particular feelings in these lines. The women and men are the busy townspeople who are “(both little and small),” meaning that they are both little-minded and small-minded. Their hearts are not big enough to love and show emotion. These people “cared for anyone not at all” because of who he was. He had a great mind and liked to think outside the box, and this sinful way of thinking was not socially correct. The townspeople “sowed their isn’t they reaped their same.” This was the way of life. These people were very unloving; therefore, they received nothing. They could work and obtain income, but they could not love and gain affection. Then, line eight relates the pattern of ”sun moon stars rain” which is yet another expression of the passage of time in the poem. It is saying that the people of the town live their lives in monotony day after day. Next, we get to learn about the children. The “children guessed (but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew autumn winter spring summer).” The children begin their lives with very open, innocent mindsets. They are independent-minded and idiosyncratic within themselves. They like “anyone” because he is like them, but as time goes on and the seasons change, they go through a mental diminution that accompanies growing up. They start to become more like their parents and believe what their parents believe. They forget how to think for themselves, and they lose their sense of individuality. Now, we finally get to meet the loyal “noone.” As we read about the children becoming adults and starting to shun poor “anyone”, we see that “noone loved him more by more.” “Noone” is our quite, female accomplice. She is the other half of “anyone”, and she loves him. “She laughed his joy she cried his grief” and was with him every step of the way, like where it says “bird by snow and stir by still.” This stanza is almost a romantic portion of the poem, in that it shows how these two actually loved each other. It says that they laughed together and cried together and “anyone’s any was all to her.” This means that the two of them were everything to each other. On the contrary, the next stanza shows us what the other townspeople’s relationships were like. It begins with line seventeen saying that “someones married their everyones.” The “someones” where the arrogant people who thought very highly of themselves, and they just married the person who they thought they should be with. They did not marry for love but more for the social need of a family. The couples “laughed their cryings and did their dance.” This is exactly the opposite of “anyone” and “noone.” It shows that these people were so unsympathetic that they laughed when they should have been grieving. They “did their dance” which means that throughout their lives, they just went through the motions unenthusiastically, even during times that could have been extremely happy and ecstatic, unlike “anyone” who “danced his did.” The people would “(sleep wake hope and then) they said their nevers they slept their dream.” They lived such negative lives. After they grew up, all hopes and dreams were forgotten. They did not reach for the stars. Instead they settled for the ground without even attempting to touch the sky. The sixth stanza says that the snow and changing weather (or the passing of time again) explains how children will forget to remember the past and how they used to be because everything is so busy now. Then, we sadly find out in line twenty-five that “anyone” dies. The line actually reads “one day anyone died I guess,” and Cummings purposely placed the “I guess” on the end of that line to emphasize how the townspeople felt about it. Then it says “(and no one stopped to kiss his face)” because this was a heartbreak for “noone.” This hurt her so much that it actually killed her too, so “busy folk buried them side by side.” The people did not care. They have no feelings. To them, this was just another death. The next couple of lines are very interesting because we see a lot of comparisons. The word “by” can be found in this poem fourteen times in four stanzas. Cummings compares a lot of words at first with “anyone” and “noone,” such as “more by more they dream their sleep.” This is very essential because our two main characters are dreaming their sleep whereas our antagonists, the townspeople, are caught up sleeping their dreams away. Then it says “noone and anyone earth by april wish by spirit and if by yes.” The two lovers are peacefully together again in spirit, and Cummings closes off this thought with the second period that is in this poem. The last stanza goes back to the “Women and men (both ding and dong) summer autumn winter spring.” They are referred to as ding and dong because those are the sounds that a bell makes. They are caught up in time and in their repetitive lives. They still “reaped their sowing and went their came,” but as the children are growing up into the women and men, the seasons continue and time does go on. This is a basic interpretation of this poem, but there is another meaning behind these thoughts. “Anyone” and “noone” could also be thought of to be the children throughout the entire poem, and when “anyone” dies, it could actually just be a child maturing and growing up and losing a large part of himself. Once “anyone” is dead, then the child stops loving and becomes dead like the other adults. There is a lot that can be learned from this poem. E. E. Cummings was a genius, and his works were not just nonsense. He put a lot of thought and hidden meanings into his poetry and made them more complicated than a lot of the works of today’s writers. “Anyone lived in a pretty how town” can teach its readers a lot. I could see how in his writing he was pushing the reader to challenge himself to be more individualistic. E. E. Cummings not only wrote about this thought, but showed that he lived this way in the form of his writing. People should not conform to the crowd and be followers, but they should break out and try to be somebody in this world today. “Anyone” and “noone” set good examples for all of us, and if the people of the pretty how town are not willing to listen to the two lovers’ valuable message, then I am.