‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ was originally published cummings 1940 collection 50 Poems. At that time, it was published with the title ‘No. 29’. Readers who are familiar with Cummings’ work will immediately recognize his characteristic style. Throughout the poem, he refrains from using punctuation and normal capitalization. Often, even Cummings’ name is written in all lowercase letters. These techniques were shocking when Cummings first broke them out. This was emphasized by the content that Cummings focused on–often critiques of suburban American life such as is seen in this poem.
Explore anyone lived in a pretty how town
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker introduces a man named “anyone” who lived in an ordinary town filled with the chiming of bells. He moved through life honestly, always aware of everything he’d left undone, and happy to celebrate the things he had accomplished. Despite his seemingly good nature, noone in the two “both little and small” cared for “anyone” at all. They cared only for themselves and continued to plant and harvest in that way.
The speaker goes on to introduce “noone” a woman who lived in the same area and loved anyone. The relationship was at first interesting for the children, but they soon forgot about it despite the growing love noone had for anyone. Noone was well aware of everything anyone was feeling. Anyone eventually died as did noone. The townspeople who’d been concerned with their own lives, took the time to bury them next to one another. The poem concludes with an emphasis on the cyclical nature of life and the birth of the next generation of townspeople.
You can read the full poem here.
Cummings taps into some very important themes in ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’. These include but are not limited to community, solitude, and societal norms/conformity. Throughout the poem, he presents a critique of the latter, the normal standards of life, and the desire and pressure to conform. It is something that Cummings saw as an unfortunate part of contemporary life. Unlike the townspeople, anyone and noone do not focus on living their lives by a set, conventional pattern of failure and success. Cumming’s townspeople know what’s expected of them and they do “their dance” in order to make it happen.
Cummings uses repetition throughout the poem in order to emphasize the cyclical, monotonous nature of the townspeople’s lives. Although they are able to briefly take time away from the “schedules” to take note of the relationship between noone and anyone, they are too “busy” to remain interested for long. The same can be said for their burial.
Structure and Form
‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ E. E. Cummings is a nine stanza poem that is made up sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a loose rhyme scheme of AABB but there are several examples in which the end rhymes are half-rhymes or slant rhymes rather than full rhymes. For example, “same” and “rain” in stanza two.
Cummings chose to make use of a vague metrical pattern as well. Each line as the same number of stressed syllables (four) but where they fall varies. This is known as accentual verse.
Cummings makes use of several literary devices in ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’. These include but are not limited to repetition, alliteration, imagery, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, appears when the poet uses words with the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “didn’t he danced his did” in line four and “snow” and “stir” in stanza four.
Enjambment is another popular formal device that is used when a poet cuts off a line of text before the natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and line four of the first stanza and line one of the third stanza. These are only two examples of the many that are scattered throughout the poem. They help to control the speed at which a reader moves through the text as well as create moments of suspense. In some cases, they can even benefit the content of the poem.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
anyone lived in a pretty how town
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
In the first stanza of ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title. He describes a man named “anyone” who “lived in a pretty how town”. The fact that Cummings chose the representative name “anyone,” (uncapitalized) for this character is striking. It is also confusing for someone who is just encountering the poem for the first time.
He goes on to describe how “anyone” “sang his didn’t”. This is confusing description is characteristic of Cumming’s poetry. But, there is a meaning behind it. He is describing how the man was well aware of everything he “didn’t” do or had yet to do. He “danced his did,” meaning that he celebrated everything that he had accomplished. This is placed against the seasons which continually move forward and an abstract depiction of up and down movement and bells.
Women and men(both little and small)
sun moon stars rain
In the second stanza, the full rhyme of “small” and “all” adds to the otherworldly, even nursery rhyme-esque feeling of the poem. The speaker describes how the men and women of the town knew “anyone” but they didn’t care for him. This wasn’t because of a particular hatred on their part but because they were caught up in their work. They did the same thing day in and say out.
They “sowed their isn’t” and “reaped their same”. It’s clear from this depiction that their way of life is not going to be described in a positive light. They all sowed their seeds and “reaped” the same benefits from them. This is a metaphorical way of describing their conformity. The last line of this stanza works the same way as the line about the seasons in the first stanza. It helps to remind the reader that time is passing and the world is turning.
children guessed(but only a few
that noone loved him more by more
The third stanza brings in children. These children, for a time before they’re indoctrinated into the world of the townspeople, notice “anyone” and the woman who loves him, “noone”. They noticed for a time how much she loved him and how that love grew bu then they grew up, the seasons went by, and they forgot.
Readers should take note of the fact that Cummings is using enjambment in almost every line of the poem.
when by now and tree by leaf
anyone’s any was all to her
In the fourth stanza of ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ the speaker describes how over time the love “noone” had for “anyone” grew and grew. He uses natural images to depict this love and how she came to know him deeply. She shared in his joy and his grief. His “any was all to her”. Their worlds were intertwined entirely. The “snow” and “leaf” in this stanza is another marker of time.
Stanzas Five and Six
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
with up so floating many bells down)
Back in the town, the “someones married their everyones” and “did their dance” as they were supposed to. These people followed a pattern set out for them that they are too scared to deviate from. They “slept their dreams” and time moved on. The days past and he uses the line “snow can begin to explain”. This suggests that old age is on the way and with it, death. Death conveys to the world the way children care briefly for others and then turn inward.
He follows this up with the same confusing line from the start of the poem “with up so floating many bells down”. This line can be interpreted in several different ways. The bells might represent a celebration, such as marriage, or mourning, like death. The “up” and “down” could refer to growth and death, making it relate back to the image of time moving forward.
one day anyone died i guess
little by little and was by was
Inevitably, “anyone” died. The speaker uses the first person pronoun “i” in this stanza followed up bu the word “guess” and if he too is as uncommitted to caring about others as the townspeople are. “Noone,” his lover and partner, is the only one to truly grieve for him. She died soon after and the “busy folk” of the town quickly buried them “side by side”. No one took the time to think about the couple. This is one of the interesting moments in the poem where it’s important to read “noone” as a name and as a description of “no one” being there to grieve. This adds another layer to the poem. Readers should also consider the importance of the word “busy” in this stanza. Are the townspeople really busy? What are they busy with and why is that more important than paying their respects to a deceased couple?
all by all and deep by deep
wish by spirit and if by yes.
The eighth stanza is the second to last of this dark and complex narrative. Dirt falls, “all by all and deep by deep” onto the coffins as the two are buried. They’re dead, dreaming, and sleeping, as mentioned earlier on in the poem. The two have been returned to the earth in the springtime (april).
The last line of the poem is one of the most confusing in the entire piece. It reads: “wish by spirit and if by yes”. Their wishes are gone to the grave, even the ones that came from the depths of their “spirit”. The “ifs” and “yes’s” of wishes are down there with them.
Women and men(both dong and ding)
sun moon stars rain
In the final stanza of ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ the speaker compares the men and women of the town to the “dong and ding” of the bell. This bell, the same one that was referenced two other times in the poem, suggests that these men and women are part of a larger metaphor representing life and death. With the last lines, Cummings again uses repetition to hammer home the point that conformity gets you nowhere. Before and after you there will be the “sun moon stars rain”.
Readers who enjoyed the complex imagery Cummings included in ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ should also look into his other poems. Such as ‘You are tired (I think),’ ‘All in green went my love riding,’ and ‘I carry your heart with me’. In each of these poems, readers will encounter Cumming’s characteristic lack of punctuation and capitalization as well as multilayered, syntactically complex, images. Some different poems that also explores similar themes are ‘The Shadow Doll’ by Eavan Boland and ‘A Mark of Resistance’ by Adrienne Rich.