E E.E. Cummings

[Buffalo Bill ‘s] by E. E. Cummings

E. Cummings’ free-verse poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ taps on the popular theme of the inevitability of death. It includes a civil, indifferent depiction of death.

[Buffalo Bill 's] by E. E. Cummings Visual Representation

‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ is one of the earlier poems written by American poet E. E. Cummings. This poem contains his signature idiosyncratic syntax and diction. In this poem, Cummings alludes to two important figures, William Frederick Cody, popularly known as Buffalo Bill, and Jesus Christ. He describes how both of them, given their fame and power, came under the purview of “Mister Death.” In the end, Death presided over their mortal glory.


Summary

‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ by E. E. Cummings describes the inevitability of death with particular references to Buffalo Bill and Christ.

The poem begins with a description of Buffalo Bill riding his silver stallion as depicted in popular Bill representations. According to the speaker, he is defunct, not of use anymore. Once he used to ride his stallion and hunt pigeons. Similarly, Jesus was once alive, handsome, and in his full powers. All the speaker seeks to know is how Jesus liked his “blue-eyed boy,” Mr. Death, which is a personified representation of the abstract idea.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

Buffalo Bill ’s

(…)

and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

E. E. Cummings’ poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ begins with an allusion to Buffalo Bill, popular for his Wild West shows across Europe. He was one of the important historical figures from the Civil War period. He is depicted as a hero of the American West. According to the speaker, Bill is defunct. He is no longer as famous as he was at the beginning of the 20th-century. He used to ride his silver stallion on his hunts. Cummings uses the compound word “watersmooth-silver” in order to create a comparison between the stallion’s color and that of the water.

While Bill was out on hunts, he easily killed several pigeons in no time. Cummings again uses the compound word “onetwothreefourfive” to describe the number of fowl he hunted. It seems as if taking down five pigeons was a cakewalk for Bill. The following term “pigeonsjustlikethat” is used to hint at his hunting abilities.

Lines 7-11

Jesus

(…)

Mister Death

In the last few lines of the poem, the speaker alludes to Christ. It is interesting to note the placement of Christ alongside Buffalo Bill. This fusion of the worldly and spiritual spheres creates a shocking effect on readers. The speaker says Jesus was a handsome man. All he wants to know is how he liked the “blue-eyed boy,” Mr. Death. The capitalization of the letter “D” is used to personify the abstract idea. On top of that, the salutation “Mister” incorporates civility with the idea.

The last two lines make it clear why Cummings refers to Bill and Christ. He tries to convey that both were once at their mortal glory. Bill won hearts for his heroism. Christ did the same by bravely accepting the cross. The irony lies in the fact that both were mortal beings. They had to die. Through the epithet “blue-eyed,” Cummings depicts the coldness in death’s eyes. He is indifferent to both Christ and Bill. Thus, mockingly the poet thinks about what Christ might have thought about “Death.”

Structure

Written in free-verse without any regular rhyme scheme or meter, ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ contains peculiar stanza breaks and diction. It is important to note that Cummings was famous for his idiosyncratic style and his word choice. This poem also bears the marks of Cummings’ innovative poetic technique. The line breaks and spacing makes the text seem like it is forming a visual pattern. Alongside that, the poet uses two compound words to describe how Bill hunted pigeons: “onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat”.

Literary Devices

In ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s],’ the following literary devices are used:

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Cummings forces readers to follow the course of the lines without any break. For instance, it occurs in the first seven lines focusing on Bill.
  • Allusion: There is an allusion to Buffalo Bill, famous for his Wild West shows. Cummings also uses a biblical allusion to Christ and the idea of death.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in the following instances: “Buffalo Bill ’s,” “watersmooth-silver/ stallion,” “blue-eyed boy,” etc.
  • Personification: The poet personifies the idea of death and depicts it as a “blue-eyed boy”. He uses the salutation “Mister” to point at death as a gentleman.


FAQs

What is the poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ by E.E. Cummings about?

‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ by E. E. Cummings is about the inevitability of death. Through this piece, the speaker hints at the fact that both Buffalo Bill and Jesus Christ were mortal. At the end of the poem, the speaker speculates what Christ might have thought about “Death.”

What is the meaning of the lines, “How do you like your blue-eyed boy/ Mister Death”?

The lines “How do you like your blue-eyed boy/ Mister Death” contain a personification of the abstract idea of death. Cummings depicts “Death” as a “blue-eyed boy,” indifferent to others. He is also civil and possesses gentlemanly attributes.

When did E.E. Cummings publish ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’?

The poem was first published in The Dial in 1920. It was one of the earliest poems that E. E. Cummings wrote during the war years.

What poem by E.E. Cummings describes a famous figure of the American Old West as being “defunct”?

E. E. Cummings’ poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ contains an allusion to the famous figure from the American Wild West, William Frederick Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill. Bill is described as being “defunct.”

What does the word “defunct” mean in the poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’?

In this poem, the term “defunct” means a thing that is no longer in use. Cummings describes Buffalo Bill as being “defunct.” It means his fame has become obsolete or extinct after his death.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed reading ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ by E. E. Cummings may also consider reading the following poems. You can read other E. E. Cummings poems as well.

You can also read these incredible poems about death.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

[Buffalo Bill 's] by E. E. Cummings Visual Representation
Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
>

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Ad blocker detected

To create the home of poetry, we fund this through advertising

Please help us help you by disabling your ad blocker

 

We appreciate your support

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap