Photo of a small town in the mountains

Source: Little Town in the spotlight - - 761517.jpg, Ian Capper, Wikimedia Commons

Click on the following link that takes you to the poetry foundation website:

When you get there, click on the title of the poem anyone lived in a pretty how town. Read it to yourself, and then click on the audio. You will hear a short history of E.E. Cummings’ life, then you will listen to him read the poem. As you listen, follow along and reread the poem. When he finishes the poem, you may close the audio but keep the text of the poem open as we discuss it a little more.

As you can see and hear, the arrangement of words make a great deal of difference in how we understand a poem or any text. This particular poet is known for his creative use or nonuse of capitalization and punctuation as well as word order. Read the poem again this time paying close attention to the order of the words, the letters that are capitalized and not capitalized and Cummings’ use of indefinite pronouns.

These are only a few ways that Cummings uses syntax to get our attention. At first glance, this poem may seem out of whack, but it’s actually very effective.

take notes icon Now, using your notes, write a few stanzas in a way that makes sense to you. Then write how the poem makes you feel. When you are finished, check your understanding to see a possible response.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

He lived in a pretty town
With bells floating down
In spring, summer, autumn, and winter,
He sang and danced.

Women and men didn’t like him
They went about their business day after day.

A few children thought that she didn’t like him
but then they forgot as they got older.

By rewriting just a few stanzas, you may be getting the idea that the “he” or the “anyone” is just that—anyone who lives an ordinary life in an ordinary town surrounded by ordinary people. The poem might make you feel a little sad at the ordinariness of life, or you might just shrug your shoulders and agree with Cummings.