anyone lived in a pretty how town by Edward Estlin Cummings: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem 'anyone lived in a pretty how town' by Cummings is about the loss and lack of identity of people in the modern world. The ‘any’ one of the titles is an anonymous man living in a pretty ‘how’ town. The syntax of the title is suggestive of unusual meanings in this poem too. The title could be read in many ways such as: “a very common and nothing special sort of guy lived in a pretty town.

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

The principal member of the “pretty how town” is anonymous by virtue of his nameless name (anyone). At the same time, his name indicates that he represents all people. Life is distinguishable only by the change in the weather. “Sun moon stars rain”. The children of the town are described as forgetting intuition, “down they forget as up they grew.” People do not take the time to understand the complexity of emotions. Suddenly, “one day anonymous died”. But “no one stooped to kiss his face. And after he died, meaning and existence still seem to be elusive to the living.

In short, the story of anyone’s life is as simple as this: Anyone lived in a town where “women and men… / cared for “him not at all.” They “sowed” their seeds of negativism in their dull lives. Some of the children guessed that there was someone in town, the woman named “no one” who loved him (Mr. anyone, their father); yet even the children forgot this, as they grew older. Nevertheless, “no one” loved “anyone” so much that his “any was all to her.” As life went along, the towns folk lived their ordinary lives; ‘sometimes’ married their every ones, the children grew up; and “anyone” and “no one” grew older; “one day one died I guess (and no one stooped to kiss his face.).” Nobody else paid much attention. Eventually “no one” died as well and “busy folk buried them side by side.” Still, lifer went on, people continued doing what they do in all seasons, beneath the rising and setting sun, moon and stars in all weathers. It is still a “pretty how” town; and they are the same any ones and no ones.

In the pretty how town, where nothing much goes on, where people are completely caught up in their everyday lives: where, though everyone is involved with everyone else, most people do not really know or, in fact, do not care what their neighbors are really like? Most people are anyone and no one, of no particular significance except to one another on an individual basis. The “how” suggests that the townspeople ask how and why about things from an incapacity for simultaneity and the intuitive grasp “anyone” and “no one” live and die in a landscape of changing seasons, without love or interest in life.

The first two stanzas create the basic setting and inform of the mode of life of the anonymous character anyone. The third and fourth stanzas make one sentence about the children and no one. There is the Wordsworthian idea here that children are closer to innocence and perceive spiritual truths more directly than adults. These children perceive “that no-one loved him more by more”, that is that he was unloved in the town, but that nevertheless he thrived on this rejection. His life was surrounded with love in spite of it or because of it. The children understand that there are values in his life beyond those that make on obedient townsman. In stanzas five and six the ordinary lives, the lives of the men in the group, come to their dull conclusion and the children grown up to be as dull and imperceptive as their parents. Snow can explain how- the cold touch of time. In stanzas seven and eight the unloved individual has his death and apotheosis. In stanza nine the rhythms of life continue as before. The individual as individual is necessarily set against society and against other people as members of society. It is in the individual’s unique responses that the value of life inheres. One does much what others have always done, but with a difference, and one does it oneself, one’s own way, with one’s own feeling. These unique responses are always distrusted and feared by the group. The group needs communication and regularity of behavior in order to function as a group and so necessarily rejects what is most individual about the individual. But what is comprehended by all is no longer alive no longer a living idea or feeling. These are old commonplaces but they place “anyone” in relation to the women and men of the town.

The poem is written in a system of accentual verse called "folk meter". It is the prosody in which most nursery rhymes and folk ballads are written. The lines have four stresses or are "tetrapodic". The poem is also characterized by refrains and incremental refrains, indicating the meaningless cycles of activities in the lives of the inhabitants of the 'how' town. The listing of the seasons is an "incremental" refrain, slightly changed each time it appears.

The poem has a language unique and different from the common English language. It has departed from normal usage of words and sentence structure. The very title is an unusual syntax. Had it been something like, "John lived in a pretty small town", it would be usual. In the structure of the title and first line, 'how' (an adverb) must be taken as an adjective. The syntactic roles of words are changed because of unusual collocation in different ways. We are bound to take the following words as nouns: ’up' (line 2 and 24), 'didn't and 'did' (4), 'isn't' (7), 'down' (10).

The second area of grammar that finds a new grammar of its own in this text is lexicon. The roles of these words must not be seen independently of their syntactic context, but as they function in them. These words generate paradoxical meaning or absurdity if analyzed in terms of ordinary English meaning without considering their syntactic roles. Take, for instance, the abnormal use of the word 'how' in the title of the poem. Mr. anyone, or no one, in particular, or someone who did not have a definite identity, lived (line 1) in a pretty `how' town. How was the town? The speaker wants to leave it indefinite. He probably means that no one cared what the town was like! Or that he doesn't have a precise word to describe it. This is a town where our central character 'anyone' lives.

Finally, there are deviant phrases that only parody Standard English idioms and phrases. Phrases like "little" by little or "bit by bit" are modified into so many playful variants. The repeated use of these foregrounds the pattern and draws the reader's attention. The people are probably dreaming "if by yes", or only 'if something happens, there will be possibilities for their "wish by sprit" to come true.

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Sharma, K.N. "anyone lived in a pretty how town by Edward Estlin Cummings: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 4 Nov. 2013,