if everything happens that can't be done
by E.E. Cummings
If there's anything that keeps kids away from nature, it's school. Throughout this poem, the speaker talks about books, and he mentions a teacher once. But for someone who's writing a poem, he doesn't seem to like books so much. There's still a lot of jubilation in this piece, though, that reminds us of the glee of schoolchildren playing outside during recess. When you read this poem, try thinking of the joy you used to feel during recess, when you got to romp around outside before returning to be cooped up in the classroom.
- Lines 2-4: Here, we get our first attack on books. "Anything," a pretty nonchalant word and concept, is said to be "righter" than books. So, maybe you shouldn't always listen to your teacher when she tells you that the answer in the book is the "right" answer. This is especially the case with poetry, in which there's often several right answers.
- Line 5: Hopefully, your teacher is not the "stupidest" teacher, like the one in this poem. There's a real disdain for school here, as we can see by the speaker picking on his poor instructor. It's also kind of paradoxical, or contradictory, to talk about a stupid teacher. We would hope that teachers are smart.
- Lines 6-8: Right after telling us about a stupid teacher, the speaker gives us an image of skipping and running, which makes us think of recess. Note how these words are very concise and action-based.
- Lines 11-13: Again, an attack on books. Buds – like flower buds, or like budding young students – not only have the ability to grow, unlike books, but also they even know better than books. Perhaps this means that we can find more in nature than we can ever find in a book, or that young, undeveloped minds have knowledge of their own.
- Lines 15-17: Again, these playful words make us think about recess. This stanza reads like a recess word game.
- Lines 20-22: These lines again illustrate how nature trumps books. Books might tell us how to do something, or what something is like, but such descriptions will never be as wonderful as hearing a bird sing. There's a hint of irony here, too, because we think this poem, which you'd find in a book, sings pretty sweetly.
- Lines 29-31: Poor books, they really take a beating in this piece. These lines, though, show us one of Cummings's favorite devices – making up words. "Shuter," here, should probably mean "more shut." But read the rest of the second lines of each stanza, and you'll see that "shuter," ending in an "er" just like all the other ones, fits better than its grammatically correct counterpart.
- Lines 37: Imagine if you were not only a bright student, but "brighter than even the sun," which is hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration. While these lines could be talking about the school-kind of "bright" (as in, smart), we think they're more about the speaker's love, introduced in line 28.
- Lines 38-40: The "we" is not only brighter than the sun, but also greater than any meaning you can find in books. Love and the feeling of being a "we" with your special someone, is something that can never be fully expressed in a book. It's not a meaning; it's a feeling, much like the one that the speaker might want us to get from this poem.