by E.E. Cummings
Section I (Lines 1-10) Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
spring when the world is mud-
- The first lines of this poem set the scene: the entire world has realized that it’s springtime.
- Our speaker doesn’t appear to be too obsessed with details here. It’s not like he’s saying that there was a light drizzle from 8am - 10:30, and now there are puddles on 103rd St.
- Nope. That would be lame. It’s SPRING! Get EXCITED! The entire WORLD is full of mud!
- When we stop to think about it, there are a very few select populations that get super-excited about mud: pigs and small children. We won’t spend too much time pointing out the other similarities between the two species here. If you’ve got younger brothers or sisters, you can probably do that yourself.
- Don’t get us wrong, we love Charlotte’s Web. Since it’s about the only book we can think of which features talking pigs (besides Animal Farm, but that’s just creepy), however, we’re guessing that the poem voices the viewpoint of children. Who else would get so psyched about a world of mud?
- Check out "What’s Up with the Title?" for our thoughts on "Just-spring." We won’t spoil the surprise here!
- Oh, and if you’re wondering what’s up with all the hyphens, read on…
whistles far and wee
- Now that we’ve established how spring-y this spring is, our speaker introduces a character: the "little/ lame balloon man."
- The word "lame" means he can’t walk properly – he’s got a limp.
- He’s sort of out of place in the world of spring, where everything is young and new and full of life. In this world, a little man with a limp seems, well, old. And out of place.
- It’s slightly jarring, but our speaker doesn’t seem too upset about it. After all, we don’t hear anything nasty about the balloonman; we just hear his whistle.
- Check out the way that Cummings stacks up the "l"s in these lines, though: little lame balloonman. It creates a lilting tone as all those "l"s roll off your tongue.
- Lilting is peaceful, isn’t it? It reminds us of when moms (or dads) sing kids lullabies before they go to sleep. For all that the lameness of the balloonman might be creepy, the language that Cummings uses to describe him makes him seem pretty soothing.
- In case we haven’t mentioned it, E.E. Cummings is all about the spaces between words. Check out line 5 for an example of this: "whistlesfarand wee."
- What’re they good for? Well, here’s our best Shmoop expert opinion: when you read a line of poetry aloud, your eyes (and therefore your voice) tend to speed on to the end of the line. Try it and see. When you read "in Just-," however, the spaces slow your eyes down. More importantly, they slow your voice down, as well. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, "Huh? I totally don’t know whether to pause for the spaces or not!" And even in that time that it takes to think that through, your voice slows oh-so-slightly. Kind of cool, huh?
- So we pause during the lines. So what? You can almost hear the time that it takes for the balloonman’s whistle to travel across the playground. The space between "whistles" and "far" mimics this time. It’s like we actually see the sound and maybe even its echo afterwards.
- One more thing: did you notice what we haven’t got in this line? Punctuation. We told you Cummings was one crazy cat! Check out our analysis in "Form and Meter" for some more thoughts on this.
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
- Drawn by the sound of the balloonman’s whistle, the kids (Eddie and Bill) come running from their games.
- Notice how "eddieandbill" all just jam themselves together into one word? It’s almost like a little kid is so excited to be telling you about what’s going on that the poem refers to them as one person. Remember how you used to ask your folks, "Can meandSpencer go to the pool?" That’s what we’re talking about.
- The coupling of real-life marbles and imagined adventures as pirates only adds to this euphoria. Kids usually don’t distinguish between the real and the imaginary (and more than they leave spaces between words or use appropriate punctuation).
- Playing marbles and being pirates? All in a good day’s work. This, folks, is a kid’s world.
when the world is puddle-wonderful
- Have we mentioned that it’s spring. It’s Spring. SPRING!
- Our speaker is so excited about it that he even gives "spring" its very own line (that would be line 9, in case you were wondering).
- Once again, we’re not into cutting corners when it comes to being excited about spring. The Entire World fills with puddles.
- Notice how the poem seems to be circling back on itself, repeating one or two central themes? We bet you can guess what they are: 1) It’s spring. 2) Spring is generally awesome. 3) Know how we know it’s spring? In spring, the balloonman starts to sell balloons.
- First it was "Just-spring." Then "mud-luscious." Now "puddle-wonderful?" What’s with all the weird made-up words? For one thing, creating words gives the poem a sense of limitless possibility, of creativity and…creation. Sort of like spring itself.
- For another, it allows Cummings to totally throw normal syntax – the order of words – out the window. To be honest, it’s more like he’s throwing normal syntax off the Empire State Building. Syntax is getting a serious beating here.
- See, "luscious" and "wonderful" are adjectives. In "normal" language, you might see them tacked onto nouns (like, say, "mud" or "puddles"). Talking about luscious mud or wonderful puddles may not be something you do everyday, but it sounds pretty much like everyday language. Adjectives describe nouns.
- Using the magic of a hyphen, however, Cummings plays some serious games with language. All of a sudden, "mud-luscious" is one great big adjectival phrase describing the world. It’s the world that is "mud-luscious" and "puddle-wonderful."
- See how that works? The world isn’t just wonderful. It’s wonderfully puddle-y. Kind of nifty, huh?