by E.E. Cummings
Section II (Lines 11-23) Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
- Wait a second…little, lame, queer, and old? This balloon-selling guy is totally not fitting in with the rest of the poem. ("Queer," by the way, just means "weird.")
- We’re back to the refrain of the poem, in case you’re wondering. This time, we get just a tiny bit more info about this balloonman character.
- We’ll say one thing: he may not fit into the rest of the spring-themed thing we’ve got going on, but he does seem to be driving all of the action.
- We’ve got to admit, we’re not quite sure what to do with line 13 (or lines 5 and 25, for that matter). We understand whistling far. We even could understand whistling far and wide. But whistling far and wee? Does that even make sense?
- Maybe the balloonman’s whistling a "wee" little tune. Or maybe he’s whistling for the wee ones (that would be the kiddies). Or maybe it makes no sense at all. We’ll leave that up to you.
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope
- Just like Eddie and Bill, the girls come running. Just like last time, these lines are jam-packed with action.
- They’re also some of the longest lines of the poem. Length, like jammed-together words, creates a sense of fullness and action. Packed with Very Important Activities, the world of little kids overflows with energy.
- We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. Spring, folks. Got it?
- Notice, though, that the words are spreading out across lines. Does this cause you to focus more on what’s being said? Do you slow down when you read each line? Probably. We sure do.
- One critic has suggested that this spacing out of the lines mimics something growing. It’s kinds like those sped-up videos of a seed growing out of the ground. All of a sudden, it unrolls itself, lengthening into a long stalk.
- Take a good look at the words of the last stanza on the page. Kind of like a flower-stalk, huh?
- On a slightly more disturbing note, the balloonman, the guy who’s interrupted all the playing and games and fun of spring, is the one who gets the poem’s final attention.
- We’re left with the sound of his whistle (and the knowledge that, if things work the way they have in the past, all sorts of little kids are about to come running).
- OK, sure, he’s got balloons. But he’s old. And strange. Why does he get to be part of spring? Come to think of it, he seems pretty darn ominous.Well, we do finally get one tiny hint about who this balloonman might be in these last lines. Besides goats, a few famous mythical creatures had goat’s feet. Satyrs, in particular, are often depicted as creatures that are human in appearance from the waist up and goat-like from the waist down. Check out our "Websites" links for some more info (and some pretty sweet pictures) of satyrs.
- Fans of woodland revels, satyrs fill their days with drinking, dancing, and mischief. Pan, a super-famous god of the satyrs and shepherds, even carries a pipe, which he uses to get nymphs to dance.
- Hmm…pipe-playing and whistling. Sound familiar? For more of our thoughts on this Greek god thing, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay."
- On another note, the pipe-playing Pan brings us back to the "Songs of Innocence" (see our "In a Nutshell" for a reminder about William Blake). After all, the "Songs" start out with a poem about a piper playing a song about a lamb. It’s all beautiful and pastoral and, well, innocent.
- If the balloonman is a version of Pan, however, things become slightly more sinister. After all, Pan wasn’t exactly a paragon of innocence. He’s all into revelry and debauchery. And it doesn’t look like he’s about to slow down anytime soon.
- In fact, the poem’s "ending" (or lack thereof) seems to emphasize this fact. He’ll go on whistling and kids will continue to come running to him.
- Lovely? Creepy? We’ll leave that up to you.