Four red roebuck at a white water the cruel bugle sang before.
So now the deer have paused at some water, and all of a sudden the horn ("bugle") sounds over their heads.
Okay, folks, alliteration is everywhere here, so we'll stop mentioning it, but we just have to point out one more case for good measure: the four "red roebuck at a white water" are alliterative to a fault. The repeating R's and W's begin to sound playful.
Have you noticed that all the alliteration tends to cluster around the deer? Hmm—now why might that be?
In case you were wondering, the "red roebuck" are just the deer that we read about in lines 7 and 8. And remember how we mentioned that there were no sounds in this poem? Well, that changes here. There's a bugle. And it's not just any bugle; it's "cruel" (10). This makes us think that, even though our speaker is in love with the rider, he's not so keen about the killing of all the deer. How do we know that the bugle is a hunting bugle and not just a trumpeter out for a morning stroll? Well, we don't, really. But we're inferring that the only horn around is the one on the rider's hip. And any rider out in the early morning with a horn and hounds is likely only after one thing…
And for good measure, we should also mention the sentence's inversion—again. (Are we starting to sound like a broken record, yet?) If you try to flip the sentence into normal English, it would probably start with line 10 and then move on to line 9. Why the switch? Well, it focuses our attention on the deer right from the get-go. And it allows Cummings to play with our brains a bit. The bugle sounds "before" the deer, but we read about it sounding after we encounter the deer. Very tricky, E.E.
Nonetheless, the language of the poem is still pretty imagistic. Cummings helps us see the deer at the water, but not through elaborate metaphors or fancy turns of phrase. Nope. He just draws out the colors of deer by the water. If we were going to paint this poem, it would look like big blocks of red and white on a blank canvas. The language works pretty much the same way. It's pared down, simple even. But it manages to convey plenty in just a few short lines.