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When E.E. Cummings first published "anyone lived in a pretty how town" in 1940, he wasn't just using syntax and word arrangements that people hadn't seen before. He was using these tools to take a cold, hard look at life in the American suburbs. Mind you, this was at a time when the suburbs and pretty little American towns were becoming the most ideal places in the world for most Americans to live. But Cummings wanted to remind them of the dangers that came with wanting to live in a place that was pretty and safe all the time. He was worried that people's sense of community would evaporate and they would begin to only care about themselves and their immediate families.
By the time he wrote "anyone lived," Cummings was already an established voice in American literature. He was probably the second-most widely read American poet in the world after Robert Frost. But while Frost would sometimes say, "Good fences make good neighbors," Cummings rejected the idea of people doing whatever it took to protect their private property and to distance themselves from people they didn't care about. This was a pretty intense position to take, since America at this didn't want someone questioning their increasingly individualistic mindset.
In the end, people listened to Cummings' message, especially younger readers who liked his experimental style and his willingness to take on the conformity of adult life. You could even say it was poems like "anyone lived" that would go on to inspire a writer like J.D. Salinger to write The Catcher in the Rye, a book about a young man who's fed up with all the double-talk and hypocrisy of adult American life. And that's a pretty big accomplishment for anyone who lived in a pretty how town.
Ever feel like life is just a matter of going through the motions? The sun comes up and you get to work. Then you come home and the sun goes down and you sleep. The seasons keep going in a circle and you eventually grow old and die. It's not a super-fun thing to contemplate, but it's important to think about if you want to stay grounded. It's easy to think that our lives are really special and that they'll never come to an end. But E.E. Cummings wants to remind us that we're all just specks in nature's overall plan. It doesn't matter how famous we become or how much money we make; we all return to the earth in the end.
So, wait a second. Why is it worthwhile to think about all this depressing stuff? Well, Cummings might not think that our connection to nature is such a bad thing. Instead, maybe our connection to nature can help us feel as though we're part of some larger set of forces that have meaning. Sure, it's fun to consider ourselves as the center of the universe, but there's a loneliness that comes with thinking this way. Plus there's all the stress of worrying about whether you're a success or a failure. Maybe it's good to just remind ourselves now and then that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. You might have to give up the idea that you're the Most Important Thing in existence, but you gain a feeling of connectedness with the world around you. Read this poem, then give it a shot.
Cummings at PoetryFoundation.org
Check out this link for a quick and dirty rundown of key Cummings facts.
Cummings' Bio at Poets.org
This one's for Shmoopers who want a bio with a little more meat on its bones.
E.E. Cummings at Modern American Poetry
And if you're really in the mood for in-depth Cummings… and goings (see what we did there?), check out this link.
Tom O'Bedlam Reads "anyone lived in a pretty how town"
This dude really puts some nice darkness into the poem. It makes sense, since the thing is about death in a lot of ways.
Another "anyone lived"
It's not the most engaging reader in the world, but the images definitely help you focus on some of Cummings' key points.
YouTuber Reads E.E. Cummings
If you're tired of dreary readings of the poem, here's one that'll put some life back in you.
Cummings Reads "anyone lived in a pretty how town"
Who better to read the poem than the man himself?
Fairy Tale Version?
Here's a take on the poem that emphasizes the theme of nature. Just be ready for any fairies or unicorns that might pop up.
Poem Set to Music
Check out this link and you'll see just how easily Cummings' rhythms lend themselves to music.
Here's a pic of our man getting his think on.
Cummings Looking Dapper
This pic makes us wonder if Cummings ever tried a career as a private detective.
Here's an image of what the guy looked like in his young adulthood.
E.E. Cummings' Letter to Ezra Pound
It turns out that poets really liked to gossip back in the old days. They probably still do now.
Funny Fake Interview
These clever folks did an "interview" with the dead spirit of Cummings and found out that he tends to talk the way he writes poetry.
The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings
Harvard Magazine takes a look at just how radical Cummings' poetry was and what it tells us about him as a person. You'd think the guy was pretty weird, but apparently that wasn't the case.
E.E. Cummings: A Remembrance of Miracles
For hardcore Cummings fans, here's a deep look at how his poetry accomplished things that might have seemed miraculous when he wrote them.
E.E. Cummings: The Critical Reception
Some critics like the guy. Some don't. This book lays out the reasons why both sides have the opinions they do.
Check out this book if you want a nice, readable look at the life of one of the greatest American poets.