Study Guide

anyone who lived in a pretty how town Bells

By Edward Estlin Cummings

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It's not easy to tell at first what E.E. Cummings is doing with all the bells in this poem. For starters, his second line states: "(with up so floating many bells down)" (2). We can't really tell what the bells are doing at this point or why they are "down," but the association gives us a vague sense that there's something negative or "down" about these bells, even while they're also associated with floating upward.

Later in the poem, bells are mentioned after some talk about marriage: "with up so floating many bells down" (24). And that makes sense because we often think of bells when we think of marriage. But Cummings still associates these bells with the "down" direction, which makes us think twice about a purely positive association. And that's when line 25 comes right afterward to say, "one day anyone died i guess" (25). Now we realize that the wedding bells mentioned earlier in the poem can also mean funeral bells. As with all his other symbols, Cummings creates a full circle of life and death and uses a single image to close both ends of the circle.

Bells Timeline

  • Line 2: Cummings mentions bells that are both "up so floating" and also "down" at the same time. We might vaguely associate bells with celebration, but apart from that it's tough to understand the two directions that Cummings is pulling them in. 
  • Line 24: Cummings repeats the phrase about bells both floating and going down. The previous mention of a wedding suggests that the bells are part of a celebration, but the mention of a funeral in the very next line reminds us that bells can have a double meaning.
  • Line 33: Cummings blends the "ding" and "dong" of bell ringing with the women and men who live in the pretty how town. This line draws humanity in Cummings' giant circle of life and death, which is marked by the ding and dong of the bells.

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