Study Guide

anyone who lived in a pretty how town Weird Syntax

By Edward Estlin Cummings

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Weird Syntax

No one ever accused E.E. Cummings of being too simple in the way he positions words. From the first line of this poem, we know we're not in for an easy read. The phrase "anyone lived in a pretty how town" (1) makes us feel as though words are out of place or that certain ones don't belong. But the truth is that, even though the placement of the words is absurd, we can still make sense of them.

This idea that word placement doesn't matter helps Cummings make his larger point about how it doesn't matter who "anyone" is in this poem, because the story in this poem is something that happens to everyone. We are all born and we all die and that's it. You can change the details along the way, but the overall result is still the same. This is a point that Cummings mirrors in his writing by positioning his words in weird ways while still getting his main point across.

Weird Syntax Timeline

  • Throughout: Cummings' use of strange syntax isn't unique to any lines in this poem. It's present the whole way through, and it's part of Cummings' point about life. There are larger forces that structure our lives (like birth and death) just as there is a beginning and end to this poem. What comes in between isn't nearly as important as the outside things that mark the beginning and end.

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