Study Guide

anyone who lived in a pretty how town Stanza 1

By Edward Estlin Cummings

Stanza 1

Line 1

anyone lived in a pretty how town

  • Okay, so we're off to a… confusing start. Yup, this poem is pretty abstract and it's going to take some serious thinking to make our way through it. So let's start at the beginning and ask, "Who or what is this poem about?"
  • Based on the title and the first line, the answer looks like "anyone." So, this is really a poem about… anyone.
  • But what do we know about this character named "anyone"? Well we know that anyone "lived in a pretty how town." We know this because that's how a sentence works. You have your subject ("anyone") and you have a predicate that tells you something about "anyone," which is that they "lived in a pretty how town." And yes, this poem is starting to sound like the dialogue from "Who's on First?"
  • Great, so where does that get us?
  • Well we know that this "anyone" lived in a pretty town, right. Wrong. They actually lived in a pretty how town.
  • So what in the world does this mean? The first line of the poem seems to make a clear statement, but when you see "how" wedged in there, it sounds like the poem is asking a question, too. 
  • Sheesh, and we're only on the first line. If we plan on learning anything more about this "anyone" or the town they lived in, we'll probably have to read on and do more investigating…

Lines 2-4

(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did.

  • Okay, so now we want to know about the "pretty how town" that "anyone" lived in. The first thing we learn about it is that this character anyone lives in it "with up so floating many bells down." Well what in the world is that supposed to mean? 
  • We find ourselves in the pretty how town and we're floating upward, right? 
  • Actually no, because the line continues to say "many bells down." So bells are moving downward while we're moving upward? Or does it just feel like we're floating upward because the bells are moving down? 
  • On top of that, what are the bells doing here to begin with? Are they marking some kind of celebration? At this point in the poem, you might feel like you've entered a bizarre world where the laws of gravity are all messed up and there are bells all around. Stick with us, though, Shmoopers, and we'll help you tell up from down soon enough.
  • Line 3 of the poem just mentions the four seasons. So time seems to be passing through the four seasons while we're just floating among some bells. The imagery still isn't pulling together into anything clear. 
  • Line 4 brings us back to something concrete when it mentions a "he." At this point, we can only assume that "he" is the "anyone" whom this poem is supposed to be about. Apparently, this guy likes to sing. So what's he singing? Some sort of song? Nope, he just sings "his didn't." So what does this mean? The closest answer available is that he sings (or sang) about things he never did in his life. In the meantime, he "danced his did," which suggests that he dances about the things he did do in his life while he sings about the things he didn't. 
  • So, by the end of stanza 1, we're left with the idea of a certain person named "anyone" living in a pretty town where the laws of up and down don't really apply and the seasons are passing. On top of that, we're looking at some guy (maybe it's the same "anyone") who sings about the stuff he hasn't done and dances about the stuff he has. Basically, it feels as though we're in some kind of Dr. Seuss story.
  • Let's keep reading to see if we can sort things out bit more…