Study Guide

anyone who lived in a pretty how town Stanza 4

By Edward Estlin Cummings

Stanza 4

Lines 13-16

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's army was all to her

  • Just when it feels like we're getting a handle on this poem, here comes line 13 to make everything all weird again. "When by now and tree by leaf" sounds pretty out there, so let's break it down to its parts: 
  • "When by now" sounds like the speaker is about to tell us something that has happened in the life of "anyone."
  • But when he follows it with "tree by leaf," we have to scratch our heads. 
  • Tree by leaf? Okay, a leaf is something that grows on a tree. A leaf is a smaller part of the tree. So a leaf is related to a tree as a part is related to a whole. In a sense, you might be able to say the same thing about how "now" is related to "when." The word "when" could refer to a bunch of different times, while "now" only refers to one time, which is right now. So Cummings' speaker is doing this weird thing where he wants us to think of the present moment "now" as part of a larger whole of time in the same way that a leaf is related to a tree. In other words, every moment you live is one more leaf on the tree of life. And if that's still confusing, it's not your fault. Like we said, this poem is really abstract. 
  • So, now that we're looking at one of the many "leafs" of anyone's life, we find out that there's a woman in the picture. This might be the "noone" we suspected in the third stanza. E.E. Cummings writes that this "she" is someone who "laughed his joy she cried his grief." Well, if there's a woman who laughs when anyone is happy and cries when he's sad, it's fair to say that these two have grown pretty close. Maybe there really is someone who loves this character "anyone." 
  • Line 11 plunges us right back in E.E. Cummings' weirdness. When he writes "bird by snow and stir by still," he jumps right back into the kind of part-and-whole relationship that we see in line 13. Just think about it for a second. If there is a bird in the snow, then that little bird is just one speech against a big white background of snow. The speaker here seems to make a similar comparison with the concepts of stir and still. Just as bird is the only thing moving against a background of snow, the idea of movement or "stirring" is something that happens against a background of total stillness. 
  • So what do these ideas have to do with anyone or his female companion? They seem to suck us back into the basic fabric of human existence. This is something that the speaker has been doing since the beginning of the poem. While he asks us to think about "anyone's" life, he also asks us to think about the meaning of up and down, forgetting and remembering, or stillness and movement. In other words, the life of "anyone" is taking place at the same time as Cummings is questioning the basic things that make our world make sense. 
  • Line 16 tells us that "anyone's any was all to her." We can tell from this line that anything meaningful to "anyone" is "all" to his female companion. Or in other words, "noone" thinks the world of "anyone." He is her whole life. So it sounds like anyone has really found a companion who loves and practically worships him.
  • Things might be looking up for our man "anyone."