Study Guide

if everything happens that can't be done Themes

  • Love

    As we near the end of "if everything happens that can't be done", we discover that our speaker is in love, and suddenly we understand why this poem has been so full of joy. He loves, and is loved, and in that love feels that nothing is impossible, and that the world is wonderful. You just might want to keep this poem in your back pocket come next Valentine's Day.

    Questions About Love

    1. Would you call this poem a love poem? Why or why not? Is the speaker romantically in love? Or is he talking about some other kind of love, or a more general kind of love?
    2. How do you think the theme of love relates to all the references to books in this poem?
    3. How does the writing in the second set of parentheses in each stanza relate to love, or not?
    4. How does the idea of "one" relate to the overall theme of love?

    Chew on This

    This is not a love poem. Instead, it's a poem about knowledge, and where that knowledge is best found.

    Everything is happening that can't be done because the speaker of this poem is in love. He's on Cloud Nine.

  • Education

    The speaker in "if everything happens that can't be done" has something against books, and he talks about a stupid teacher. He doesn't seem to be much of a fan of school. Really, though, reading and writing are important, but teachers, schools, and textbooks have a way of making them seem mundane and torturous. And the speaker of this poem, writer that he is, seems to know that. Go listen to a bird, he suggests, and forget about reading those books for a while. You just might learn something new.

    Questions About Education

    1. How would you describe the way the speaker feels about books? What, in the poem, helps you?
    2. Do you agree with the way the speaker feels about books? Why or why not?
    3. What do you think the lines between the second set of parentheses in each stanza are describing? What does that have to do with education?
    4. Time for a scavenger hunt: what else in this poem, besides the references to books and teachers, refers to education? Anything?

    Chew on This

    The speaker in this poem prefers learning from the outdoors to learning from books, because the outdoors provides more knowledge.

    "if everything happens that can't be done" shows us that true education happens after the school bell rings.

  • Man vs. the Natural World

    Nature reigns supreme over book learning in "if everything happens that can't be done." Birds and buds both have qualities that books simply can't match. The poem talks about teachers, about being indoors, but it's most dominated by the type of language and actions – running, leaping, flying – you'd find outdoors during, say, recess. The world, especially the natural world, becomes an amazing, joyous place in this poem, and it's the perfect place to fall in love.

    Questions About Man vs. the Natural World

    1. How does the speaker describe nature in relation to books? What's the main difference between the two?
    2. Do you feel the same way about nature as you think the speaker does? Why or why not?
    3. What is it about nature that makes it better than books? What, in the poem, tells you?
    4. Does nature have something to do with love in this poem? How do you know?

    Chew on This

    Nature, in this poem, is presented as superior to books in terms of learning because nature gets closer to the truth of things.

    Nature is used in this poem to express the exhilaration of love, because nature is full of the life and joy that a person feels when he is in love.

  • Versions of Reality

    The first line of "if everything happens that can't be done" warns us that we're not going to be in the world we are accustomed to. In the world of this poem, created for just a short 45 lines, everything that can't be done not only can happen, but is happening. This allows even the "stupidest teacher" to discover wonderful things about the world, and we, the readers, can discover them, too. If only we can shake up our traditional notions of language while we're at it.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. Do you think that this poem takes place truly in another type of world, in which everything is possible? Why or why not?
    2. How would you describe the world of this poem? What do you think it would look like? Smell like? How would the weather be?
    3. What are examples of impossible things that happen in this poem? Are they actually impossible?
    4. What do you think love has to do with the world of this poem? Does it help create this new version of reality? Or is it merely a reflection of the new reality?

    Chew on This

    This poem takes place in a totally different world, because in the world of the poem, anything is possible, and that's not true of our own world.

    This poem takes place in the normal world, but the speaker's love transforms it into a space where everything is possible.

  • Awe and Amazement

    "if everything happens that can't be done" takes place in a world in which everything is possible, so of course there's going to be a good amount of awe and amazement. We see this in the poem's magical transformations, its hyperbole, and in its pure glee. Love is awesome, and awe-worthy in this one, so prepare yourself for some gasps, swoons, and sighs.

    Questions About Awe and Amazement

    1. Where in this poem does the speaker seem most awed or amazed? How can you tell?
    2. Does anything in this poem awe or amaze you, the reader? Why?
    3. What do you think the most amazing part of this poem is? Why?
    4. How does the sense of awe and amazement in this poem relate to love? The natural world? What is the source of all the awe and amazement? Is it love? The natural world? The impossible happening?

    Chew on This

    The awe in this poem is caused by the speaker's love, which makes even the most mundane things, like leaves, amazing.

    The speaker finds more awe and amazement in the natural world than he does in books because he's a fan of visual beauty.