Study Guide

in Just-

By E.E. Cummings

in Just- Introduction

It seems like just about everybody falls in love with E.E. Cummings sometime during middle school or high school. Maybe it’s the way he thumbs his nose at conventions. Maybe it’s his revolutionary politics. Maybe it’s just the fact that the guy seems to get away with things that your high school English teacher would cream you for doing. Whatever it is, Cummings manages to top the list of most people’s favorite poets. Don’t believe us? Check out the Favorite Poetry Project (you can find the link in our "Best of the Web" section). We told you…

Cummings isn’t just a pretty face, though. Behind that jolly springtime life-is-a-bed-of-roses poetry we’ve been reading lies some stunning experimentation with acoustic and syntactic forms. In other words, the guy knows sounds. And words. His early works, which include Tulips & Chimneys (the book in which "in Just-" is printed) played deliberately simple language against unorthodox and even uncanny combinations of sounds.

Not content to play with new forms, Cummings also deliberately referenced tried and true classics. Chansons Inocentes, which includes "in Just-," riffs upon an über-famous poet William Blake. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience depicted the lives of, well, the "innocent" and the…not-so-innocent. With good poets, there’s usually a twist. Lurking behind all the smiling children and laughing animals in Blake’s Songs of Innocence is the sense that innocence will inevitably fade. After all, you can’t stay young forever. A similar ominous note threads its way through Cummings's poem. Sure, it’s all about spring and happiness and youth. Then again, the balloonman isn’t a kid. He’s a man. Moreover, he’s old and rather creepy. Is he…the future?

We know, we know: it sounds like we’re trying to rain on a little kid’s parade. Reading the balloonman as an ominous figure definitely isn’t the only way to read "in Just-." It’s just a really unsettling way to read it!

Oh – did we mention that Cummings was a painter, as well? Yup. And a playwright and essayist. The guy had game. Modernist painting, however, deeply influenced Cummings’s poetry. He tried very hard to blur the boundaries between visual art and literary arts. After all, isn’t all life art? As he himself said, "Nothing measurable can be alive; nothing which is not alive can be art; nothing which cannot be art is true: and everything untrue doesn’t matter a very good God damn..." (Cummings, A Miscellany Revisited). We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

What is in Just- About and Why Should I Care?

Maybe you were never a small child. Maybe you hate the sun. Heck, maybe you like the cold, dirty, rainy, sleet-full days of winter. Maybe sitting in your basement with all of the lights off is your idea of a jolly time. In that case, you will think that this poem is totally without merit.

If you do happen to have a tiny bit more enthusiasm than the gloom-and-doomsters that started applauding when we talked about life in the basement, though, then this poem might just remind you of the happiest days of your existence. Remember when you had a countdown calendar to tick off the last days of school? When that calendar ended, man, things were good. All of a sudden the sun shone like five times brighter and you could run at least twice as far as you ever had before. The world was chock-full of promise and potential and boy, did you have plans. There was stickball to be played and lemonade to be sold and that was only the beginning…

This, folks, is what Cummings’s poem is all about. It’s a twenty-second ride back into those happy, happy times. And hey, who couldn’t use a little bit of happiness in their life?

in Just- Resources

Websites

Poems for the People
You can find Cummings and all sorts of other poets on this website, which has ordinary folks talking about which poems they like – and why.

E.E. Cummings, Artist
Cummings wasn’t just a major poet. He was a pretty intense painter, as well. Check out his works here.

Want to Know All About Satyrs?
Catch up on your balloonman trivia here:

Video

Cummings Reads His Own Poetry
…and it’s accompanied by some strange video footage from the '20s. We can’t even begin to tell you how strange it is.

…And More of the Same
The guy who posted these videos is a serious fan. Seriously.

Audio

The BBC Catches Cummings in Actions
That’s the British Broadcasting Company, folks. And it tends to have good stuff. Check out the clip of Cummings talking about what it means for him to be an artist.

UBUWEB!
Not only is this a fabulous name, it’s also a fabulous website, chock-full of audio recordings of all your favorite sound poets.

Images

The Man Himself
A picture of our poet:

...And One More, for Good Measure
This time he’s even holding his own sketchbook…with a painting of himself…holding a sketchbook…

Historical Documents

Cummings Interviews Himself
Not only is this "interview" a riot, it’s also a good look into Cummings's opinions about the ways that, in the end, poetry, art and life are all really the same thing. Check it out here!

Books

Tulips & Chimneys
The collection includes "in Just-"

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience
Cummings wrote "in Just-" as part of a collection of poetry which references Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Check them out – believe us, the poems aren’t as innocent as you might think.

Movies & TV

Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967)
Star Wars fans, take note! George Lucas once directed a movie based upon a Cummings poem. Apparently it’s very, very strange…