maggie and milly and molly and may went down to the beach(to play one day)
We're feeling light and peppy already with all of the alliteration and rhyming we see and hear in these first two lines. Hear that repeated M sound in the beginning of each name? How about the long E and long A sounds bouncing around here? The sounds of this poem are full of energy, bouncing off each other all over the place. (Check out "Sound Check" for more on that.)
Plus, we get a nice, regular beat to go with all of these sounds. Line 1 is made up of dactyls, which lend a super-sing-song-y sound to any poem. Check out "Form and Meter" for more on what dactyls are (hint: they're not related to pterodactyls). For now, though, we'll just note that they give the line a DUMdada rhythm that moves us nicely between each name.
So, it looks like we have four little girls, at the beach with their eyes set on a good time. (We can assume that these are kids because of their focus on play.)
But why did the speaker put that last part in line 2 in parentheses? We know that Cummings loved to use that kind of punctuation—and generally avoid every other kind—but what's the effect? And why does it look squished into the other part of the sentence without a proper space between?
Those are very compelling questions, Shmoopers, with plenty of possible answers to boot. Maybe that parenthetical clause makes that part of the sentence sound more story-like, as if the speaker is giving us a little aside like a person would in real conversation.
And it looks squished because an aside typically sounds… well, squished into whatever story a person is telling.
Alternatively, maybe the speaker wants us to pay attention to the fact that these girls are playing and the mood is supposed to feel light and carefree. After all, whenever a writer uses parentheses, we can't help but pay attention to what's inside since that kind of punctuation catches our attention right away.
Lastly, we just have to point out that these two lines share an end rhyme ("may" and "day") and they're separated off by themselves, which makes them a couplet. In fact, just a brief look at this poem will tell you that it's nothing but couplets, all the way through. So… what's up with that? Check out "Form and Meter" for some ideas.