Study Guide

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May Stanza 5

By E.E. Cummings

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Stanza 5

Lines 9-10

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone. 

  • It's fitting that the girl who strikes us most as the artistic poet of the group would come last. 
  • Now, if you're wondering why we're saying that may sounds like the poet of the group, it's not just because the rhyming  has returned with this couplet. It's because may looks at something as simple as a stone and imagines something as big (or in this case, small) as the world and as abstract as loneliness. Poets do that kind of riffing all the time. Remember William Blake? He's the guy who said you could see a world in a grain of sand. That gets us every time.
  • But how can a stone be as small as a world and as large as an abstract condition like alone? What's the speaker getting at here?
  • We thought the world was a big place. Meanwhile the speaker is describing the stone as both small and large. What gives? 
  • Well, gang, we love a good paradox don't you? Think of it this way: there are moments when the world can feel really small, like when you're stuck in a chemistry lab all day. Then there are moments when the world feels awfully big and lonely, like when you break up with your significant other. 
  • If you put those two kinds of experiences together, you get the idea. Depending on how you look at that stone, it can either look really small or really big, like Blake's idea of seeing a world in a grain of sand. 
  • More specifically, the stone symbolizes that big picture of life and the world here, which can sometimes feel so small that we can hold it in our hand. 
  • Of course, depending on your experience, your perception of the world (and your life) can dramatically change. One minute the world feels like a place you can hold in the palm of your hand, and the next it feels like a never-ending abyss of loneliness. 
  • That explains, then, why we get the seemingly weird second simile (because of the speaker's use of "as"): "as large as alone."
  • (Check out our "Symbols, Wordplay, and Imagery" section for more on the stone.) 
  • Those back to back similes also give the line some parallelism with the repetition of the syntax of "as… as…" Check out "Form and Meter" for more on this technical stuff.

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