Study Guide

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May Man and the Natural World

By E.E. Cummings

Man and the Natural World

The theme might say "man" and the natural world, but really we mean to say people, more specifically, kids and the natural world. It's all related, in other words. No matter if you're a man, kid, woman, whatevs, the natural world is going to show you something about yourself if you give it a chance. In "maggie and milly and molly and may," the ocean is a kind of mirror that folks can look into and discover deeper truths that you just can't find at a desk. There are no pretexts, no masks in nature. Everything has a real purpose with real meaning, and when you take a second to sink your toes in the sand, your mind has a way of doing the deep thinking for you.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why is it usually easier for kids to learn from the natural world than it is for adults? What are adults doing wrong? How might the speaker answer this question?
  2. What does the speaker really mean when he says we always find ourselves in the sea? Why does the sea have such illuminating power?
  3. How is the man-made world reflected in each of the character's experiences with the natural world? What does each character learn from nature in every scenario?
  4. Why is nature both beautiful and frightening at the same time in this poem? What can the girls learn about life from observing both sides of the natural world?

Chew on This

By exploring all sides of nature—not just the pretty, friendly bits—the girls learn that the world is way more complicated than just being happy or sad all of the time.

Whenever we want to learn something about ourselves, all we really have to do is take a look at how nature works, just like the girls did in Cummings's poem. (And no, turning on the Discovery Channel doesn't count.)

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