E.E. Cummings’ poem “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” consists of nine four-line stanzas characterized by a dynamic rhythm and frivolous punctuation. The main theme of the literary piece is the survival of individuality in a hostile world that is biased against uniqueness. The inhabitants of a “pretty how town” are not willing to accept anyone with the last word meaning both “any person” and the denomination for the main character. The complexity and the peculiarities of punctuation introduced by Cummings put the courage to be different in a juxtaposition to social conventions.
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One may assume that E.E. Cummings uses punctuation as a poetic device. An exciting thing about punctuation marks is their semantic ambiguity. They are embedded in the linguistic code of a given language to structure a written speech and can be given a specific meaning depending on the context. The first thing that a reader might notice about the poem is that it lacks commas completely. I think that purposefully avoiding the use of commas serves two purposes.
First, when reading the poem, one does not make any pauses in places where the commas were supposed to be. Thus, the poem merges in an unstoppable stream of consciousness, which coincides with one of the minor themes – the passing of time. Second, missing commas only amplify the effect of bizarreness and at times, confuse the reader. The second noticeable peculiarity is the heavy use of parentheses. To me, it seems that parentheses create simultaneity and the effect of a double perspective. Each stanza has at least one pair of parentheses, which gives it multiple layers of meaning:
“children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more.”
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