Never Say "Nevers"
by Tina Blue
The protagonist of e. e. cummings' poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is a joyous character named "anyone," who is explicitly contrasted with the other, more conventional, townspeople referred to as "someones" and "everyones."
The main differences between anyone and the someones and everyones in the how town lie in their approach to life and their capacity for love. The approach represented by anyone is that of the wide-eyed child (or the poetic sensibility) delighted by life's "up so floating many bells down" music. But though children understand anyone and have a sort of affinity for him, as they mature toward adulthood they somehow lose contact with the innocent pleasure they once took in life.
While still on the same wavelength as anyone, the children are privy to a wonderful secret:
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew)
. . .
that noone loved him more by more . . .
The love that anyone and noone share is so perfect that their identities merge, and "anyone's any was all to her" (16).
Without any mention of love at all--much less such a remarkable love--"someone's married their everyones" (12), fulfilling the requirements of conventional morality rather than remaining true to their own hearts. They become so accustomed to masking or repressing their true feelings that they all too often "laughed their cryings" (18), rather than leave themselves vulnerable to those they marry but apparently do not really trust. Instead of enjoying everything they do--as does anyone, who "danced his did"(4)--they manage even to turn what should be celebration into routine drudgery when they "did their dance" (18).
It is small wonder that someones and everyones, who represent status and social conventions, "cared for anyone not at all" (6). Not only have they lost the capacity to love anyone in general, they also feel a certain animosity toward the character named "anyone." His irrepressible nature, though charming, is awkward in an adult. It seems that anyone tends to neglect duty and obligation, and then not to take very seriously his lapses. That he "sang his didn't" (4) implies that he doesn't worry too much about what he has failed to accomplish, whether in terms of what he wished to do or what he was supposed to do. In another sense, though, that he "sang his didn't" also suggests that anyone has found a way to make art and beauty out of even those dreams that he can't quite bring to fruition within the narrow confines of mere physical existence.
But how is it, the poet wonders, that children, who are likely to possess the same joyous attitude as anyone, manage to lose track of those feelings as they grow up? His response to this question is that
( . . . only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
Even the lilting music of "up so floating many bells down" (24) is not quite enough to ward off the fear suggested by the connotations of "snow." Faced with mortality, with the inevitability of loss, decay, and death, children grow insecure and timid and start playing it safe.
But death need not cast such a pall over our lives. Even anyone dies (I guess), and noone, as she has shared his life, shares his death. Not surprisingly, even in death anyone (and by extension noone) are disregarded by their community. No one in the town (except noone, of course) stoops to kiss anyone's face when he dies, and the two anomalous characters are quickly buried "side by side / little by little and was by was" (27-28). As far as the townspeople can see, what existed as anyone and noone was insignificant ("little"), and anyway, it's gone now and relegated to the past ("was").
As is typical, the busy folk who emphasize the how of living rather than the
pretty of it have entirely missed the point. True, anyone's and noone's physical bodies, like the leaf of a tree or a single moment in the ongoing flow of time ("when by now and tree by leaf"), are relatively insignificant and limited ("little"). But once those aspects of their being have passed into "was," something more expansive and significant ("all by all and deep by deep / and more by more" [29-30]) continues to exist. Even after death anyone and noone maintain the perfection of their spiritual union in love. In spirit they gow even closer and greater, until their bond is extended to include all that exists. As their bodies decay and become one with the physical body of the earth, thus reentering the cycle of life ("noone and anyone earth by april" ), the "wish" of life is fulfilled in spirit ("wish by spirit" ), as all things conditional are ringingly affirmed ("if by yes" ).
Of course, life goes on as always in the how town that anyone and noone have left behind. But now, instead of "up so floating many bells down" (2), we hear only the ponderous "dong and ding" (33) of the church bells marking weddings and funerals, as well as signifying the dull emptiness of unfelt weekly "worship" services. Like anyone and noone, someones and everyones "reaped their sowing" (35), but what they have sown is not love and affirmation but negation ("they sowed their isn't they reaped their same" ) and hopelessness ("they / said their nevers they slept their dream" [19-20]). For them life is a repetitious rut, where they "went their came" (35), but somehow never manage to hear the delicate music of "up so floating many bells down" that accompanies anyone as he sings and dances his way through life in his "pretty how town."