Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn Muses on Love Poems

Musings on love poems, (post) Valentine’s Day …I’ve never been much of a love-poem writer. So many love poems are about falling in love rather than being in love, about love ten years later. Love and taking out the garbage, love and exhaustion, love and cellulite, love and the habits that are never ever going to go away.

Thinking about love poems and Valentine’s day, for some reason, e.e. cummings’ “anyone lived in a pretty how town” kept coming to mind. I first encountered this poem in high school, and although I liked it and felt mysteriously drawn to it, I didn’t really “get” it. Later, in college a professor mentioned that he never really understood how people could mistake those indefinite pronouns for what they really are in the poem (sort of metaphorical stand-in’s for proper names). And that “with up so floating many bells down” was a phrase that stood in for the town’s name. Hah! As soon as he said it my mind lit up. I can distinctly remember my heart beat faster as I re-read the poem, suddenly thinking of “anyone” as a specific person, and “noone” as his wife. (I have to admit, part of the adrenaline rush was because suddenly cummings, and my teacher, had opened up the possibilities of language for me in a way I had never conceived before.) From a terribly tragic (and confusing) poem – it had suddenly become a poem about love … And that trick of the indefinite pronouns meant that “anyone” and “noone” actually become “someones” and “everyones” on their wedding day. How romantic is that? Though it remains a poem with a haunting sadness, I think cummings’ poem includes love through the decades: the cellulite, the garbage, the times both happy and sad – “sun moon stars rain.”

anyone lived in a pretty how town


by e.e. cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

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

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

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