“Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” is a poem by E.E. Cummings, an American poet active during the first half of the twentieth century. The poem seems to take the stance that no one really matters, as we are all tiny insignificant people in tiny insignificant towns, just going about our lives and living within our own bubbles of understanding; it is not any place in particular that is guilty of this, but humanity as a whole. Cummings’ purpose in writing this poem in this way is to show that while humans as individuals may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, within their own limited lives those daily occurrences are everything. The poem is an overview of life in any town during any life.
One risk of living this sort of self-focused and introspective life is that much of the world’s beauty is completely missed. The text explains: “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” (Cummings 5-8). Anyone who keeps working and living the exact same way day after day after day is more likely to achieve a heightened state of stagnation that is difficult, if not impossible, to get out of. “Little” could refer to the physical size, perhaps a reference to the impressionable nature of children, and “small” could refer to the smallness of our overall place in the universe.
Being forgotten or barely acknowledged, especially in death, is a fear that many people face and Cummings utilizes this fear to paint a vivid picture of what life is like when we lose sight of one another and of our own humanity: “one day anyone died I guess/ (and no one stooped to kiss his face)/ busy folk buried them side by side/ little by little and was by was” (Cummings 25-28). The fact that the dead man is known as “anyone” and those who did not stop to kiss his face as “no one” shows clearly that anyone and no one are interchangeable in the end; for what difference does it make who we were in life if when we die no one stops for us or remembers us? The busy folk who buried the dead Anyone and buried No One beside him also buried every trace of them; as time goes by, any remaining traces disintegrate, and so it is for every person.
Despite the potential consequences, people who are content with the way things are and the way they live their lives are not highly likely to make changes, at least not easily. No matter what happens to the individual, life will always continue for society as a whole: “women and men (both dong and ding)/ summer autumn winter spring/ reaped their sowing and went their came/ sun moon stars rain (Cummings 33-36).
“Reaped their sowing and went their came” refers to both the human tendency to go about one’s business and not bother with anything outside of one’s immediate world and to the phrase “reap what you sow.” To reap what one sows is to live a life earned by the individual and not attributable to any outside forces, good or bad; someone who goes about their business and does not concern themselves with the lives of others would qualify.
Overall, this poem explains and provides evidence for the idea that everyone is important on some level, regardless of how they relate to and interact with the outside world. Even though the dead man and the ones who passed him by will never interact in a greater and more involved context, for that brief moment Anyone and No One met. The two of them, nameless, faceless, and bodiless, represent the daily interactions everyone in the world has that are insignificant to them and others but deeply affects the world in ways they are not even aware of.
- Cummings, E. E. Anyone lived in a pretty how town. 1940. Poem. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/