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In Just

The poem "[in Just -]" (1920) by E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) is a seemingly simple poem that catches the eye because of its unique use of spacing, line breaks, and capitalization, characteristic of E. E. Cummings' style. Using experimental techniques with traditional structures and forms, Cummings created his own style of poetry. "[in Just -]" uses the season of spring to explore youth, childhood, and the loss of innocence. Keep reading for a summary and an analysis of the poem.

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The poem "[in Just -]" (1920) by E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) is a seemingly simple poem that catches the eye because of its unique use of spacing, line breaks, and capitalization, characteristic of E. E. Cummings' style. Using experimental techniques with traditional structures and forms, Cummings created his own style of poetry. "[in Just -]" uses the season of spring to explore youth, childhood, and the loss of innocence. Keep reading for a summary and an analysis of the poem.

"[in Just -]" At a Glance

Below is the summary and analysis of E.E. Cummings poem, which is notable for its playful syntax, unique structure, and enchanting imagery.

Summary & Analysis of the Poem "[in Just -]"
Published1920
AuthorE. E. Cummings
Structure24-line poem written in one long stanza
Rhyme schemefree verse with no discernible pattern
Literary devicesRefrain, alliteration, enjambment, allusion, metaphor
ImageryVisual
ThemesChildhood innocence, spring
SummaryThe poem primarily focuses on children playing in the spring mud and the mysterious, whimsical figure of the 'balloonman' who is associated with the goat-footed Pan, a symbol of nature and mischief.
AnalysisWritten in a distinct modernist style, the poem begins as a celebration of spring and childhood and ends with hints that the innocence of childhood, like the nature of spring, is fleeting.

"[in Just -]" Poem

Explore the poem below and note down how it is presented. Why do you think E.E. Cummings structures "[in Just -]" in this way? Does this form and structure suit the overall themes and message of the poem?

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it's
spring
and
the
goat-footed
balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

In Greek myth, Pan is the deity of fertility. He is often portrayed as a satyr, a creature whose bottom half is a goat and top half is the torso of a man. Pan typically had a musical instrument called the panpipes or pan flute with him, which he would play as he walked along, often beckoning creatures with his enticing music. Said to rule over hunters, shepherds, and flock, he is seen as a mischievous god.

"[in Just -]" Summary

"[in Just -]" by E. E. Cummings is set during the spring. The speaker describes a few spring-like images, including the landscape being mud-like. True to typical spring-like weather when it often rains, mud and puddles of water are sporadically on the ground. Two boys and two girls are playing outside.

A man carting balloons walks by and calls them with a whistle. The balloon seller is lame, thereby seemingly slow to walk.

His whistle first entices the boys, who are playing with marbles. Although the man is slow, the boys leave their game and run to be by his side. The man, now described as odd, whistles again and attracts the attention of the two girls. The pair of girls who were playing hop-scotch and jump rope then leave their activities and run to him as well. In this final image of the poem, the balloon man is described as being "goat-footed" which lends a bit of imagination to the poem. The poem ends with the "balloonMan" whistling again, seemingly beckoning more children.

The poem can be viewed as a celebration of childhood innocence and the transformative power of nature. Its experimental style serves to encapsulate the raw, untamed energy of both spring and childhood.

[in Just -], Satyr Statue, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A satyr is a creature from Greek mythology with the torso of a man and the feet of a goat.

"[in Just-]" Structure

The poem "[in Just -]" by E. E. Cummings is 24 lines in length, written as one large stanza. As with many of Cummings' poems, it is visually interesting, with many blank spaces, broken lines, and words pushed together. "[in Just -]" has no discernible rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Rather, this brief and disjunct narrative poem is written in free-verse, like many other poems from the modernist period.

Free verse poetry has no specific rhyme scheme or meter.

Modernism was a philosophical movement in literature and art that rejected the romanticized ideals and strict structure of the Romantic period. Modernism, which started in the early 1900s and spanned until the early 1940s, was a back-to-basics movement in literature where the language was often brief and direct. Modernist poets played with traditional poetic structures, and altered rhyme schemes and meter, in favor of more relaxed forms.

The modernist poets used their poetry as a vehicle to explore many themes, ranging from life and death to important social, philosophical, and political issues of the time. As society evolved and become more industrialized, the poetic form molded itself to mirror the changing ideals and needs of a growing and modern society.

Cummings is well-known for his experimentation with form, structure, capitalization, and syntactical conventions. "[in Just -]" uses non-traditional typography, with words that crash into one another, and lines that seem to tumble off the page in true Cummings form. Cummings uses experimental writing with purpose.

The blank spaces create a visual break for the eye and a phonetic break when reading aloud. The time it takes for the eye to jump from one word to the next creates a brief silence, long enough to slow the reading pace and emphasize specific words. Here is an example from line 5:

whistles far and wee"

In this example, the gaps between words mimic the time it takes for the balloon man's whistle to travel to the distant children. Cummings uses the spaces on the page to help readers visualize the actual time it takes for sound to travel. Dismissing even traditional capitalization and spacing rules, Cummings jumbles words together in the following line, line 6:

and eddieandbill come"

The boys' names, proper nouns, remain uncapitalized in this instance. The lack of capital letters aims to de-emphasize the individual boys and show that these two are representative of likely numerous boys who have been called with a whistle. The compressed names represent visually the action of the poem. The boys are running to the balloon man.

Presenting their names as one jumbled word speeds up the poem in this section and imitates the action, making the words feel as rushed as the boys are. The visual cues Cummings employs such as varied positioning of words and spaces, length of words, phrases, and lines control pauses, create emphasis in the reading, and cause both relief and tension according to when and where the lines end.

"[in Just -]" Analysis

"In Just-" is a quintessential E.E. Cummings poem, notable for how it breaks with traditional poetic structure to capture the fluidity and excitement of spring. The poem shows scattered words and phrases to reflect the chaotic energy of children playing. The 'balloonman' acts as a symbol of nature, enchantment, and perhaps even the onset of adulthood, introducing a subtle layer of complexity to this otherwise seemingly innocent scene.

The poem can be viewed as a celebration of childhood innocence and the transformative power of nature. Its experimental style serves to encapsulate the raw, untamed energy of both spring and childhood.

To understand the poem, "[in Just -]" and E.E. Cummings' inventive and unique style, it is best to take a closer look at the poem.

Lines 1-4

Lines 1-4 of the poem begin by establishing the setting.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

Opening his poem with the title, Cummings begins by playing with traditional capitalization rules. Capitalizing the word "Just" in line one reveals that the following incidents happen only in spring, exclusive to this season. The metaphor "the world is mud" means the world is moldable and malleable. It also literally represents the world is born again in spring, fresh after a rainstorm. Much like the children, the mud represents the freshness, youth of the earth, and potential for life.

Rather than rely on a traditional rhyme scheme, Cummings uses alliteration to establish a song-like pattern.

Alliteration is when words that begin with the same sound are placed near one another in a line or several lines. Usually referring to consonants, the repeated sound occurs on the stressed part of the words or at the start.

The lilting created with the repeated "l" sound in the phrase "luscious the little / lame balloonman" (lines 3-4) reminds one of a child's nursery rhyme. These endearing little songs children often learn in their youth, the spring of their lives.

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike objects without using the words "like" or "as." The comparison is usually between a concrete object that represents a more abstract idea, emotion, or experience.

Establishing a refrain throughout the poem, Cummings mentions spring and the balloon. Although both seem at first innocent images, the balloonman is lame, not able to walk right, and stands in direct contrast to the youth and potential offered by the season. When all things are growing and new, freshly rained upon with puddles of water about, the man can barely walk. His slow motions, like a limp, don't necessitate the children running toward him, but they do nonetheless.

Refrain is when a word, phrase, or line repeats throughout the course of a poem. It can be in exact terms, or a variation of the line.

[in Just -], Red Balloons, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Balloons are associated with youth and freedom, which contrasts the ”lame balloonman” who is likely old and cannot walk properly.

Lines 5-10

Lines 5-10 of the poem establish the first round of action and reinforces the setting.

whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful

Again stressing the importance of the season, Cummings mentions "spring" (line 9) as a sort of refrain. Line 5 begins a cycle within the poem, using the refrain "whistles far and wee" to show how the sound of the whistle travels and establish the patterned cycle. The space in the line, coupled with the rushed spacing in the following line that jams "eddieandbill" (line 10) together, shows the casual nature of the man in contrast with the hurried and boisterous boys. The world is "puddle-wonderful" but something sinister seems about to happen.

Cummings uses enjambment to propel the reader forward and create a sense of urgency within the narrative. Things are left unanswered at the end of line 10, and the need for a conclusion pushes readers to the next lines.

Enjambment is the trickling over of ideas from one line onto another without the use of punctuation.

What other instances of enjambment can you find within the poem? Why do you think Cummings chose these particular instances to leave a thought incomplete?

Lines 11-15

Lines 11-15 offer a more detailed description of the balloon man and mark a change in tone.

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

In a twist of fiction, the speaker in "[in Just - ]" now describes the balloonman as "queer", or weird. The man now seems amiss and even more out of place in a near heavenly-like setting of spring, a time of birth, renewal, and youth. The girls, just like the boys from earlier in the poem, leave their childlike play of "hop-scotch and jump-rope" (line 15) to follow the balloonman.

Showing their sense of urgency, "bettyandisbel" are proper names that are lowercased and mumbled together. The lack of proper capitalization, word spacing, and adherence to tradition shows the children may be about to break habits, or traditions, to start a new life or cycle.

Diction is the specific word choice a writer uses to establish mood, tone, or convey attitude toward a subject.

Lines 16-24

Lines 16 -24 conclude the poem, ending in an ominous tone.

it's
spring
and
the
goat-footed
balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee"

The poem ends on an ominous tone with the words literally trickling away, almost as if off the page. This visual depiction of the words mirrors the way the children run after the "goat-footed / balloonMan" (line 20-21). While some can interpret the balloon man as a satyr, who is mischievous and guides the children away, this figure can also be alluding to Pan, the Greek deity of fertility.

In this interpretation, the children are being led away from their childlike natures and off to lose their innocence. The final lines can be seen as a sexual awakening for individuals coming of age, leaving their childhood behind. The poem cycles through the man calling on the children and the children answering the call twice.

The poem then ends in anticipation as the "balloonMan whistles / far /and / wee" (line 21 -24). This eerie conclusion shows the cycle is almost certain to continue.

"[in Just -]" Themes

"[in Just -]" by E. E. Cummings uses a typical modernist topic of nature to explore the deeper meanings of life. Using simple diction and experimental form, Cummings explores two main themes of the renewal of spring and the inevitable loss of innocence.

The Renewal of Spring

The poem begins as a celebration of spring and childhood. Children are playing innocently and the landscape has just been kissed with spring rain. The meaning of the poem expresses a need to enjoy the new season's temperature and the spring of life while it lasts. Cumming's uses spring as a representation of all that is youthful, budding, innocent, and free. Only children can enjoy the mud on the ground, and giggle at the prospect of jumping in puddles.

The earth is mud, still pliable, and able to take any form. The earth, and the children, still have potential when in the spring of life. With simple form, direct diction, and clear images of youth and innocence, Cummings shows the charm of youth and innocence.

The Inevitable Loss of Innocence

As the poem progresses, readers are introduced to a ballonman who does not fit with the rest of the surroundings. He is lame, struggling to walk, and weird. In the poem's ending, the speaker hints that the innocence of childhood, like the nature of spring, is fleeting. Using refrain, Cummings shows how cycles in life are inevitable.

The children play. Then they are distracted by a whistle, a calling, and they instinctively they respond. The children are naturally curious, a characteristic of youth. However, once enticed by the unknown, the children drop their youthful and innocent endeavors.

The cycle of experience, expressed in the inevitable "whistle" is unavoidable. Therefore it is necessary to enjoy spring when possible. Whether it is the season and the lovely weather, or the spring of one's own youth, some things happen "in Just - /spring" and never again.

"[in Just -]" - Key takeaways

  • The poem "[in Just -]" by E. E. Cummings is a 24-line poem published in 1920.
  • Themes in the free-verse poem "[in Just -]" include childhood innocence and spring.
  • As in many of his other poems, in "[in Just -]" Cummings uses a combination of literary devices including refrain, alliteration, enjambment, allusion, and metaphor.
  • Cummings employs visual imagery to establish the setting and tone.
  • "[in Just -]" alludes to a satyr, a mythological creature that is half-man and half-goat and known for mischief. Others believe it is an allusion to Pan (also depicted as a satyr), the Greek deity of fertility.

Frequently Asked Questions about In Just

The poem begins as a celebration of spring and childhood and ends with hints that the innocence of childhood, like the nature of spring, is fleeting. 

"[in Just -]" by E. E. Cummings uses a typical modernist topic of nature to explore the deeper meanings of life. Using simple diction and experimental form, Cummings explores two main themes of the renewal of spring and the inevitable loss of innocence in "[in Just -]."

The poem "[in Just -]" was published in 1920. 

"[in Just -]" alludes to a satyr, a mythological creature that is half-man and half-goat and known for mischief. Others believe it is an allusion to Pan (also depicted as a satyr), the Greek deity of fertility. 

Pan, the Greek deity of fertility, is the ballonman in "[in Just -]". 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

All of the following are characteristic of Cumming's writing except 

The line "when the world is mud" is an example of what literary device? 

Which line from "[in Just - ]" is an example of refrain? 

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