There are thirty-six lines in ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town,’’ and eight of them are repetitions of or variants on a previous line. These repeated lines have to do with the list of the seasons, the list of celestial bodies and precipitation, and the bells ringing throughout the town. All of these repeated lines are related to the passage of time and therefore establish one of the poem’s primary themes. Aside from these straightforward repetitions, there are two mentions of children forgetting things as they mature, and of the dream-filled slumber that describes death. The word by is also repeated several times throughout the poem, especially in the second half. The word is used to join similar or identical things, which is a repetition in and of itself. A popular phrase that demonstrates this usage is ‘‘one by one,’’ though cummings uses far less conventional constructions in his poem.
Alliteration and Assonance
Alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds in words or syllables placed close together, occurs in much of the poem, as several lines use words that begin with the same letter. Line 4 is comprised of eight words, three of which begin with the letter d and four of which begin with h. In line 7, which is also eight words long, four words begin with th, and two begin with s. One could list almost endlessly the instances of alliteration that run throughout the poem. Assonance, the repetition of similar vowel sounds, is even more integral to the poem’s construction. As Explicator contributor B. J. Hunt points out, repeated variations of o sounds (both long and short) and ow sounds are numerous. Even the poem’s title contains examples of this particular assonance. Alliteration and assonance, after all, are just a more specific or stylized form of repetition.
Rhyme in all forms runs through this poem, which is more stylized than it at first appears to be. End rhymes (those occurring at the end of a line) appear in the first two lines of stanzas 1 through 4 and stanzas 8 through 9. Additionally, slant rhymes (involving words that almost rhyme) occur in the last two lines of stanza 2 and stanza 9. Internal rhymes (rhymes occurring within the same line) appear in slant form in lines 15 and 20. Because the rhymes in the poem occur with a sporadic regularity, ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’’ avoids sounding too predictable (too sing-song), yet it also is stylized enough to sound mindfully poetic, elevated to a style that exists beyond normal speech.
Syntactical inversion, the style for which cummings first became famous (or infamous), is evident throughout ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town.’’ Even the title is an example of this inversion; its meaning could just as easily be communicated with the statement ‘‘Anyone lived in a pretty town.’’ Without ‘‘how,’’ however, the playful rhythm of the poem is lost. Brian Docherty, writing in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, observes that the second line of the poem, a disordered description of the sound of bells ringing in the town, could easily be reordered into a coherent sentence as well, simply by rearranging the words around the subject and the verb. Such unusual arrangements are evident throughout, particularly in line 6, which is perhaps the most straightforwardly disordered line in the poem. According to Docherty, cummings also uses words of all stripes as nouns. This is particularly the case in lines 4, 7, 10, 18, 20, and 35. These devices open up the poem for multiple interpretations while reinforcing its rhythmic form.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, e. e. cummings, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009