E.E. Cummings Recites ‘Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town,’ 1953

Here’s a great read­ing by E.E. Cum­mings of his famous and wide­ly anthol­o­gized poem, “any­one lived in a pret­ty how town.” The poem has a bit­ter­sweet qual­i­ty, deal­ing with the lone­li­ness of the indi­vid­ual amid the crush­ing con­for­mi­ty of soci­ety, but in a play­ful way, like a nurs­ery rhyme with delight­ful­ly shuf­fled syn­tax.  It is the sto­ry of “any­one,” who lived in “a pret­ty how town” and was loved by “noone.” With the author’s idio­syn­crat­ic omis­sion of some spac­ing, cap­i­tal­iza­tion and punc­tu­a­tion, the poem begins:

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

The poem was first pub­lished as “No. 29” in Cum­mings’s 1940 col­lec­tion 50 Poems. (Click here to open the full text of the poem in a new win­dow.) The record­ing was made on May 28, 1953, when Cum­mings was a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Har­vard. It is avail­able from Harper­Au­dio as part of a one-hour col­lec­tion, Essen­tial E.E. Cum­mings.

You can find the poem list­ed in our col­lec­tions of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Gins­berg Reads His Famous­ly Cen­sored Beat Poem, Howl

Lis­ten to J.R.R. Tolkien Read Poems from The Fel­low­ship of the Ring, in Elvish and Eng­lish (1952)

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukowski’s Poem, “The Laugh­ing Heart”

Pier Pao­lo Pasoli­ni Talks and Reads Poet­ry with Ezra Pound (1967)

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Comments (9)
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  • Gretchen says:

    e.e. cum­mings and not E.E. Cum­mings. Punc­tu­a­tion ( or lack there­of) was part of his artistry and extend­ed into his per­sona. All of his works are pub­lished with his name uncap­i­tal­ized.

  • Scott says:


    I’m sure you mean well, but you are com­plete­ly mis­in­formed about the uncap­i­tal­iza­tion of his name. It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion, but com­plete­ly untrue.

    The only orig­i­nal pub­lished set of poems that even shows his name in low­er­case is the cov­er design of, “100 Select­ed Poems,” but even the inside pages with copy­right infor­ma­tion and all oth­er front mat­ter show his name cap­i­tal­ized.

    The E.E. Cum­mings Soci­ety cap­i­tal­izes his name.

    The E.E. Cum­mings Trust cap­i­tal­izes his name.

    His pub­lish­er (W.W. Norton/Liveright) cap­i­tal­izes his name.

    More recent pub­lished ver­sions of his works show his name in low­er­case on the cov­er, but it’s just a design choice for book cov­er artists. Noth­ing else.

  • Mike Springer says:

    Thank you Scott.

  • M.R. Stringer says:

    I’ve always under­stood that the poet was so wed­ded to the lack of upper case that he insist­ed on his name being rep­re­sent­ed as e.e.cummings. In fact, through­out my time at uni­ver­si­ty that’s how it was ALWAYS shown. What’s changed?

    • Mike Springer says:

      Noth­ing has changed. Scott is cor­rect. And Cum­mings often used the upper­case. (As, for exam­ple, in the first word of the sec­ond stan­za quot­ed above.) For more on the issue, see the arti­cle (and its sequel, linked to at the bot­tom of the arti­cle) in the Jour­nal of the E.E. Cum­mings Soci­ety by Cum­mings schol­ar Nor­man Fried­man: “NOT ‘e.e. cum­mings.’ ”

  • Emme B says:

    I agree with the use of the poets name, but, because the author choos­es not to use punc­tu­a­tion and cap­i­tal­iza­tion in his poems per gen­er­al punc­tu­a­tion rules, the punc­tu­a­tion and cap­i­tal­iza­tion has deep­er mean­ing and does not sim­ply show that he was okay with using it. Not sure if that’s what Mike was get­ting at or not, but want­ed to add my 2 cents.

  • Mike Springer says:

    I agree with you, Emme. Cum­mings’s unortho­dox and selec­tive use of cap­i­tal­iza­tion and punc­tu­a­tion gave him an extra tool for con­vey­ing mean­ing.

  • Tom Wirth says:

    This read­ing reminds me of the voice of the snake, Kaa, from the Dis­ney movie The Jun­gle Book (por­trayed by the won­der­ful char­ac­ter actor, Ster­ling Hol­loway, who also voiced Win­nie the Pooh). Both have a won­der­ful singsong qual­i­ty.

  • This Is One Of The Poems Which Have Drawn My Atten­tion To Begin Spend­ing Hours Focus­ing On Poetry.I Dont Know What Inter­ests Me Much(since I Know Much Not Con­cern­ing This Genre Of Lit­er­a­ture), But Gen­er­al­ly The Way It Flows.

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