Buffalo Bill’s
defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
Jesus

he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

Analysis, meaning and summary of e.e. cummings's poem Buffalo Bill’s

38 Comments

  1. Janet says:

    What separates this poem and most of E.E. Cummings work is how the spatial arrangement of words creates a physical rhythm unlike other poems where more metrical devices create rhythm. It makes the piece have a pace and a cadence unlike any other, first slow then fast. Cummings also has a remarkable talent for wordsmithing, “watersmooth-silver stallion” has an enhanting ring to it like no other, further cementing poetry as a medium further enjoyed when read aloud.

  2. Krista says:

    The overall tone of this poem is cynical, if not downright satirical. It is playfully innocent in its nastiness. Cummings shows that no matter how wonderful, or handsome, or skilled, or charming this iconic man was, Death still came out on top. I think it is interesting how Buffalo Bills and Mister Death line up at the beginning and the end. Cummings uses this circular nature to tie the poem up.
    Also, he uses the word defunct, which means that something is no longer existing or performing its duties. I think it is a great synonym for dead in context of the tone.

  3. Kelsey says:

    This poem references the historic figure Buffalo Bill and his way of life. It is almost describing how his legacy and the impression he left on society is greater than his death because he is still a part of American life. The tone of the poem is happy and showing that the life of Buffalo Bill was exciting and different.

  4. Margaret says:

    I think cummings is honoring Buffalo Bill by saying defunct, not dead. Isolating the word Jesus emphasizes how incredible Buffalo Bill was.

  5. Anu says:

    He is trying to convey that no one, not even the legendary Buffalo Bill, can escape death. No matter how much power and charisma you have, death is inevitable.

  6. Mitch says:

    I feel like this poem is kind of an homage to Buffalo Bill. It seems like E.E. Cummings is almost praising him.

  7. sampaul says:

    this poem as a starical poem.

  8. Hari paudel dang says:

    Buffalo Bill’s is a poem from which many meanings can be drawn. In surface it seems the poet’s respect towards the famous American cowboy but critically we find that the poet is satirizing the traditional ‘heroism’ of killing the armless and harmless animals with weapons.The poem sharply satire that hero who won all but defeatd himself with death.this poem is modern poem which can be interpreted in many approprite meanings.

  9. lisa kemmerer says:

    cummings plays with the idea of a big killer, buffalo bill, meeting Death, and raises questions about the value of life at the hands of brutal humans, and/or at the hands of the gods.

    lisa kemmerer

  10. jon rice says:

    the poem satirizes Buffalo Bill. He’s sooo handsome and hand can shoot sooo fast; the word Jesus is an exclamation as in “Geez” or “Geewhiz!” both of which are derived from using the word “Jesus” as an exclamation point. Like everyone else, the blue-eyed handsome blonde shooter must die and face Mister Death, who is no more impressed with Bill than with anyone else. So, as others have stated Buffalo Bill is not measured by the superficial things which society said made him great. What did he do that was impressive, but look good and shoot fast and accurate? Death is not impressed. The poem is in sync with Cummings’ “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town,” wherein, the everday people are impressed with anyone “not at all.” But “anyone” though he is a “nobody,” lives into eternity.

  11. Andre says:

    I am very taken with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I think there is a striking similarity between his “Felix Randal” and “Buffalo Bill’s”–it would be interesting to see a discussion of comparisons between these poets and John Donne [“Death be not Proud”], Emily Dickenson [“Because I could not stop for death…”] [“I heard a fly buzz when I died…”] Death in perhaps all poetry is an exploration or a “mining” of this Intruding Angel as a Definer of what it is to be human–and the poet defies the finality of death with the Eternal Word: “I shall not die–Scripta Manent !”

  12. Jill says:

    Though I’m no authority, I thought that it merely referred to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where he would shoot clay pigeons as a trick. A “blue-eyed boy” is a treasured, or favorite, inferring that Buffalo Bill is quite the marked prize for death to have claimed. After all, he seemed so invinceable, but then he just died of kidney failure.

  13. Michael says:

    I agree with everything that has been written and just like to add a few thoughts. First, the method of contrast Cummings uses: “…a watersmooth, silver stallion; onetwothreefourfivepigeonsjustlikethat…Jesus he was a handsome man — and then uses the image of Mister Death. All those beautiful expressions are empty, and not just empty, evil, because of what they mean. Whether he was handsome or a great shot or rode a unique horse mean nothing compared to the idea — and ideal — of a man, or America — that beneath the surface we are actually and historically murderous, and the image of the blue eyed boy is the image of country which is the exact opposite of its own view of itself. Buffalo Bill was actually the creation of a dime novelist, Ned Buntline who devised the character that William Cody (Buffalo Bill’s real name) became. He was not a great shot or even a man of the west but a superb performer. More of this can be found in Robert Altman’s great movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull’s History lesson. Altman does take some license but within the context of the poem, The reality of Buffalo Bill — and America — is different than the reality.

  14. Ash says:

    Im sorry Andrew but I disagree with you on the point of Jesus being a figure of death and killing since his main preachings were that of love and peace. Also, normal everyday murders outlast all of the killings done from religion

  15. Pete Borowicz says:

    Im not really the type to like poems or even make comments like this, that probably don’t mean anything to anyone except to the person writing them. However this one struck something in me as it has in all who commented. For one thing no one, including myself, really knows what Cummings is saying. He’s never told any one of us. To me, the first part seems very literal. His defucnt being his cease of existance. Then Cummings seems to show how impressive of a person he was, which he was indeed. When he uses “Jesus” i dont think he is referring to anything literal, just uses it to stress the point of how handsome he was. then i guess he asks how death or god has liked taking away one of americas most prolific figures. Thanks Dr. Cain

  16. Andrew says:

    The shape of the poem is an arrowhead. Buffalo Bill represented the cowboy, the indian killer. Yes he can be percieved as some great hero, but he was nothing more than a killing machine. And just like a machine, he’s become defunct. He rode a watersmooth-silver stallion (cummings use of imagery) and broke onetwothreefourfive *pidgeonsjustlikethat*. (He didnt break pidgeons, be broke indians “just like that”, like their lives meant nothing). At the TIP of the arrowhead, Jesus. The ultimate motivation for killing of all time, religion. The three points of the arrowhead are bill, jesus, and mister death. All killers. Thank you.

  17. Lakshman says:

    ‘The glories of our blood and state / Are shadows not substantial things / There is no armour aginst fate / DEATH lays his icy hands on kings…Sceptre and crown must tumble down / And in the dust be equal made / With the poor crooked scythe and spade.”
    The expression ‘Jesus’ is not ouside this.
    “The lone and level sands stretch far away…” Shelley.

    “Great Caesar is now dead clay to stop a hole to keep the wind away…”
    Shakespeare.

    The man that helped the railroad rip through the heart of the American Prarie leaving thousands of bison rotting is ‘dreaming’ sod.
    Like Superman, Spiderman, Heman, Batman and other one man shows that the world likes to applaud when their short term perspectives are satisfied, William Fredrick Cody too has called it a day. The Wild West Show is now ‘defunct’.

    The prurient fingers of philosophy, science and religion have pinched and poked and buffetted nature thinking it might conceive gods…All they could do was ravish the land of Pocohontas and destroy the very essence of the nature of ‘being’.

    Cummings leads us out from the real world to the world that the Pied Piper took the children to…’a thing to dream of, not to tell’..a world where the dying notes of the whistle of the balloon man suggests so much more than the rotting carcass of buffalo on the Prarie.

  18. Jenny says:

    I’m still not getting it. I have read the poem over and over again. I’m looking for something or someone who could really break this poem down to me.

    HELLO is anyone out there. Please I need help.

    At first I thought this poem was about the spirit of BB. And that the author was writing about BB life in general, but after reading all these comments I see that on wrong.

    Please e-mail if you like.

  19. christina says:

    free writes are confusing!

  20. Andy says:

    I’m crazy but sometimes think the second half, beginning with Jesus is a separate poem about Jesus, not B.B. Or that somehow Jesus and B.B. are made equivelent. Both miracle workers in a sense. And if death got them both, that has implications for the whole basis of Christianity. Rejection of the after-life leads logically to adoption of a carpe diem attitude about this one, which would suit cummings.

  21. sam says:

    great name and i thout it was about his death,but not.

  22. mike says:

    im so confused i dont knoe wat it means

  23. Elanor says:

    Now when I first read this poem I thought it was about Buffalo Bill’s death, boy was I off! After my mother giving me some major hint’s I finally understood, the poem is one big metaphor for the “death” of the Wild West. Buffalo Bill as the one intitial figeure that kept the Wild West alive. And the poem is asking so how do you think of yourself now for killing the wild west era and causing a turn of the century were life is harder and more violent, are we better off?

    Wow is e.e. cummings good!!!
    His poems seem so simple but they are so complex you don’t even know it at a first glance.

    Well wish me luck I’m presenting a presentation on this poem tomarro, hope it goes well.

    I hope this analysis will help some of you who are completely confused out there…don’t worry…I think cumming’s secretly wanted us all to have a panic attack from his poems. hehheehehe

  24. Laurie Collier says:

    Buffalo Bill was a complete jerk. I never took the poem to mean what most of the others here believe, that it is an ode to some bygone heroism, yuck. I considered it to be a very sarcastic and biting poem that meant that the entire era that Buffalo Bill represents, with the American myth of taming the wild west and phony heroism, was defunct. I never went to any length to analyze the poem, I like to take poems at face value. Although if I like one I will read it many times, over many years, and it will mean more as I age, (I’m 38).I immediately saw Buffalo Bill as the blue eyed boy, and as Mister Death. Except as the blue eyed boy he represents white America’s lost, supposed, innocence, and he also represents the destruction it wrought as Mister Death.

  25. Amanda says:

    I have to do a Poetry Project for my English teacher. (8th grade)I said this in my commentary on the poem. “The fact that he says that he’s “defunct” is a purposeful misuse of the word. Defunct means to cease to work or function. It doesn’t refer to death. Cummings is implying that Buffalo Bill was a shooting machine who didn’t die; he simply stopped. It’s as if a machine broke down and was thrown out.”

  26. Brenda says:

    According to my English teacher, Buffalo Bill’s defunct is stylistically supposed to be read out loud on a single breath. When it is read in this manner, your breath quite literally dies on the word death, and it gives a whole new meaning to the poem, because it is not only Buffalo Bill dying, it’s yourself, and the American ideal. S.D., I believe that is why the poem is written so “un-poetically”.

  27. Anne says:

    My english teacher made me read this poem, and i kind of like the way that ee-cummings uses his words to catch your eye and not only your ear. I think that He’s saying that Buffalo Bill was a great hero, but “mr death” had to come and take him away. that is all….pole vault

  28. Heidi says:

    This is my analysis from this paper im writing for school. No coppying. Keep in mind im only in 9th grade.

    In the poem “Buffalo Bill’s” cummings explores the death of a hero. Buffalo Bill was a western legend that was famous for being a cowboy, inventor, and soldier. What cummings expresses in his poetry is that Buffalo Bill isn’t just dead. He has become defunct, a word that means obsolete or extinct. Buffalo Bill represents all heroes, and when cummings says that he is defunct, he means that there is no more use for heroes anymore. Of course the reader can’t help but notice cumming’s admiration for Buffalo Bill. He didn’t just ride a horse; he rode a “…watersmooth-silver stallion.” The next section “…and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat” refers to Buffalo Bill’s trick shooting clay pigeons with a six-shooter. cummings only had five pigeons because cowboys who often rode horses would only load five bullets, leaving one empty chamber in case it went off inside the hip holster. The last two lines of this poem seem to bring the poem to a chilling ending, “how do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Death” cummings seems to say that death seems to have a taste for those who are important or notable, like a “blueeyed boy.” This seems to be the theme of the poem.

    w00t!

  29. James says:

    The last line:

    “how do you like your blueeyed boy
    Mister Death”

    I always took this as twisting of the old cliche “How do you like your steak?” That sort of image. I think people often neglect the sarcasm in cummings’ poetry.

  30. Don Berg says:

    Ken Kesey read this poem at a Grateful Dead show in Oct. 1991 speaking about the death of Bill Graham. Hauntingly beautiful, the last line is spine tingling. I suggest you seek out the tapes.

    http://www.davidburn.com/ken.php

  31. david pemex says:

    I liked the poem it was really cool…. but chingen todos a su madre pinches pendejines que estan leyendo poemas comprense una pinche vida no valen verga ee cummings me la pela me pasa por los huevos…PUTOS

  32. Alan Glazen says:

    To me, it’s all about the last line, “…how do you like your blueeyed boy, Mister Death”—-like “death” had coveted this great hero, had stake him out, shared this iconic vision of the man who could shooting onetowthreefourfive pigeons justlike that”….so fate takes this hero, and WE KNOW ALL ALONG—he is only a person, like each of us….so in a sense, the sucker is death, or the devil or fate. We knew all along that Buffalo Bill WAS and still IS (‘s) VALID, as just a man.

  33. Larry says:

    Right off, I have to say that this is one of my favorite poems. My English teacher in Grade 12 read it and sent chills up and down our spines (mine anyway). Onetwothreefourfive – why like that? To illustrate how fast he could shoot clay pigeons. Why five? In the old west they loaded five shots, with an empty chamber so they couldn’t accidently shoot themselves while riding!

    I think Cummings is making a comment on our choice of ‘heroes’. On the one hand, you have the handsome figure who was probably one of the most famous people of his time. But Cummings doesn’t let him die some heroic death. He simply becomes defunct. Like some machine that has past its useful life. ‘how do you like your blueeyed boy’ is a put down I think. Buffalo Bill is a symbol of evil, of a handsome, talented man who didn’t put any of his talent to real valuable use. In the end, he turns out to be mortal and simply becomes defunct. So, what do you think Mr. Death – he’s really just another guy just like the rest of us. I think that is what Cummings is trying to convey. It’s funny that for some reason I stumbled into looking for Buffalo Bill’s lyrics today – the same day I was talking to someone about the search for the ‘Greatest Canadian’ that has been going on. I think Buffalo Bill’s says a lot about pop culture heroes and the disdain Cummings had for our choices of heroes. Similarly, right up there with truly great Canadians are choices that are really totally irrelevant in that yes they may be talented people, but they are doing things that really don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    At the same time though, you read Buffalo Bill’s and it’s almost impossible to not get caught up in admiration of the man. He didn’t just ride a horse, it was a ‘watersmooth-silver stallion’. He wasn’t just a good shot, he could break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
    Jesus

    I’ve never thought about analyzing a poem for 29 years and this is the first time I’ve actually posted a comment. So, I’ll dedicate it to my grade 12 English teacher, Miss Lynus. The best teacher I ever had – wish I had been paying attention at the time. Sorry Miss Lynus, I should have put your teachings to better use. God bless.

  34. jeet says:

    the poem is associated with the legend of buffalo bill who was a character associated with power and masclunity during the old western days when honor was real and something which had to be earned. the ways were hard and involved killing sprees …respect was associated with power and such is the legend who can be seen as henchman of death . hence the ironic ending with a rhetoric question as in “how do u like ur blueeyed boy (bill) ; mister death”
    the henchman of death is now dead himself- kinda like mocking death as if saying “what u gonna do now?”

  35. S.D. says:

    I’m not so sure that I like this poem. It looks like it’s a two person poem, but in all there’s nothing that I can see that is poetic about it. It’s like he was rambling. Then that’s my opinion. If anyone actually understands it I would be appreciative if they would share what they feel the meaning is.

  36. Nalani says:

    I completly agree with ENB … its a stylistic choice he made to help set the tone for the poem. I really don’t think anyone should say how the author wrote the poem was incorrect, they knew what they were doing and what they wanted to say and how they wanted to say it. I liked this poem, it was different, fresh, and intersting!

  37. Beck says:

    First of all i think the formatting of the poem is partly what makes it so brilliant. Furthermore, i dont really know if we’ll ever be able to fully understand the poem. Its somewhat vague which adds effect. Perhaps the vagueness is there to let the reader read into it the way they will, rather than try to force some image that we are supposed to see.

  38. ENB says:

    I am in the 11th grade and i am doing a report on Cummings. I think that his particular formatt of this poem is to create an image for the reader about the character of Buffalo Bill. With the words all running together; onetwothreefourfive, I think it expresses his gunshots, shooting clay pigeons. I think his poetry is very interesting, even though it may be harder to figure out than most other poems.

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