the boys i mean are not refined
they go with girls who buck and bite
they do not give a fuck for luck
they hump them thirteen times a night

one hangs a hat upon her tit
one carves a cross on her behind
they do not give a shit for wit
the boys i mean are not refined

they come with girls who bite and buck
who cannot read and cannot write
who laugh like they would fall apart
and masturbate with dynamite

the boys i mean are not refined
they cannot chat of that and this
they do not give a fart for art
they kill like you would take a piss

they speak whatever’s on their mind
they do whatever’s in their pants
the boys i mean are not refined
they shake the mountains when they dance

Analysis, meaning and summary of e.e. cummings's poem the boys i mean are not refined


  1. chris says:

    how much is a signed original framed of this poem worth

  2. Pierre Voyer says:

    check out the song composed by the Elsie Dee Project with this poem…

  3. Ortrud Radbod says:

    The final line is magnificent. It moves the poem from good to superlative.

  4. Ben says:

    First off, I love e.e. cummings’ poetry and have been looking for more. This site has been the answer to that.
    Anywho, I noticed that everyone here seems to have missed what jumped out at me most: Especially compared to his other poems, the language e.e. cummings uses here is itself unrefined. He is not a poet who tends to spew colorful language like a sailor, as he seems to in this poem.
    From what I can tell, he is intentionally being ironic here. I have to look at this poem some more. e.e. cummings tends to be easy to glaze over, and it’s too easy to just ignore the meaning if you skim a poem.
    You don’t have to be an english scholar, but he certainly makes you think a little.

  5. (not given) says:

    I’m doing a report on this poem for a literature class which I really don’t care to write but…here’s what I’ve recieved from the poem. I think it’s broader than JUST war. I think it expands in to the risks of what children of his generation thought of as despicable. E.E. Cummings grew up a rich child, played with other children who became famous and had parents who were wealthy. He often met other kids who weren’t as fortunate in the backgrounds like him, the slum children. He grew up quite innocently really, it was probably a culture shock when he met these types of children and had spurts of arguments; and name calling with them. (Source: Dreams in the Mirror, A Biography of E.E. Cummings Richard S. Kennedy)

    Can someone tell me when this poem was written?

  6. Julia says:

    I was a junior in high school when my English teacher pointed out something that has stuck with me. She simply asked me how I knew what the author intended.

    Poetry is, inherently, abstract, far more so than prose. Think of a poem you encountered years ago and then think of how it’s meaning has changed since you have changed. This is part of the beauty of poetry. Not only is the meaning completely dependent on the reader but, also, at the state of mind of the reader. Further more, the more we attempt to assign meaning to it the more we colour or view.

    And this poem… The possibilities for interpretations are, quite nearly, endless. Is it an insult on men? Perhaps, but maybe only on those who’ve failed to mature enough not to be boys. Either way the women (and is that “women” or, simply, “girls?”) seem equally disparaged.

    As to war: I advise caution here. It’s quite easy to compare sex and/or relationships (platonic, sexual; same gender, opposite gender; heck, parent/child, siblings, friends, lovers, etc…) to war. Even more so when any vague phallic reference can be made to weapons. We don’t even need to get into women as the conquered. Of course these concepts can be read into any one line of this poem but how can you know that was the author’s intent?

    In “modern” terms (I use the quotes because Cummings’ is modern poetry)) it’s easy enough to take this poem at face value. So many “boys” seem to go with “girls” who care nothing for art and wit, much the same as they, and both spend their efforts on the superficial and blatantly sexual.

    War, I think, is an interpretation of this poem that allows both genders to not search inward and, instead, puts the onus on the big, bad society. Even if it was, actually, intended as a commentary on war what does that say of the obvious parallels to the relative relationships between boys and girls, men and women, and the individuals (you and I) involved? The mere possibility that such everyday relationships can be used as an anecdote for war should give us all pause to consider those relationships and our roles in them. Then, I’d think, commentary on war or not, the face value of the words is every bit as relevant.

  7. ashley says:

    I think larry is very much so on target with relating this to war, but it can be a poem about society and morals at the same time. This poem reminded me a lot about George Orwells novel “1984” by relating sex to violence. But from the surface or at a more in-depth view it’s a great poem!

  8. Amanda Krebs says:

    These words were put to music over ten years ago by Ricky Broussard, a Cajun/Texan, who lives in Austin, Texas. He performed it in a wild, wreckless, basic rock and rollin’ slam bam, wild-ride delivery with his band Two Hoots n A Holler. He recorded it too. It’s very good, but was even better heard live. I love e.e. cummings’ poems, but could not believe the boys i mean was written by him.

  9. Court says:

    I think the parallel between girls and war is always a funny one, especially when you get to make puns on the use of one’s “gun” – but I think the use of “I mean” in the first line and recurring lines is important not just to keep the syllable count, but also to make another parallel between the boys not being refined and war not being refined. The fact that he has to point out that he means the boys specifically just so you don’t take unrefined to describe everything else I think implies that everything else really is. Of course the soldiers are to be viewed as this since they are referred to as “boys” and sound almost like they’re having fun during this – but they aren’t the ones that came up with war- they’re just the players in the game. It’s sorta like if you read the poem literally and took it completely sexually- sure the boys are the ones that we would call unrefined- but the whole act of sex and the girls themeselves are just as unrefined. In the end- should one really call just the boys unrefined. If you take out that literally statement the poem makes dumb girls sound like tools/whores and wars sound like a mindless/aimless game.

  10. Roy says:

    Channon has reminded me of the idea I had when reading all 50 comments on the “I carry your heart” poem. That’s my favorite of Mr. ee’s poems. In those 50 comments it is clear to me that the poems stimulate meaning from the reader’s life. ie, I don’t think it’s about pregnancy, stalking, etc but those are not in my life. I believe the message is in the tremendous rush of emotion that hits me as I complete the poem.
    In this present poem I think it means what he says, litetally. why not as (as he scratches his nuts). 🙂

  11. Channon says:

    to all,
    i don’t wish to seem like a dimwit after reading all of your comments, but i think that too often everyone is so-o-o into what the poet was really talking about that they forget to just enjoy what the poet thinking. like i said maybe i’m a dullard but i just like cummings poetry because it’s good and i don’t always know what he is talking about.

  12. Blake says:

    While I am intrigued by the clarity Larry has brought to many of the allusions to war for me, I can’t help but think that this poem is more than that. Although inspired by war, and references made for the purpose of keeping the rhyme scheme, I have to say that this poem has a much mroe universal truth behind it. The entire poem speaks of boys (though their gender is unimportant), and how base they are. How they aren’t (obviously) aren’t refined, how primitive they are. The last line, “they shake the mountains when they dance”, is complete juxtaposition to the tone of the entire poem. It goes from a sort of comical, yet slightly disgusted, review to reverential awe. I think the main idea that e.e.cummings is try to convey is that when you really want to get something done, when you really want to make a difference, you might have to go back to your roots, regress a little, take a little bit of soceity out of yourself and fill that whole with instincts.

  13. Shana says:

    thank you Larry, your view on this poem was incredibly enlightening.

  14. Irene says:

    Dear all,

    I am 51 and first became aware of this poem when I bought the Complete Poems of ee cummings. It was included among all the other expected poems with no fanfare. It was separated only by the fact that it was not printed. It was a page that had the poem written in the poet’s own handwriting.

    Thank you, Larry for your illuminating comments. I had never thought of ee cummings in terms of the WAR, but of course sex makes a wonderful metaphor for violence. I’ve emailed your thoughts, and shall think more before I write again.

    All the best,


  15. Doug says:

    Larry, I’m looking at your comment and I’m quite intrigued. At first, I thought that this poem was rather a social commentary on those who have been brought up without any sort of moral following, but your perception of the poem is a strong one. Very interesting…

  16. Larry says:

    To Trey – you mean, wish you would have!

    I love e.e. cummings. Poetry can be cool. One of the things that I think makes e.e. cummings poems great is that one the hand they are instantly ‘understandable’ when read literally. Then you read them over and over and wonder, what might he really have been writing about?

    the boys i mean are not refined is a perfect example of this. Taken literally, it reads as some clarification on the kind of boys he is talking about. Did e.e. cummings enjoy this as a joke, that most people would read his poetry and take it literally?

    Read it again and think about it. e.e. cummings was a volunteer ambulance driver in the war.

    the boys i mean are not refined (well as common soldiers, they probably weren’t well educated)
    they go with girls who buck and bite (these soldiers were loading and firing canons)
    they do not give a fuck for luck (night and day in battle and you wouldn’t give a fuck either)
    they hump them thirteen times a night (how many times they fired – didn’t care if it was 13, luck be damned – now you really didn’t think these boys could fuck a girl thirteen times did you???)

    One hangs a hat upon her tit (on the canon somewhere, like a grease nipple dummy)
    One carves a cross on her behind (soldiers are known for drawing pictures or writing graffiti on their weapons)

    and on and on. Now isn’t it obvious that this poem is really about the soldier boys that e.e. cummings met. Of course as a poet, he would be moved to write a tribute to them! That many people would read the poem literally as about boys fucking girls, well, that is just the magic of e.e. cummings and I wonder if he got a chuckle out of that.

  17. Trey says:

    If this guy hadn’t written this, I would have!
    “and masturbate with dynamite”
    -too good

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