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Analysis and comments on The Ball Poem by John Berryman

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Comment 7 of 308, added on June 16th, 2009 at 3:20 PM.

This seems to be a type of “initiation” poem, exploring what it feels like
both to possess something and to lose it. The exaggerated language the
poet uses to imagine the boy’s reaction to his loss ("an ultimate shaking
grief," "staring down/All his young days," and "the epistemology of loss")
works to suggest the boy’s innocence relative to the grown man’s knowledge
of “deeper” losses. The poet’s hyperbolic description of the boy’s
response isn’t distracting or out of place because it is clear from the
beginning that the speaker is projecting his own nostalgic feelings onto
the boy he observes.
In a sense, this is quite a doom-and-gloom poem, foreshadowing the lousy
experiences the boy has coming to him: “People will take balls, / Balls
will be lost always, little boy.” Clearly, the poet is referring to losses
far more difficult to deal with that the boy will have. The direct address
to the boy is interesting because even as the speaker uses it, it is
unlikely he would ever say this to the boy in real life—i.e. “you think
that’s bad, little boy? Wait til your marriage fails.” No, this is more
about a simple moment observed clarifying a painful feeling for the
speaker.
There is also hope that briefly visits the melancholic poem. The speaker
says the boy is learning “What every man must one day know / And most know
many days, how to stand up / And gradually light returns to the street.” I
like the careful word choice here—“most know many days,” because it leaves
room for those that don’t stand up at all, or who have days they can and
days they can’t.
I am intrigued by the lines, “Soon part of me will explore the deep and
dark / Floor of the harbour…I am everywhere.” I wonder if “I am
everywhere” refers to the losses the speaker has experienced, and that a
part of him is taken away with everything he loses—thus, the more he loses,
the more his self is fragmented, and though he learns to “stand up,” there
is part of him that still explores “the deep and dark / Floor of the
harbour,” hoping to recover what he has lost. I find this to be the most
beautiful idea of the poem, whether I have interpreted it loosely and
foolishly or not.


sarab from United States
Comment 6 of 308, added on May 21st, 2009 at 9:43 PM.

this is one hot delcicious story about little children. I love the part
where the kids father puts his sons balls in his mouth. MMMMMMMMMM. Wish I
could have a taste!

harry from Barbados
Comment 5 of 308, added on June 3rd, 2007 at 4:01 PM.

See how you laugh at the poem when you get a little older and begin to
understand what it's about. Age happens to everybody, and it is unfortunate
you are considered an AP student, in my opinion. As for your teacher, he or
she is the only "atrocious excuse" I see from your post and probably
belongs in a high school, among such delusional idiots as you and your
"gifted" fellow students.

Cswart from United States
Comment 4 of 308, added on May 10th, 2007 at 3:10 PM.

Oh my Lord this poem is awesome. I especially loved the part about balls. I
love balls. Espescially in my mouth. Suck on my chocolate salty balls

Billy Bob from Canada
Comment 3 of 308, added on October 28th, 2005 at 1:32 PM.

Too true, Amish. This is a wonderful poem that expresses not only the loss
of childhood, as fred said, but the feeling of loss that will plague a
human for the rest of his life after learning "first responsibility in a
world of possessions." Berryman says that one must resign oneself to such
an idea of loss in order to continually pick oneself up and live. I love
the alliteration at the end with the "m" sound. "I suffer and move, my mind
and my heart move/with all that move me." How excellent is that! What a
great feeling of movement as the subject of the poem is about suffering
loss, yet continuing to move, to live, to accept more responsibility even
if it is painful? Emily, I suggest you run as fast as you can away from the
teacher that openly laughed with you about this poem in class and continue
to explore poetry with poeple who don't substitute laughter for a genuine
attempt at understanding. By the way, most good poetry is and always has
been realized in the "attempt to make a trivial event seem meaningful"as
you say. Good luck in the future, but get some help for your sake, please!

sean from United States
Comment 2 of 308, added on September 11th, 2005 at 11:40 PM.

Only a high school class could laugh at John Berryman or anything he's
written.

Amish from United States
Comment 1 of 308, added on June 2nd, 2005 at 3:38 PM.

Yesterday I made the mistake of reading this poem aloud in my AP English
class. My classmates, teacher, and I all got a good laugh out of this
atrocious excuse for poetry. "The Ball Poem" could possibly be the worst
poem I have ever read in my life. Although it is terribly written and an
awful attempt to make a trivial event seem meaningful, it is quite
humorous. The humor only lies in the hilarity that many find this poem to
be a work of art! Enjoy

Emily from United States
Comment 0 of 308, added on April 14th, 2005 at 4:29 AM.

This poem expresses the poet's inability to cope with the suicide of his
father when he was only 8 years old and his continual contemplation of his
own suicide (which was accomplished by jumping into the harbor from the
Washington Avenue Bridge.

Brenda Watton from United States
Comment -1 of 308, added on October 25th, 2004 at 11:52 PM.

i think that the ball poem is about ageing. The ball is a metaphor for
childhood/youth and when the ball is losr in the harbour (which could be
symbolic of memoies) the boy starts learning the responsibilities of
growing up. essentially the poem is about the swiftness of time and how
once childhood is lost, it will never return.

fred from United States

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Information about The Ball Poem

Poet: John Berryman
Poem: The Ball Poem
Volume: Collected Poems 1937-1971
Added: Feb 20 2003
Viewed: 1448 times
Poem of the Day: Nov 23 2012


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