What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over—there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight,
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

Analysis, meaning and summary of John Berryman's poem The Ball Poem


  1. SITANSHU says:

    I think that this poem is awesome.This is very wonderful poem that express the lost of childhood.
    And this poem learnt us the idea of how to came out from the feelings of lost.

  2. Nathan Quirk says:

    I heard about John Berryman in a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah song called “Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?” the song is amazing and coincidently, so is the poet!

  3. Ben says:

    Hey, I’m in high school and the only thing that’s even remotely funny about this poem is the punctuation.
    Anyway, the most interesting part of this story in my opinion is that the author IS the boy reflecting upon his past. (last half of last line).

  4. Cswart says:

    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.

  5. Billy Bob says:

    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

  6. sean says:

    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!

  7. Amish says:

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

  8. Emily says:

    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

  9. Brenda Watton says:

    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.

  10. fred says:

    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.

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