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.

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