The Ball Poem by John Berryman

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.

Summary

The poem is about a little boy. He loses his ball and watches it bouncing down the street into the water. To us, the loss of ball is of minor consequence but to the little boy, it was a valued possession. The ball had been with him for a long time and it was linked to the memories of the days when he played with it.

The boy is very much troubled at the loss of his ball and plunges into grief. He stands stiff and trembling while staring at his ball. He is upset as he looks into the gloomy water because it has been with him for a long time. When the ball bounces into the water, all his memories of the childhood days flashes in front of him. Moreover the poet doesn’t offer him money to buy another ball because that would be worthless.

The boy cannot find his ball in the gloomy water. This is when he gets his first sense of responsibility. The poet suggests that from the loss of the ball, the boy is learning what it means to lose something in the world of possessions, where he will lose things, he will buy some more to replace the ones lost, but would never be able to buy back the thing that he had lost. The poet, thus, makes the boy understand about his responsibility as the loss is immaterial. Money is external as it cannot buy memories, nor can it replace the things that we love, the things that really matter.

The poet suggests that from the loss of the ball, the boy is learning how to stand up in a world of possessions. The boy is learning what it means to lose something. The poet says that knowing that everyman has to stand up after such losses, the boy too will learn how to stand up and leave the losses behind as he would have understood the true meaning and nature of loss.

Poetic Devices

Symbolism: The ball is symbol of the boy’s young and innocent days.

Repetition: What, what Balls, balls

Alliteration:

  • buys a hall hack Balls,
  • balls What, What

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