In this very little poem the speaker stands near his window one evening, watching the sunset outside. Suddenly he goes back to his past, in his childhood days. He recalls how in his childhood days, he used to enjoy such beautiful natural scenes.
It has been a long since then. Now all such joys and pleasures have been suppressed by his maturity and adulthood worries. But he appreciates if the days of life pass on like this, it’s not bad. Here he indicates the gradual passage of life nearing its end.
This poem opens with the speaker standing near a window and looking out of it, at the end of a day. He goes into a nostalgic mood, recalling his childhood when he used to watch a sunset thoughtfully.
(The speaker looking out through the window at the end of the day)
He remembers how he used to enjoy such beauty when he used to be a little boy of five or six years. It is a wonder that he still has a youthful presence in himself. This presence can recognize the beauty of the evening.
Perhaps in his inner heart, he wants to come out, but his maturity and adulthood don’t allow him, to do so.
“This suggests that we never leave behind the magic of childhood. We carry it buried beneath the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood”. Here he puts such adult worries aside and takes a moment to enjoy the beautiful dusk (growing darkness).
Based on the meaning we can divide this poem into two parts: The first part is from the first line to the fifth line, and the second part is from the sixth to the last line of the poem.
In the first part, we find the speaker’s state of mind recalling the past pleasing moments of his childhood. He is in a nostalgic mood here.
In the second part, there comes a transition to both in his mood theme. Now he is in a doleful (wistful/sad) mood. This part describes his liberation from his mood.
As he starts talking about the “feeling”, till the end, he talks about death. Here the main point is that the speaker welcomes the advent of death in relief better than the sufferings of life.
Questions and Answers
Answer these questions. :
Question a.: Have you ever looked out through a window and taken pleasure in what you saw? If so, what did you look at?
Answer: Whenever I am free or feeling lonely on vacant days, I stand by my window, looking out through it. The different activities outside give me pleasure.
I live on the second floor of a building near a bus stop. So my window overlooks the bus stop. Naturally, it is full of activities like buses coming or going. Passengers mostly make a lot of noise. The hawkers sell things like apples, peanuts or biscuits, etc.
(The scene of a typical bus station)
Question b.: Which beautiful scenes do you think would make you want to look out through the window?
Answer: Well, this depends on which mood I am in. But, mostly I like natural scenes. I like the clear blue sky, with little pieces of white clouds. Mostly I enjoy scenes of sunrise. I feel happy and full of positivity with the rising sun.
(The beautiful Rising Sun)
Question c.: Do you write pronoun ‘I’ capital or small in writing?
Answer: Yes, I always write the pronoun ‘I’ in the capital. We capitalize it because it refers to an individual. If it is written in lower case, people will think it to be a typographical error.
Understanding the text :
Answer the following questions :
Question a.: Who can be the speaker of this poem?
Answer: Mostly poets use a literary element called ‘Speaker’. Speaker is the person voicing the words. Here the speaker is an adult person who recalls his childhood. Perhaps the speaker is the poet himself.
Question b.: What is “little i” doing?
Answer: The “little i” is looking out a window at the end of the day. He is enjoying the beautiful scene of sunset.
Question c.: What can be the relationship between the “little i” and the speaker of the poem?
Answer: The “little i” is the childhood of the speaker himself, and the speaker is the child grown-up. So we can say that the “little i” is the child version of the speaker.
Question d.: What is the speaker remembering from his childhood days in the poem?
Answer: The speaker is remembering how he used to enjoy natural scenes like a sunset. He used to get pleasure from such sights.
Question e. : What attitude does the speaker seem to have toward the child in the poem?
Answer: The speaker seems to have a positive, nostalgic attitude towards the child. He feels a youthful presence in himself still now, which inspires him now to look out and enjoy the nature outside.
Reference to the context
Question a.: Why do you think Cummings has placed a semicolon between the words window and at?
Answer: The poet has used the semicolon (;) between the two words to provide a break in the long sentence while keeping the thought flowing. In such situations, a semicolon works stronger than a comma as in the present sentence structure.
Question b.: If the speaker is the child grown up, why does he ask, “who are you”?
Answer: There is no doubt that the speaker is a child growing up. Still, he puts the question. It may be because he is struggling to recall the wonderment of his youthful days.
Or maybe, it is his incredulity that there is still a youthful presence in himself enjoying nature.
Question c.: In this poem, an adult reflects on the childhood experience. Based on that, what might be the theme of the lines: “(and feeling: that if the day / has to become night /this is a beautiful way)”?
Answer: The clear theme of these lines is ‘death’. It is a touchy way to describe an unwelcome transition from the joyful youth to the end of life.
Question d.: What is the rhyme scheme used in the poem?
Answer: Rhyme scheme is the pattern of sounds that repeat at the end of a line or stanza. The rhyme scheme of this poem is :
Question e. : Explain the pun in “little i” that is related to what he is doing?
Answer: Pun is a type of wordplay that exploits multiple meanings (more than one meaning). Pun sometimes suggests different meanings.
It is the writing style of the poet to uncapitalize the first person pronoun ‘I’. By adding ‘little’ in ‘little i’ he expresses the boy to be very little.
One meaning of it is the boy is a little child in comparison to his present adulthood. Another meaning might be that he lowers the importance of self in regard to his experience.
Question f.: How does Cumming’s use of lower case letters affect your understanding of the poem? Explain.
Answer: His use of lower case letters gives us a smaller feel. It gives the feeling of being smaller in comparison to time. It deemphasizes the self and promotes the time.
Reference beyond the text
Question a.: How does nature inspire the speaker in “who are you, little i”? Explain.
Answer: It inspires him by going back to his youthhood and enjoying such a beautiful natural scene. He had almost forgotten it in the long pressure of adulthood.
Question b.: Recall a childhood moment when you felt closely connected with nature. Describe the time and place as well as your feelings and thoughts about it.
Answer: I was born and raised in the busy city of Kathmandu. My father works there. I grew up in the midst of the city, with little connection to nature.
As I was about to take my school graduation exams, my father announced that we would go to our native village on a long vacation.
My happiness knew no bounds. It was like a dream coming true. Finally, I was in my native village.
It was so different. Opposite to the hustle and bustle of the busy city, it was so calm and tranquil.
(Calm and tranquil village, with beautiful blue sky)
It was the first time I saw a milking cow. Otherwise, I used to think that all products come from supermarkets or dairies.
The next morning my grandpa took me to our paddy field. I was surprised to see the vast stretch of greenery. It was so different from the concrete jungle of the place where I live.
(Green Paddy Field)
The chirping of birds in mango groves was so sweet. It was not like a caged bird. I never knew before that winds can play so delightfully.
There I learned how to connect with nature. I enjoyed sunrises and sunsets, which were always covered by the big buildings of my city.
We stayed there for about a month. But I shall never forget my first introduction to nature.
Question c.: Interpret the poem in any way you like.
Answer: This little poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue where he addresses his own childhood. It opens within a nostalgic mood. Watching sunset through his window one evening, the speaker suddenly goes into flashback when in his childhood he used to enjoy such natural scenes.
He asks his “little i” who he is. No doubt, the ‘little i’ is his childhood version (his childhood). It shows that although the worries of his childhood have kept suppressed his childhood pleasures, it is still there in some corner of his heart. That is the happiest thing.
As the poem proceeds, the mood changes from a nostalgic to a sad pensive one, when he talks about the passing days, indicating ‘death’. Here we find an unwelcome transition (change) from pleasing childhood to approaching death. But here again, he finds a beautiful way of approaching a dreaded finale (that is, fear of death).
By putting “i” with “little” he deemphasizes (minimizes the importance of) the self and promotes time.