Study Notes of ‘The Ball Poem’ are given here. These notes are well designed and would help greatly in understanding the poem with its themes, message and poetic devices.
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Notes – The Ball Poem
In this poem, for the little boy, his ball is the first thing he has ever held dear. However, he has never even considered the possibility that he might one day lose his ball. It is only when that happens, he realises that it was his responsibility to keep the ball safe. The boy quickly realises that everything he will ever own will be his responsibility. He also realises that things will get lost from time to time, and money simply cannot replace them all.
In this poem, the ball symbolises our family or friends whom we love, and the loss of the ball symbolises their death. As we grow older, we will become more and more accustomed to seeing our loved ones die. We will learn how to deal with such a loss and to move on from it as well. Death may grieve us or cause us to feel depressed, but sooner or later, we must overcome those feelings and start living our normal lives again.
This poem is written in Blank Verse. In this poem, Berryman describes how a young boy learns to cope with loss. The loss of the ball symbolises the loss of the boy’s innocence. Through the poem, Berryman seems to be saying that the only way to survive losses is to accept them as a permanent truth of life.
Broadly, The Ball Poem can be divided into:
- The Boy Loses the Ball
- The Boy Grieves over the Ball
- The Boy Overcomes the Loss
The Boy Loses the Ball
- The poet wonders what the boy is going to do now.
- He watched the boy’s ball bounce across the street and fall into the harbour.
The Boy Grieves over the Ball
- The poet believes that it is futile to console the boy as he is overcome with grief.
- The boy just stands and stares at the harbour; he reminisces about happier times when he still had the ball.
- The poet decides not to disturb the boy or to offer him money to buy another ball.
The Boy Overcomes the Loss
- The poet wants the boy to realise that he is responsible for his possessions and how easy it is to lose something.
- The boy also needs to realise that money and possessions aren’t the most important things in life.
- The boy learns what it means to overcome loss and survive while he grieves the lost ball.
- He is just like any other person now who has understood the nature of loss through experience.
The major themes of this poem are:
- The Loss of Innocence
- Growing up / Transformation
The Loss of Innocence
- This poem explores the child’s first experience with loss. The loss of the ball fills him with grief and jolts him out of his carefree mind-set.
- He realises some harsh truths of life. Things or people once lost, do not return.
- In this manner, the experience of losing the ball strips him off his innocence.
Growing up / Transformation
- In the poem, the boy experiences and overcomes loss in a short span of time.
- The poet sees him acknowledge that he is responsible for the things he owns. He also learns to accept loss as a part of life.
- In this manner, he learns how to ‘stand up’, that is, attain the survival skills necessary to withstand future losses. As a result, he grows as a person and transforms from a child to an adult.
Message of the Poem
The message of the poem is that though excruciatingly hurtful, we have to learn how to accept the loss of one’s loved ones and our worldly possessions. It is the nature of life that things are found and lost. We have to take loss in our stride and be brave enough to understand and also accept the inevitability of loss.
We learn that –
- Loss of someone or something is inevitable in life.
- A person needs to bravely accept the natural truth of the loss of his beloved possessions whether be materialistic or in person.
- Life never stops for a person at the loss of a thing. It goes on with the maxim ‘The show must go on’.
The poem provides brief insights on the following characters:
- The Poet
- The Little Boy
Empathetic: The poet shows his empathetic side when he decides not to ‘intrude’ upon, that is, approach the boy. He understands the boy’s grief and knows that the lost ball cannot be replaced.
Experienced: The words ‘balls will be lost always’ indicate that the poet is an experienced figure who has endured and overcome his fair share of losses.
Wise: The poet is wise enough to know that money and material objects are ‘external’, that is, not that important in the grand scheme of life.3 of 3
The Little Boy
Innocent: The little boy’s innocence shines through when he helplessly watches the harbour in which his ball disappeared, and thinks about the happy memories associated with the ball.
Resigned: At the end of the poem, the little boy seems resigned to the fact that loss is a truth of life. He learns how to accept loss.
A few key literary elements in the poem are:
- Rhyme scheme
- Transferred Epithet
- There is no rhyme scheme since the poem has been written in free verse.
- The loss of the ball is symbolic of the loss of the boy’s innocence.
- It is also symbolic of the boy gaining knowledge on how to experience loss and survive.
- It is also symbolic of the boy becoming a man.
- The line ‘All his young days into the harbour where His ball went’ is an example of metaphor.
- The poet uses this metaphor to draw a comparison between the lost ball and the loss of the boy’s childhood.
- In the poem, the phrases ‘what, what’ and ‘buys a ball back’ are examples of alliteration.
- The poet stresses on the repetition of certain sounds in words to enhance the flow of the poem.
- Berryman repeats the word ‘ball’ at various points of the poem.
- He uses the word on surface to describe the loss of the ball. He also uses it as a symbol for the loss of childhood innocence.
- The phrase ‘how to stand up’ is repeated to explain the importance of overcoming grief in the poem.
- The poet uses the literary device of ‘apostrophe’ to address the little boy.
- Although he is talking to the boy, the boy is away from him, and does not respond to him.
- The phrase ‘desperate eyes’ is an example of transferred epithet. It tells us that the boy himself is sad, and not merely his eyes.
- The poet uses this figure of speech to convey how the emotions on the little boy’s face are reflected in his eyes.