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17 Feb

The Ball Poem: John Berryman

The Ball Poem: John Berryman

In "The Ball Poem" John Berryman tells about growing up by metaphorically comparing a ball to our childhood. A young child loses his ball. It bounces away and lands in the harbor. He is upset when he looks into the gloomy water. No one can console the child by telling him that there are ‘other balls’. The child stands rigid and trembling staring down in to the water. The child will not like anyone to intrude on him .The child would not take’ another dime’ to buy another ball. However he learns that balls will be lost always .No one can ever get them back .Money is external .He learns the meaning of loss. He will never get what he has lost. He also learns to stand up and to cope with the loss. Compared to the grown up man the boy is innocent. However small losses teach him to bear deeper losses .He learns to accept life and more responsibility. He also looks to the future, knowing what is lost will not be brought back. Thus the child grows into a wiser and stronger person. The experiences make him feel that he is no more a little boy. 

There can be multiple interpretations for the ball in this poem. Initially the ball seems to be just a child's toy. The poet repeats ‘merrily’, showing how the boy likes the ball. As the poem progresses the ball can take  more in depth meanings. Primarily it can be viewed as childhood. Once losing the ball, the little boy watched his "young days into the harbour." This is where the boy first realizes that he has left his childhood. He is upset, as shown by his body language watching the ball bounce away.

It is only later that he knows he can't get his youth again. Berryman says, "no one can buy a ball back." The ball, like his childhood was special to the boy .Once gone, nothing, not even money can bring him back to that time. However, he learns to move on and enter the rest of his life .However he does not know what to expect. The true loss is summarized by the last line, "I am not a little boy."

The ball can also be seen as a friend or family member that passed away, especially from a child's point of view. The ball has a very special meaning to the boy. He says any other ball is worthless. It is truly impossible to replace someone close that you have lost. Saying, "People will take balls, balls will be lost always, little boy, and no one buys a ball back," Berryman shows that no matter what you do, people will die. There is nothing you can do to prevent this. You need to get over it and move on, however difficult this may be. Every child must know about loss, and that afterwards life returns to normal. Thus the poem deals with irreversibility of loss. The past is gone and will never come back hence people cannot buy childhood and time.

Courtesy: Prof Pius Ozhakal

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