Albert C. Labriola: On "In Just--"

..."in Just-" is grouped with poems called "Chansons Innocentes" alluding to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and the complementary Songs of Experience. Innocence and experience, or the transition from the one state to the other, inform the poem, whose central character, including his identity and significance, is described through the stylistic feature of incremental repetition. Described as "the little lame balloonman," the "queer old balloonman," and the "goat-footed balloonMan," who in all three instances "whistles far and wee," he is a rendition of Pan, the god of the goatherds and shepherds. A goat-man, he was akin to the satyrs; like them, he inhabited the thickets, forests, and mountains, all places of wilderness. Upon his reed pipe (called a Panpipe), this lesser god played music for the dancing nymphs. Like the satyrs, he loved the nymphs but was rejected because of his ugly appearance: cleft foot and deformed and aging body. He was a lecher whose pursuits of nymphs such as Echo, Pithys, and Syrinx are well-recounted in classical literature. The haunts that he frequented, the urges and appetites that impelled him, and the distinctive cleft foot all profoundly affected later Christian conceptions of the devil, whose humanoid appearance in art resembles that of Pan and the satyrs....

 ...By its emphasis on mud and water, growth and vitality, sexuality and propagation, the poem may be read as a displacement and adaptation of the creation myth or the account of primal creation in Genesis. The loam from which Adam was created, the inspiriting that ensued, the creation of Eve, her introduction to and relationship with Adam in the verdant Garden of Eden, and the procreative function of their relationship mandated by God are all elements in the paradigm adumbrated in Scripture. Against the foregoing context, the balloonman appears. His classical analogue is Pan, not only the lecherous goat-man, the prototype in physical appearance of the Christian conception of the devil, but also the Good Shepherd who oversees the well-being of his flock and encourages their propagation. By awakening in the children the impulses or instincts of sexuality, the balloonman, in effect, creates new beings, promotes other relationships, and imparts the potential for consequences--evil, goodness, and variations or interactions thereof--that may result from the pairings of male and female in adolescence and eventually adulthood. One surmises that the unusual spelling of "balloonMan" in its third appearance in the poem looks toward adulthood.


Title Albert C. Labriola: On "In Just--" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Albert C. Labriola Criticism Target E. E. Cummings
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Aug 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Reader-Response Criticism and the Poetry of E. E. Cummings: 'Buffalo Bill's defunct' and 'in Just--'"
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