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John Berryman talks about the concept of losing in the 'Ball Poem'. How often have we treasured a trivial object/toy when we were young? As a child, we do not realise the insignificance of the things that we cherish the most. Although we may be mocked for choosing to hold a stone or a ball as the greatest wealth in the world, we might not pay heed to the mockery. The poem also paints the picture of one such boy who loses his ball.
The poet begins by discussing who a person is without his materialistic wealth. In the beginning, we can see a young boy who has lost his ball. He questions, 'What is the boy now'? Indicating that he might be a different person since he has not lost something that he valued. The poet also asks what should the boy do as the next step. Should he stand there filled with remorse, or should he take any action. The readers do not yet know how he lost the ball. But the poet is the only witness to this whole episode, and he narrates to us. He saw the ball bouncing merrily away from the boy. Children generally throw the ball around and play with it, and balls have a bouncy touch to them. So as he was throwing it and playing, due to the velocity, the ball got more bouncy and moved further away from him, and before he could catch up, lands on the water. The water here could be a pool or a river. Like most young children, the boy is unable to wade into the water and bring back the ball.
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Ball in water
The poet now talks about a very important concept as he says that people may trivialise the emotion with the phrase ‘O there are other balls’. This is quite true in terms of other incidents that happen in our life as well. When we tend to talk about our sad encounters and lose something, people often do not understand our attachment to the concerned event/object. It is very easy to say that there are other balls, but the ball he had played with has emotions attached to it and is irreplaceable for the boy. As soon as he sees the ball in the water, the boy is filled with ultimate shaking grief. The poet puts the phrases in such a way that the reader can empathise with the boy. He stands there helpless, as he can see the ball from a distance but still not reach it. He seems to have had the ball for a long time, as he realises that all his younger days have gone, and he cannot revive it just like the ball. The poet also says that he would not intrude on the thought process of the boy as he wants him to take time and feel for what he has lost.
The boy stood trembling near the water
The poet emphasises that one must be allowed to express their emotion rather than being forced to suppress. For example, when one of our friends is feeling sad due to a loss, we might immediately want to help them, and therefore say things like 'Don't cry' or 'Don't be sad'. We think it is our way of consoling them, but we do not realise that suppressing emotions can lead to later outbursts and can also hinder our learning experience from the incident. The poet, therefore, does not want to unnecessarily intrude into the scenario where the boy loses his ball. He prefers to be a mute spectator.
The poet also says that there is nothing that can replace any loss in the world. Every object/person is special and no matter how much money or equally similar objects are given, they cannot be replaced. This is because we hold special memories of each object in our life. The person who gifted it, the memories of friends who played ball with him, and the games and places associated with it make the ball special and unique for the boy. The ball might cost a dime, so if he is given another dime with which he can buy another ball, it will not repair his loss. Even if he is given another ball, it would be a different one, not carrying the memories of the lost ball with it. Now that the boy has processed his emotions, The poet says that he has learned responsibility from this loss. He has become mature as he realises that life is filled with loses and gains of one's possessions.
A Dime
The ball in the poem denotes everything that is materialistic/non-materialistic. So the boy realises that life is not so smooth and people will take away things that are dear to him, and that he has to learn to face it. The poet tells the boy that no one can buy back something that is lost forever. Money cannot buy everything. People tend to think that it is alright to lose a few things as they can regain them with their wealth. But certain feelings and emotions attached to things cannot be bought by money. Amidst his desperate eyes to get the ball back, the boy is learning how to stand up for himself in a world where people tend to take away things dear to us. He is learning the true meaning of loss and gaining knowledge about it. It is not about accepting the loss, but it is also about learning to stand up and fight again after the loss. This is the important rule that every man must learn to succeed in life. Most men have learnt this knack, and now the boy too knows how to stand up after a loss, like them.