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What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over — there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him;
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.
Ververidis Vasilis Shutterstock.jpg
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
Meaning of difficult words:
O there are other ballsThe words suggest that the loss is not important enough
to worry about
Shaking griefSadness which greatly affects a person
Rigid Very Stiff
MerrilyHappy and joyous
TremblingShaking profusely
IntrudeTo enter a situation where one is not welcome
InsignificantLess important
TrivialiseTo consider not worthy enough
MockeryTo make fun of
VelocityThe speed at which something moves
EmpathiseTo feel the emotion of a person
BouncingTo jump up and down
National Council of Educational Research and Training (2006). Beehive. The Ball Poem - John Berryman (pp. 46-47). Published at the Publication Division by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi.