The Ball by John Berriman


This one-stanza poem by John Berriman is about losing something you care about and learning to grow up. It’s about a small boy who, for the first time in his life, is learning what it’s like to be sad after losing a much-loved possession-his ball. We regard the loss of a ball as insignificant, and our reply is to remark, ‘O there are other balls.’ This, however, is not the case for a young guy. A dime, or another ball, is worthless. Money is external; it cannot buy back our affection or replace the things we love: the things that truly count.

The boy’s ball in this poem represents his youth and joyous innocence. People will take balls just as they will take our innocence and compel us to grow up in this world. And once we’ve lost our innocence, we’ll never be able to regain it. Balls will always be lost, little kid and no one will ever purchase one back. This poem is about how you will be compelled to do things you don’t want to do throughout your life, and you will lose or have to give up the things you love. Regardless, you must learn to stand up, to be strong, and to move on with your life, no matter how much it hurts on the inside. Because that is the only way you will live; you must learn to accept and let go – rather than cling to something that you can never have.

The poet used images to describe how the ball personifies the spirit of the boy’s childish innocence. In the final five lines, we see how this small boy’s spirit, like the ball, sinks into the dark waters of the harbour. As it drifts further away, the little boy learns to grow up, and the part of him that is attached to that ball grows up with him, until he is no longer a little boy.

This poem has only one stanza. There is no rhyming, but the poet delivers his meaning through rhythm, tone, and word choice. For example, the short, quick, cheerful words ‘I saw it go, merrily bouncing down the street, and then happily over’ allow you to envision a ball bouncing along. ‘An ultimate shuddering sadness clamps the youngster as he stands motionless, trembling, staring down,’ the lines go. ‘All his youth into the bay, where his ball went,’ the words and rhythm are tragic, dramatic, and harsh, which is appropriate for the circumstance. Similar uses of tone and rhythm enhance the poem’s effect and underline its meaning.

Short questions & answers

Q. 1: What message does John Berryman want to convey through this poem?
Ans: The message that the poet wants to convey is the importance of loss and responsibility in life.  We should not forget the importance of possessions.

Q. 2:  How does the boy feel at the loss of his ball?
Ans: The boy is very much troubled at the loss of his ball. His ball falls in the water. He is much upset as he has a long association with the ball.

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Q. 3: “Money is external.’ What does the poet mean by this expression?
Ans: He tells the boy about his obligation, emphasising that the loss is insignificant. He can go out and buy another ball. He noted that money is an external thing in a world full of possessions.

Text Book Questions & Answers

Q. 1: Why does the poet say, “I would not intrude on him”? Why doesn’t he offer him money to buy another ball?
Ans: The poet wants the boy to experience the loss. He should learn that it is a part of life. That’s why the poet doesn’t want to interfere with the boy and doesn’t want to offer him money to buy another ball.

Q. 2: “… staring down/All his young days into the harbour where/His ball went …” Do you think the boy has had the ball for a long time? Is it linked to the memories of days when he played with it?
Ans: Yes, the boy has had the ball for a long time i.e. since his childhood. Yes, it is linked with the memories of days when he played with it.

Q. 3:  What does “in the world of possessions” mean?
Ans: ‘In the world of possessions’ means people like to possess all sorts of things in the world. Money is external because it can buy only material objects; it cannot buy everything that one loses.

Q. 4: Do you think the boy has lost anything earlier? Pick out the words that suggest the answer.
Ans: No, the boy hasn’t lost anything earlier. The words ‘He senses first responsibility’ suggest the answer.

Q. 5: What does the poet say the boy is learning from the loss of the ball? Try to explain this in your own words.
Ans: The poet says that the boy is learning to cope with the loss of the ball. In this world of possession, he is grieving and learning to grow up. He realises that many things in life are meant to be lost and cannot be replaced. It’s pointless to be sad about it.

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