Grade 10                                                                         Date: __________

The Ball Poem

(John Berryman)

About the Poet


Born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1914-died Jan. 7, 1972, Minneapolis, Minn. Berryman graduated from Columbia in 1936, then went to study at Cambridge University for two years on a scholarship.John Berryman | American poet | Britannica

A scholar and professor as well as a poet, John Berryman is best-known for The Dream Songs (1969), an intensely personal sequence of 385 poems which brought him the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. 

 “The Ball Poem” from Collected Poems, 1937-1971. The poem gives a message that one should be careful in keeping the things they like and we should get over our grief about loss and move on in life.  The poem describes a boy’s grief over the loss of ball.

The Ball Poem is an extended metaphor. The poem can be understood literally and metaphorically too. At literal level, we see a boy trying to overcome the grief of losing his favourite ball. He is trying to move on in life. At metaphoric level, the ball refers to anything which is liked by humans. When we lose it, we understand its importance but crying over the loss makes no point. One should get over the grief and move on. We should learn to stand up.

Theme: The loss of innocence, Loss of loved ones, to move on in life/recovering the loss

Tone: Sad/sorrowful which changes at the end into encouraging tone.

Style: Free verse


The Ball Poem (complete)

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,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight,

Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

SummaryBoy playing with red ball on lawn | Mother-Daughter Press

  • The poet is talking about a little boy who has lost his ball. He was playing with his ball.
  • The ball skipped from his hand and went into the nearby water body.
  • The poet says that this sight of the boy losing his favorite ball made him think about the boy and his reaction to this situation. He further says that the boy was helplessly looking into the water where his ball had gone.The Ball Poem Class 10 CBSE English Poem Summary, Explanation ...
  • He was sad and was trembling with fear.
  • He got so immersed in his sorrow that he kept standing near the harbor for a very long time and kept on looking for his ball.
  • The poet says that he could console him that he may get new balls or he could also give him some money to buy another ball.
  • But he stops himself from doing so because he thinks that the money may bring a new ball but will not bring the memories and feelings attached to the lost ball.
  • He further says that the time has come for the boy to learn his responsibilities.
  • Here the poet wants to say that now the boy will learn the toughest lesson of life.
  • The lesson of accepting the harsh realities of life that one day we will lose our loved ones and our loved things.

Learn a new phrase!

Epistemology of loss is the study to learn the nature of loss. In this world of possession people do every action for the purpose of to get or to possess something. No one performan any action without any selfishness.

Poetic devices

  • Personification: ball merrily bouncing down the street. 
  • Metaphor: “balls will be lost always“.
  • Repetition: “what, what is he to do?”.
  • Alliteration: “whhas lost his ball”, “what, what is he to do?”, “no one buys a ball back”, “the deep and dark floor of harbour”, “move mmind and my heart move with all that move me”.
  • Enjambment: “I saw it go merrily, down the street”
  • Apostrophe:  In the 13th line as poet directly speaks to the little boy and tells him that balls are always liable to get lost, but we never see the boy responding to him.  “balls will be lost always, little boy“.
  • Transferred epithet: “desperate eyes”.
  • Symbolism: It is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. In the poem, ball and balls represent childhood, possessions and even the father of poet.

Q1-Why does the poet say, “I would not intrude on him”? Why doesn’t he offer him money to buy another ball?

A1- The poet does not want to intrude so that the boy can get a chance to learn the real truth of life. He has to learn to accept the loss. The loss here means the most important thing or relationship.

Q2- “… 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?

A2- Yes we can say that the boy had the ball for a very long time. The line itself describes how the boy recalls those days when he used to play with the ball. The ball was surely linked to some sweet memories of his playing with the ball.


1. He senses his first responsibility

In a world of possessions. People will take balls, Balls will be lost

always, little boy.

And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.

(a) Do you think that the boy had lost anything earlier. Pick out the phrase that tells you this.

(b) The word ‘Balls’ signifies ___________.

(c) The phrase – ‘world of possessions’ signifies _________.

(d) “Money is external” means __________.

Stanza – 2

He is learning well behind his desperate eyes,

The epistemology of loss, how to stand up

Knowing what everyman

must one day know

And must know many days, how to stand up.

(a) The boy’s eyes are desperate as ___________.

(b) He is learning __________.

(c) Every man should know that __________.

(d) ‘epistemology of loss’ means ___________.

Stanza – 3

I would not intrude on him

A dime, another ball is worthless.

(a)’Him’ refers to ____________.

(b) The ball _____________.

(c) The author will not ____________.

(d) The poet wants the boy to learn _____________.