e e cummings, 1920: Buffalo Bill's defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
This must be on a whack of English 101 reading lists as there are dozens of webpages analysing it. The most beautiful, the most dense with reference, every word so threaded through by poetry, art, the politics of capitalist America, is this by Louis J Budd, written in 1953:
The poem's attitude is epitomized in the word "defunct." Buffalo Bill has not undergone a tragic crisis, he has not passed through a spiritual ordeal; he simply has ceased operating, liquidated like a bank or a poorly-placed filling station. The reader primarily realizes that William F. Cody will no longer prance through metropolitan hippodromes as the chief asset of a gaudy commercial venture. More broadly, the reader should recognize that the westering dream and nostalgic enjoyment of that dream are ended, the dream ripped by realities or stultified by vulgar misuse and the nostalgia deflated by post-Versailles cynicism. Buffalo Bill and his cohorts, galloping through this world in a blinding shroud of physical exertions divorced from meaningful reality, never were alive to tulips or the small white hands of the rain and can be scarcely said to have died.
— from Louis J. Budd, "Cummings' BUFFALO BILL'S DEFUNCT." Explicator 11 (June 1953): Item 55.
I would like to have written this.