Analysis, Central Idea and Theme of The Ball Poem

Critical Analysis of The Ball Poem:

This poem can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. If taken literally, it is a soulful picture of little boys growing up and learning to deal with the loss of the first thing he has ever held dear. If taken metaphorically, it is the story of mankind learning to deal with the loss of their loved ones. The ball is a metaphor for everything that we think is irreplaceable in our lives. It is obvious that anything that is irreplaceable is very valuable to us, and it is our responsibility to take care of those things. People taking away one’s ball or one’s ball getting lost is a metaphor for death. What is most precious to us is a person whom we love dearly. Hence, we always try to take care of them. But sooner or later, every man must die, for man is a mortal creature. There is nothing we can do to stop this process, and hence it is something we must learn to deal with. Loss of a loved one can spell a period of intense grief and depression for some of us. However, just like the little boy is brought back to his senses by the sound of the whistle, we must overcome our grief and keep living. The poet’s message is that life goes on despite the death of our loved ones.

Annotation of The Ball Poem:

Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition
Merrily (Adv): In a cheerful way
Bouncing (V): Present participle form of the word “bounce”, that is, (with reference to an object, especially a ball) to move quickly up, back, or away from a surface after hitting it
Ultimate (Adj): Being or happening at the end of a process; final
Grief (N): Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death
Fixes (V): Third person present tense of the word “fix”, that is, to be directed steadily or unwaveringly towards
Rigid (Adj): (Of a person or part of their body) stiff and unmoving, especially as a result of shock or fear
Trembling (V): Present participle form of the word “tremble”, that is, to shake involuntarily, typically as a result of anxiety, excitement, or frailty
Harbour (N): A place on the coast where ships may moor in shelter, especially one protected from rough water by piers, jetties, and other artificial structures
Intrude (V): Put oneself deliberately into a place or situation where one is unwelcome or uninvited
Dime (N): A ten-cent coin
Responsibility (N): The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone
Possessions (N): Plural form of the word “possession”, that is, something that is owned or possessed
External (Adj): Coming or derived from a source outside the subject affected
Desperate (Adj): Feeling or showing a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with
Epistemology (N): The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion
Whistle (N): An instrument used to produce a shrill, high-pitched sound, especially for giving a signal
Explore (V): Travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it
Floor (N): The bottom of the sea, a cave, or an area of land
Suffer (V): Experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant)
Move (V): Arouse a strong feeling, especially of sorrow or sympathy, in (someone)

Poetic Devices in The Ball Poem:

Rhyme scheme:
The poet does not follow any identifiable rhyme scheme in this poem.
Rhetorical devices:
This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things or ideas. In this poem, the poet uses the device of metaphor in the 8th line when he compares the boy’s young days or his childhood with the lost ball.
This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses his or her poem to an absent audience. In this poem, the poet uses the device of an apostrophe in the 13th line as he 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.
Transferred epithet:
This rhetorical device is used when an emotion is attributed to a non-living thing after being displaced from a person, most often the poet himself or herself. In this poem, the poet uses the device of transferred epithet in the 15th line when he writes the phrase “desperate eyes”. It is not that the eyes of the boy are sad, but that the boy itself is sad and that his eyes are expressing that emotion on his face.

Central Idea of The Ball Poem:

The poet watches a young boy playing with his ball. The next minute, his ball rolls away from him and fall into the water of the harbor. As the boy watches his ball disappear, he can also feel his childhood slip away from him. He feels himself growing up very fast as he learns that loss is a part of everyday life and that life goes on despite it. The sight of the sad little boy pains the poet, but he knows that growing up is an unavoidable process.

Themes of The Ball Poem:

Loss of innocence:
For the little boy in this poem, his ball is the first thing he has ever held dear. However, he has never even considered the possibility that he might one day lose his ball. It is only when that happens that he realizes that it was his responsibility to keep the ball safe and that he has failed. The boy quickly realizes that everything he will ever own will be his responsibility. He also realizes that things will get lost from time to time and money simply cannot replace them all. As he is learning these lessons, he is growing up. He will never again be as innocent he was before the loss of his ball. He will never be naive enough to not feel the pressure of his responsibilities. This is a very painful thing for the poet to watch.
Loss of a loved one:
This poem has a surface meaning as well as a deeper meaning. If we read between the lines, we will see that the ball symbolizes our family or friends whom we love, and the loss of the ball symbolizes their death. As we grow older, we will become more and more accustomed to seeing our loved ones die. We will learn how to deal with such a loss and to move on from it as well. Death may grieve us or cause us to feel depressed, but sooner or later we must overcome those feelings and start living our normal lives again.

The Tone of The Ball Poem:

The tone of this poem is very somber and sad. The way in which the poet describes the boy’s feelings upon losing the ball makes us feel great sympathy for the boy. Even more than that, we can all relate to the experience that the boy is going through. That is perhaps why the poem does not overly depress us. The resignation that the boy feels can also be felt by us since death is not something that any man can escape.


“The Ball Poem” is a very relatable poem. That is why we cannot help but be touched by the story that the poet tells us. Everything the boy is going through, we have all been through. What is unique about the poem is its symbolism. That a thing as simple as a ball can be used to signify everything that we human beings hold dearly is amazing. The way in which the poet describes every minute expression on the boy’s face also gives us the feeling that he himself had been in the boy’s position at one time and that he is writing from his own experience. It also makes us feel that the poet can see directly into the human heart and read its every beat with accuracy. A poet who can arouse such empathy is a poet of much skill, and this is what we feel about John Berryman after reading this poem.