What are the Literary Devices used in The Ball Poem?

The Ball Poem Poetic Devices

Class 10 English, First Flight


The Ball Poem” by John Berryman utilizes several literary devices to convey its emotional impact and themes. Here is a sequence of these devices, along with simple explanations for each. The last (10th) point is the MOST important.

  1. Imagery: The poet uses vivid descriptions to paint a picture in the reader’s mind, like “Merrily bouncing, down the street” and “staring down all his young days into the harbour where his ball went.”
  2. Repetition: It is a poetic device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. In the poem the poet repeats the word “what” in two lines. “what, what is he to do?”. Similarly, in “Merrily bouncing” and “Merrily Over” the word “merrily’ has been repeated. It is done to emphasize key points and emotions, creating a rhythm.
  3. Metaphor: Metaphor is a common poetic device where an object is described as being the same as another otherwise unrelated object. The ball becomes a metaphor for lost innocence and life’s harsh realities, teaching the boy about the “epistemology of loss.”
  4. Alliteration: It is the presence of same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. e.g. “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”.
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is a literary device that uses symbols, be they words, people, marks, locations, or abstract ideas to represent something beyond the literal meaning. In this poem, the ball symbolizes childhood innocence, and losing it represents the boy’s entrance into a world of responsibility and understanding. The word “balls” represents other physical belongings in the world that may go away at a point of time.
  6. Enjambment: The continuation of a sentence beyond the end of a line adds a flowing and connected feeling to the poem. For example,  “I saw it go merrily, down the street”
  7. Irony: The irony lies in the boy learning about loss and responsibility through losing his ball, a simple and seemingly insignificant object.
  8. Rhyme: Although the poem is mostly free verse, it includes some internal and slant rhymes, enhancing its musicality.
  9. Tone: The poem’s tone evolves from a sense of joy and loss to a deeper realization of life’s complexities and challenges.
  10. Oxymoron: (1st example) – The phrase”ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy” displays the highest degree of Oxymoron. “shaking” and “fixes” are exactly opposite of each other. The combination of these words creates a powerful image of the boy’s profound and overwhelming emotions after losing his ball.
    (2nd example) – As he stands rigid, trembling” can be considered an oxymoron. The words “rigid” and “trembling” are contradictory because “rigid” means stiff, inflexible, or motionless, while “trembling” means shaking or quivering with movement. This combination creates a contrasting image of the boy’s physical and emotional state, highlighting his conflicting feelings of fear and immobility after losing his ball.
    Simile to Metaphor Worksheet with Answers

The Ball Poem Answers are incomplete without these Keywords –

By skillfully employing these literary devices, the poet captures the poignant emotions of a young boy grappling with loss and coming to terms with the harsh realities of life.

The Ball Poem Class 10 English, First Flight

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.

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