Cummings was considered to be one of the greatest and innovative American poets of the 20th century. It can be very frustrating sometimes to read his works and anyone who lacks the patience and the love for poetry and language would easily dismiss his poems as child’s play. But the reader must understand that what he aimed to do is revolutionize form moving away from traditional view of how poems should be. Despite this, his poems still resonate of age old ideas that have captured the hearts and imagination of men since the ancient times. Themes such as love, beauty and nature are prevalent in his works.
The following poems which I will present are great examples of these themes. Some of them are very personal, which is just right because poetry for Cummings is a highly personal art form. He describes poetry being “forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality…. poetry is being, not doing…. if poetry is your goal, you’ve got to forget all about punishments and all about rewards and all about self-styled obligations and duties and responsibilities….. ” (Cummings 24). Born Edward Eslin Cummings, e. e. cummings was a son of a Unitarian minister in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
His mother Rebecca Haswell Clarke encouraged him to write at an early age. He attended Harvard College earning magna cum laude honors in Greek and English. In 1916, just one year after getting his A. B. , he received his A. M. also in Harvard. During World War I, he served with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in France and was arrested on suspicion of espionage. He spent four months in a concentration camp in La Ferte-Mace and used his experiences to write The Enormous Room, an autobiographical work that earned him fame and celebrity status back in the United States.
After the war, he moved to New York and started writing poems for avant-garde publications. He married Elaine Orr in 1942 and had a daughter with her named Nancy. She broke up with her less than a year into their marriage (Kennedy 2000). He spent the 1920s in Paris and began writing his great collection of poems. Returning to the United States with his third wife Marion Morehouse, Cummings settled into a life of literary and artistic (he was also an accomplished painter) activities until his death from a stroke in 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire (ibid).
Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town Images of a beautiful rural setting come to mind just hearing the title. And it does give us a fresh happy feeling but the poem is very much deeper than that. Disguising the cycle of nature in the ordinary happenings of a small town, spring, summer, fall and winter is described in stanzas, each symbolized by children, men, women, noone and anyone. Steinman (71) ascribes the different “emotional response” of each person to the winter, how their moods and experiences mirror that of the seasons.
Sun, moon, stars and rain is repeated in a revolving pattern throughout the poem, Steinman (71) stating that sun means summer, moon means autumn, stars is winter and rain is spring. Each stanza gives us an insight into these people’s lives, such as in the summer, “they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same”, with sowing and reaping common summer activities. Winter evokes snow and Cummings describes death (“she cried his grief”) and marriage (“someones married their everyones”) symbolizing renewal. The poem can be a little confusing and one that truly identified it as his work.
It is still rich in symbolism that is aptly shown throughout. The interplay of the seasons each welcoming the other projects their effect on the people of the little how town, on the everyones, the someones and the noones. Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled This is one of Cummings most beautiful love poems which delicately juxtapose nature into his declarations of love towards one person. This poem was written when he was in living in Joy Farm, his home in rural New Hampshire (Kennedy 2000). The fact that he was surrounded with all the natural beauty of nature inspired him to extol its wonders.
Here, Cummings uses one of the most sensitive organs of the body as a symbol power over one person – the eye (“your slightest look will unclose me”). The eyes here become more than a seeing organ, it has a “voice” and it has “silence”. Giving it all encompassing uses makes it all the more powerful. The woman who possesses the eye has the power to do anything at her will (“if your wish be to close me, I and my life will shut very beautifully”). He also gives a distinction between the male and the female, symbolizing him closing himself “as fingers” while the woman always open “petal by petal”.
She is always referred to as Spring, symbolizing renewal and bountiful. The contrasting symbolic functions of opening and closing and the soft and hard gives the poem its delicate beauty. I Carry Your Heart with Me Hailed by most as one of his most romantic poems, this piece of poetry is a declaration of undying love. In this poem, Cummings uses the parenthesis to accentuate each phrase of declaration as if to explain it more fully. For me, it feels like back-up singers repeating important words that the singer sings and I think it was done with melodious intent.
This poem could actually work as a song. I believe that Cummings was so gripped with love and romantic notions when he wrote this. The isolation of the phrase “I fear” is very effective. It gives it a more suspenseful air, making the speaker’s resolve more real. Some of the most romantic lines in poetry is found here (“I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you”). May I Feel Said He A highly charged sexual poem, May I Feel Said He is a dance between a man and woman.
It can be very naughty and this is one of those poems that can reveal a whole lot with just a few words. This is where Cummings displays his mastery. The interplay between man and woman is typified by Cummings: the woman being coy at first and the man aggressive. The woman even bringing up the fact that the man has a wife (“but your wife said she”) but in the end, she accedes. The poem tells of a different kind of love. It may be termed as simple lust but the sexual act is also part of nature’s cycle, human beings urge to propagate. This poem only reinforces the gray line in between love and lust.
If There Are Any Heavens My Mother Cummings’ have been noted to have a certain obsession with flowers and in this poem, he extols the rose, symbolic of timeless beauty. He describes how heaven would be like for her mother (“It will not be a pansy heaven nor a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but it will be heaven of black red roses”). He also places her father and also likens him to a rose (“tall as a rose”). I guess all writers must, once in their lives write something about their mothers. The beauty of this poem however, is its universality and its simple ode to beauty in general.
The rose, ever red, is always the center of one’s garden. It also symbolizes devotion and wisdom. Here, the poet has his father bow and the whole garden bow to her. This shows Cummings gratitude and his exaltation of his mother as a figure on a pedestal full of virtuous characteristics. Conclusion These poems truly express themes which e. e. Cummings has time and again revisited. His work and style is a great paradox in itself, choosing to write in experimental and innovative forms, styles which defy traditional poetry but chooses still to write about traditional themes.
This only shows how ideas can be universal. In this regard, e. e. Cummings poems work because although some people will struggle through reading his works, they still can relate to the poem even on a personal level. And this is something that I would like to think was intended by the poet. Works Cited E. E. Cummings. “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”; “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled”; “I Carry Your Heart”; “May I Feel Said He”: “If There Are Any Heavens My Mother”.
Retrieved from Famous Poets and Poems Archives April 20, 2008. http://www. famouspoetsandpoems. com/poets/e__e__cummings/poems “e. e. cummings”. February 2008. Retrieved from American National Biography Online April 20, 2008. Published by Oxford University Press: 2000. http://www. anb. org/articles/16/16-00394. html E. E. Cummings, i: SIX NONLECTURES (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1953): 24. Steinman, Theo. “Semantic Rhythm in ‘Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town. ” Concerning Poetry 11 (1978): 71, 72, and 73.
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