Form is an integral part of poetry. The form used by E. E. Cummings is quite unique, and is different in each of his poems. His poems, “nobody loses all the time,” “pity this busy monster,manunkind,” and “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” illustrate this fact.
The poem, “nobody loses all the time” is a good representation of Cummings’ work, written in no traditional form. It is 37 lines long, divided into six stanzas of six lines each, and one line standing alone at the end. This poem is unique in that it does not contain any punctuation other than apostrophes and parentheses. Cummings does not follow the traditional practice of capitalizing the first word of each line, either. In fact, the capitalization in this poem is quite unusual. Cummings does not have sentences, since there is no punctuation, so almost all of the words are written in lower-case. He does not even capitalize the word ‘I.’ He capitalizes only the proper nouns “Uncle Sol,” “Victor Victrola,” “Missouri” and “McCann,” as well as the words in line five, “He Was a Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself.”
Written in open form, this poem has a very conversational tone. The lines vary in length, showing no pattern, and there is no consistent meter. The number of accents and syllables per line varies throughout the poem as well, and all of this poem’s lines are enjambed except the last. Another interesting characteristic of this poem is that it contains no clear caesurae, or pauses within a line, as it lacks punctuation. The reader can only estimate where caesurae should be. Finally, the poem has no rhyme scheme, or rhyme of any kind. These characteristics all aid in giving this poem its conversational tone, and makes it very different from his poem, “pity this busy monster,manunkind.”
Unlike the previous poem, “pity this busy monster,manunkind” is written in a very specific form. It is fourteen lines long, and written in blank verse– iambic pentameter with no end rhyme. This particular poem has no internal rhyme in it, either. Like others written in blank verse, this poem contains what are called verse paragraphs. These are stanzas containing varying numbers of lines. In this poem, there are seven of these verse paragraphs, with one, two, three, two, one, three, and two lines, respectively. Cummings does manage to stray slightly away from the restrictions of iambic pentameter by using metrical substitution.
Throughout the poem, a handful of trochees, as well as pyrrhics, can be found. In another digression from tradition, this poem does not have capitalization at the beginning of each line, only at the beginning of each sentence. On a similar note, only two of the poem’s lines–two and fourteen–are end-stopped. This makes for many other pauses, found within the lines of the poem. Caesurae are present in lines one, two, six, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen. Overall, for E. E. Cummings, this poem is very structured–unlike some others he has written.
The poem “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” is unique, to say the least. Seen written on a piece of paper, this poem looks like a hand in a scrabble game. Comparing this poem to most other poetry is like comparing a Pablo Picasso painting to a Leonardo da Vinci. This poem is in no way written in any traditional form. It is composed of fifteen lines, and has only one stanza. The fifteen lines of this poem are indented in eight different ways, with no apparent pattern of indentation. Spacing between ‘words’ within the lines also varies throughout the poem. Those words, are barely decipherable at first glance, and with seemingly haphazard placement of punctuation and use of capitalization, this poem can be easily mistaken for a meaningless jumble of characters. It has no meter and it has no rhyme.
One might say that this poem must not be a poem at all, but through careful scrutiny, a reader can see that this jumble of letters and symbols does, in fact say something. This poem revolves around the letters in its title: r, p, o, p, h, e, s, s, a, g and r. These letters are seen together four times throughout the poem, only arranged in different orders and with different capitalization. By the last line of the poem, and the fourth time the letters appear, they spell the word grasshopper. The third time the letters appear, they are set up so that every other letter is capitalized, with the lower-case letters being the first six of the word, and the capitals being the last five (“gRrEaPsPhOs”). The second time the letters appear, they are written as “PPEGORHRASS,” not significantly altered from the original “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r.” The other words of the poem are a puzzle as well. Only the words ‘who’ and ‘to’ are written as simple as they are written here. In line three, the words ‘as,’ ‘we,’ and ‘look,’ are written as “a ) sw (e loo )k.” In line four, the words ‘up’ and ‘now’ can be drawn out of “upnowgath.”
Two other words, ‘become’ and a word that Cummings himself probably invented, ‘rearrangingly,’ are intertwined as “rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly” in line fourteen. Within the parentheses are fragments of one word, and outside of the parentheses are fragments of the other. All of the other words of this poem are split up between two or more lines. Altogether, there are fifteen to sixteen words in this poem, and there are a number of different conclusions that can be drawn from the form they take. One conclusion could be that the poem reads, ‘r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r who as we look up, now gathering into PPEGORHRASS, he leaps, arriving at gRrEaPsPhOs, to rearrangingly become grasshopper.’ Another conclusion could be that E. E. Cummings used form in a way that only he could ever duplicate.
Form, in many different varieties, is found in all poetry. E. E. Cummings poetry, though often atypical, and sometimes downright peculiar, is a perfect example of that.
Courtney from Study Moose
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