EE Cummings: Theme and Development

Tags: E. E. Cummings, Ope Cit., Cummings, E. Cummings, The president of the united states, John Ciardi, Ball State University, Edward Estlin Cummings, Norman Friedman
Content: E. E. Cummings: Theme and Development A thesis submitted to the Honors Committee in fulfillment of the requirements for I.D. 499 by Sharon Held Advisor: Dr. Ethel-l4ae Haave Ball State University April 20, 1965
I. Edward Estlin Cummings (who eventually had his name legally changed to e. e. cummings) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894. His father was a Harvard English professor who became, in 1905, the pastor of Old South Church in Boston. This background probably plEty-ed a considerable part in Cummingst work throughout his lifetime. As one critic put it, " ··· though he has constantly cried his repudiation of his birthplace and all its academic works ··· i t is only as a child of Cambl~idge that he can be so passionately private and peculiar."l Another commented, "To some readers, Cummings' lighter verses may have seemed to be a virtual deflowel·ing of New England; actually they extended life of an area that had its precincts marked by the proximity of B()ston's State House, Harvard University, the Charles Rlver, Lexington and Concordts bridge."2 The fact that be was the son of a New England clergyman probably helped to establish in his mind a view that life consisted wholly of moments of inspiration and thereby was lacking in the lstanley Vergil Baum, Eovi:eec; E. E. Cumnings and the Critics (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1962), 104. 2~., 124.
2. fundamental requisite for growth.3 Cummings attended Harvard, receiving his B.A. in 1915 at the age of twenty-one and his M.A. one year later. The traditionalism that one associates with Harvard at this time plays its part in Cummings' work. His master's thesis deals with the "new art" but stresses the tradltion underlying this contemporary art.4 In 1917 Cummings joined the Norton Harjes Ambulance Corp in France to assist in the war effort. Because of an error, he was confined in a French ooncentration camp for several months. This experience provided t;he material for his first book, The Enoraous Room, in 1922 and for poems throughout his life. The spirit of the times that so affected writers of this period that they produced works like the wastelands of Eliot and Hemingway also affected Cummings. That Cummings was part of the Lost Generation is Significant, especially in his earlier works. 5 He experienced, at the age of twenty-three, "the disease of modern civillzation.n6 After the war Cummings returned to the United States and settled down to a life of continuous writing and pub- 3Ibid ., 117. 4Norman Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964), 122. 5Baum, Op. Cit., 102. 6Friedman, OPe Cit., 24.
4. Even now, however, John Ciardi still sees the l"uncritical undergraduates" as greatly enchanted with Cumm:tngs while the faculty members simply "shake their heads."lO The question then arises, on what grounds do the numerous critios divide conoerning Cummings? ~rheir favorite areas of contention, generally, are style, artistic worth and maturity. Stylistically his detractors find "the poot is often too nimble - he tires the reader with intricato intellectual acrobatics which scarcely repay one for puzzling out their motive over the slippery typographical stepping-stones."ll Edmund Wilson even feels that "his poems on tho page are hideous."12 Or again the detractors may find tault with the use of any particular one word "in itself ',ague and cloudy [bein~ made to take on the work of an Emtire philosophy:13 Friedman answers these charges by saying that anyone who claims that the same effects can be produced by more traditional means "must bear the burden of proof, realizing firet of all what Cummings was aiming at, and secondly showing What the alternatives are for achieving it."l4 lOJohn Ciardi, "To Speak An Age," Saturday Review, XLV (September 29, 1962), 10. llBaum, Ope Cit., 22. l2~., 27. l3illЈ., 67. l4Friedman, Ope Clt~, 84.
5. The oritics have been divided about the final worth of Cummings' work also. Ludwig Lewisohn olaims, "Fundamentally he is nothing. The charm of his work is in the sprightly dexterities of his language."15 Lewisohn sums up a rather common feeling that the work lacks meaning. At the other extreme it is felt that "Cummings is the most provocative, the most sentimental, the funniest, the least understood" poet of the age. l6 Baumts comment is, "That Cummings today can excite as muoh disagreement as he did in the 1920's is a sinoere tribute to his essential vitality.n17 Cummings has often been accused of not grc,wing up. As Jacobsen sardonically put it, "If E. E. CUIDnlings ever had maturity thrust upon him, he repulsed it cleanly. n18 The oritics take his unusual punctuation as symptomatic of artistio immaturity.19 Matthiesen says thai; interestingly enough, although Cummings continually talks about growth, he remains always the same.20 Hts poetry, to people of this bent, does not demonstrate allY' technical
15Baum, Ope Cit., 177.
16Logan, Ope Cit., 235. 17Baum, Ope Cit., viii.
18J · Jacobsen, "Legaoy of Three Poets," Commonweal,
LXXVIII (May 10, 1963), 190.
19Baum, Ope Cit., 26. 20~., xiii.
6. or intellectual development.21 On the other side or the coin are those critics (like Friedman) that as staunchly defend Cummings as a mature artist who does, in fact, show development in his poetry. 21~., 88.
II. After examining the total body of Cummings' work and the comments of numerous critics, one conclusion seems clear. Cummings began writing with a certain "liew point which did not change or expand but which was refined with time and experience. Norman Friedman, an outstanding Cummings' scholar, has suggested that Cummings' over-all vision mElY be summed up "under four related headings: his metaphysics, his epistemology. his politics and his aesthetlc."22 The meaning of Cummings' work is to be found in "the relationship between what he is trying to do (his means) and why (his ends) - between his technique on the one hand, and his attitudes and vision of life on the other."23 According to Friedman, Cummings' metaphys:lc, or vision of the true world, is "the natural world, the world of natural cyclical process. It is a timeless wOl~ld of the eternal present. It is an actual world. and plaradoxlcally a world of the dream. n24 Sometimes Cummings eyen conceives of nature as if separated from its most essential 22Frledman. Ope CIt., 8. 23Ibid·· 3. 24~., 8-9.
8. Qualities. 25 In viewing natural order as superior to man made order Cummings can be grouped with Coleridge and the Romantic tradition. He sees nature as "becoming rather than being," and, with Coleridge, he believes "that the intuitive or imaginative faoulty in man can pe:rceive this natura naturens directly.n26 His attempts to grasp an intuitively perceived world having a na.tural ord49r of its own represent "not an abandonment to disorder "but rather a struggle to realize a higher order.,,27 This outlook, according to Friedman, makes Cummings a transcendentalist. Feeling that nature itself is the greatest work of art, Cummings' style of presentation is often lyrio.28 He exhibits all the usual concerns of the lyric) poet: himself, his likes and dislikes, nature, the seasons, love and so on.29 While his lyrics are often graceful, "yet the dangers of lyricism - sentimentality, bathos -" are to be found too.30 This is, however, a oontested point. What Cummings seeks to do is capture sE~nsations "not so much for their own sakes as for the sru(e of 25Barry A. Marks, E. E. Cummings (New York: Twayne), 60. 26Friedman, Ope Cit., 5. -27Ibid ., 6. 28Marks, Ope Cit., 96. 29Friedman, Ope Cit., 130. 30M· Harrington, "Modern Idiom, Traditional Spirit," Commonweal, LXI (December 10, 1954), 295.
9. touching the living process of nature which croates them. n3l His object is experiencing life rather than thE~orizing about it. To him nature is just being born and not lilways dying. 32 The feeling of immediacy hinted at as nature is just being born is a key note throughout Cummings' work. He decries future-oriented society, ignores the past, and holds to the fullest possible experiencing of the present moment. Only the now is of any importance to Gummings. There is an old and august theory, found frequently in modern literature, that "reality exceeds thE~ forms which man has devised for dealing with it.,,33 Cummings is of this school of thought. For this reason he has been called "a sensual mystic ··· not of this world" and "both realistic and fanciful."34 It has been '~heorized that this so-called mystical insight is the 1'9 ~!ll foundation of his work.35 Actually, his transcendental vision "is of a spiritual world, a world where facts are :saturated in values, a world of magic, miracle and myste:ry. Nothing which is merely measurable is for him of the slightest 3lFriedman, Ope Cit., 35. 32~., 18. 33!El:.2.., 4. 34Norman Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetrl (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960), 35. 35Baum, Ope Cit., 16.
10. significance:36 Specifically he believes that there is a world of awareness - the true world - which is outside of, above, and beyond the ordinary world of everyday perception.37 However, the transcendental world, while being outside of, above, and beyond the ordinary everyday world, still is integrally conneoted to the ordinary world, and really depends upon it for eXistence. 38 Given Cummings' view of nature and reality, it then becomes necessary to see how man fits into the picture. Cummings seems to be putting forth a dualistic impression of the fundamental nature of man. He draws a comparison between man and a penguin to show what he means by his dual concept. A penguin is an awkward waddler, but at the same time a graceful swimmer. To Cummings, "The swimming penguin symbolizes each human being's second, inner, or unoonscious self, and this unconscious self is the function which determines or fulfills each human being's destiny and which contains the essence or meaning of all destiny. That is, despite all the inadequacy of most peoplets lives, a meaningful existence of love and beauty and joy is always and immediately available.·'39 Even then, Cummings believed that human fulfillment was perpetually possible. His 36Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 6. 37Ibid ., 5. 38Ibid., 7. 39Marks, 0E. Cit., 122.
11. unresolved problem was that he both believed and doubted that man could attain fulfillment by hlmself. 40 In faot, "his prime antagonist was the secular faith " that human fulfillment can be produced by human power. 41 Nevertheless, "man, for him, is still noble, virtuous, and not just potentially in a state of Grace." 42 Cummings' satire is based on his faith in the nobility of the human Spirit. His premise is that it is within man',s power to ohoose - and to choose rightly. HOw, then, Cummings would ask, can man be pi tied i f he oonscious1y choos~3s wrongly out of fear?43 If he had directed his satiric barbs only against a minority group like the Jews, then the case against him would have been glaring; however, l~is satire spares no one, from Uncle Sam to Buffalo Bi1l.'!l4 The nobili ty of his own spirit shines forth in thi:s respect. He never refrains from saying what he feels is the truth simply because such statements might bring him under oritioism. His poem "what if a much of a which of a wind" testifies to his belief in the "inherent importance of man beneath modernism's encrusted idiocies.,,45 To 40~., 123. 41Ibid ., 137. 42Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of Hil! Poetry, 14. 43Ibid., 51. 44Marks, Ope Cit., 175. 45~., 60.
12. Cummings, the poet is the type of the true man:J and "all true men are poets: men who can see with clear eyes, feel with unconditioned emotions, and love without fear; men who are whole, entire, and alive."46 Cummings' dual concept of man makes it di:f'ficu1t to asoertain his religious outlook. Jaokinson sees him as an iconoclast to whom "nothing is sacred,,47 while Friedman feels that he "believes deeply in the insufficiency of man and the Grace of God. n48 Undoubtedly Cummings believes that there has been undue faith placed 1n science and technology. As already mentioned he deplores the secular faith that human fulfillment can be accomplished through human power. 49 Cummings would have us renounce our desire for security, success, stability and comfort but not our intuitive life.50 According to Gregory and Zaturenska, "the world of Cummings' conventions is too small to admit the presence of a complete moral order, but it has within it the clear (and one almost says courageous) recognition that a Christian faith. exists 1n twentieth century Amer1ca."5l Perhaps, considering 46Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of Hl.s Poetry, 10. 47Baum, Ope Cit., 175. 48Marks, Ope Cit., 143. 49~., 137. 50Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of' a Writer, 7. 51Baum, Ope Cit., 131.
13. Cummings' family baokground, this outlook has some validity. In Cummings' universe, evil exists, but not sin. 52 The principle of Evil is opposed by the prinoiple of·Nature; Evil is not a part of Nature.53 Transcendence "has its source in a sinless universe."54 To Cummings, good and bad are absolutes.55 Amid all the confusion caused by his dual concept of man, there emerges a quite clear principle - that of deathin-life.56 His vision frequently runs counter to ordinary oonceptions in this instance: he sees life where others see death. To him society is dead. 57 Cummings expresses the linguistic demonstrable truth of the opposites, life and death, by joining "now" plus "here" to arrive at "nowhereft · 58 Cummings' man is "in harmony with nature, not demanding a deathless life on earth, 'his autumn's winter being summer's spring. tft59 Approaching winter and death do not frighten him because he has confidence in the eventual return of spring and life. Hell is not real to 52Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 13. 53Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 106. 54Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 16. 55Ciardi, Ope Cit., 10. 56 Jacobsen, Ope Cit., 190. 57Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 30. 58Marks, Ope Cit., 120. 59Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 12.
14. Cummings in the same way that it is to Dante. In the long run "the only necessity that he acknowledges is the movement toward joy.n 60 Cummings' view of life is further tempered by his epistemology. The facet added in this aspect of his vision is that life is non-rational. 61 The "villain of Cummings' drama, the Satan of his Eden" seems to be the mind. 62 Mind substitutes for Original Sin which otherwise is totally lacking in his view of the sinless universe. Cummings' speaker finds nothing noble in the intellec tU8.l strivings of mankind, for such strivings cut man off from truth. 63 The mind seeks to "make static the moving and finish the never ending,» causing, when it is allowed to be dominant, an artificial world for man. 64 The mind is the source of the disease of asking and dissatisfaction. 65 This should not leave the impression that Cummings is against thinking nin a sense of allowing the brain to usurp or thwart the rightful functions of the heart and the senses,.n66 When mind is separated from the heart and soul, then man is 60Ibid., 14. 6lFriedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of' a Writer, 18. 62Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of Hi.s Poetry, 19. 63Ibid., 19-20. 64~., 21. 65~., 20. 66Ibid· , 30.
15. prevented from being in harmony with natural process. 67 Therefore, "Intelligence operating at intuitional velocity~ is the only essential intelligence in Cummings. 68 The mind, however, must be educated to bel~ome the evil that Cummings sees it to be. To Cummings, only children and artists are detached from society69 - children because they are as yet uneducated into adulthood, and artists because they use thinking to negate thinking. 70 Cummings feels that children perceive sense impressions with precision and accuracy until they are badgered from wi thout by their parents and teachers into acc,epting an adult outlook on life. 71 As Cummings sees it, a child's world is always "now"; there are no plans for the future. This yielding on the part of a child to the immediate exparience is, of course, Cummings' idea of an ideal life. 72 He did realize, though, that "children cannot serve as an ultimate standard of value."73 His ultimate standard would be the artist, the true man, who experiences life in the same manner as children do, but who accomplishes 67Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 19. 68Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 12. 69Marks, Ope Cit., 57. 70Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer. 12. 71Marks, Ope Cit., 48. 72~., 51. 73Ibid., 52.
16. this by the highest mechanical thought process, that of negating thinking. Naturally, his view of adults in general suffers accordingly. He specifically finds fault with their attempts to reduce life to abstractions and their underlying effort to make life conform to the purposes of man. 74 Besides that, the goal of the adult is always in the future, never now. The final tragedy of the adult world of notliving is the manner in which children are hur:ried into it. 75 Concerning the third area that Friedman has suggested, Cummings I politics, two words adequately summa:rize it: love and the individual. 76 Cummings is not a politician in the ordinary sense of the word. His is not the politics of Democrat versus Republican. To be for or against anY' form of organized mass action would involve Cummings in the very categories that he wishes to transcend.. 77 His only concern with governme nt is its effect on the governed. 78 As far as he is concerned, the one freedom is the freedom of the responsive and responsible will, and all other freedoms derive from it. 79 74~., 70. 75Ie.!!!., 50. 76Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth o:r a Writer, 9. 77Ibid., Ill. 7~aum, Ope Cit., 108. 79Ibid., 109.
17. The only solution that Cummings sees to the world's problems is love (i.e. "the courage to hope, the determination to be oneself, the ability to dream, t;he capacity for surrender, and the desire for life.")80 To the idea of man as builder he opposes the idea of man as lover, which he considers the better way of life. 8l When Cummings' persona is not with his lady, he is alone. This demonstrates the other half of Cummings' politics - the individual. His individual is "an apotheosis, a revelation of the organic miracll~ of life, a vision of nature in man which is salvation for the beholder, redeeming him from the death of the ;stereotype into the life of the actual and transcendent world."82 Opposed to the individual are "mostpeople" who live ordinary lives of standardization and planning and ordering. In Cummings' terms a 'one', a 'Yes', an 'Is', ;stand for the true individual. 83 Cummings' aesthetic, then, follows from these metaphysics, this epistemology, and these politics.. The technique he uses is a direct result of his point of view. 84 Once again the reader will note a dualism, how~'ver, this 80Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of Hi::! PoetrI, 22. 81Marks, Ope Cit., 86. 82Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 29. 83Baum, Ope Cit., 162. 84~., 119.
18. time between realism and formalism. This dualism poses no problem to Cummings' way of thinking. His definition of a poet as "somebody who feels, and who expr,esses his feelings through words" juxtaposes the two ideas. 85 He expresses realism in his concept of what a poem is, and in the use of the 'cult of the ugly' in his writing. To him poems are natural products since "they are in competition with flowers and sunsets.,,86 He does not see a poem as an idea, but rather as an experience through which the reader can discover something about the author, or himself, or life. 87 Closely til~d to Cummings' view that poetry is part of nature is his use of the ugly in his work.88 With it he exhibit::! "the realist's faith in nature as the ultimate art ·.,89 Ugliness is to be found throughout Cummings' poetry - in choice of subject matter, language, and attitudes of his persona. On the formalist side, "the side that values technique over subject matter," Cummings was a truE~ professional. 90 He admired and studied professional art and strived for it in his own work. As a result, his 85Marks, Ope Cit., 122. 86Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of Hifl Poetry, 20. 87Marks, Ope Cit., iii. 88Ibid., 97. 89~., 100. 90lЈ!..2.., 114.
19. technical innovations are many. Particularly in the realms of typography, word usage, rhythm and imagery is Cummings an innovator. The reader is immediately struck by Cummings' typography on the first encounter with his poetry. His capitalization (or lack of it), punctuation, and line arrangement are immediately arresting. It was Cummings' belief that a poem's appearance on the page was especially important :1n supporting the poet's intention. 9l He wanted and expected his typography to affect the reading of the poem. By this means he sought to control the "reading rate, emotional evocation, and aesthetic inflection, ,1f 92 so that there might be the smallest possible gap betweE~n the actual experience and its expression. 93 Orthodox forms only falsified the true experience in his opinion. 94 He uses capitals for emphasis only. Commas serve to indicate pauses wherever Cummings feels that natural cadence require them - even if that involves breaking up words never before divided in that manner. Blank spaces are used sometimes to isolate a word for emphasis and sometlmes to slow down the reading rate. Hyphens also serve to slow down the 91Logan, Ope Cit., 233. 92illЈ. 93Baum, Ope Cit., 120. 94John Logan, nEe E. Cummings," Commonwea~, LXI (January 14, 1955), 409.
20. tempo. Parentheses may be used to set the mood or to indicate visually immediacy or simultaneity. To indicate rapid tempo, Cummings frequently runs several words together as one word. Every space or utilization of it in a Cummings poem serves some purpose in the total attempt to relate an experieoce. 95 Usage is also an important part of Cummings' aesthetic. His problem is one of getting rid of the deadness of language without losing all vestige of intelligibllity.96 Quite frequently a change in the usual position of words is enough to significantly enliven a passage. 97 lirever does he change the root meanings of words even when changing their grammatical forms. 98 He particularly likes to experiment with fragmentation and recombination of words, arriving at the coinages and composites that are his peculiar trademark. 99 Prefixes, conjunctions, and even ioterrogative pronouns become nouns; the addition of adverbial or adjectival suffixes result in meaningful coinages. lOO Since he is so concerned with creating an actual experience for his reader, naturally verbs (in the present, indicative)
°E· 95Baum,
Cit., 11.
96Friedman, E. E. Cumminssz The Growth of a Writer, 14.
°E· 97Baum,
Cit., 103.
98Friedman, E. E. Cumminss! The Art of His Poetrl, 26.
99Marks, 0E. Cit., 100.
100Friedman, E. E. Cummingsz The Growth of a Writer, 16.
21. are important, too. lOl Cummings' use of pronouns is equally important in his aesthetic. Their usage reflects his politics. He opposes "in plus "you" which equals "we" to "they". "They" are the pernicious "mostpeople", while "we." are the individuals, the poets, the truly alive. l02 This language that Cummings has created is held together by rhythm. l03 Dos Passos has commented that Cummings uses the rhythms of American life as the material of his poetry. He claims, "It is writing created in the ear and lips and jotted down."104 Indeed, the creation of movement is one of the few aesthetic intentions to which Cummings has ever admitted. l05 He has accomplished thil:l intention by means of the already mentioned devices of typography and word usage. When he turns nouns into verbl~ he maintains the root meaning of the words and at the same time creates motion. 106 Or when he runs words together or strings them out across the page he creates motion. The concern with rhythm is, once again, a reflection of Cummings' concern with the accurate presentatic)n of lOlBaum, °E· Cit., 118. lO2Friedman, E. E. Cummings,! The Growth of a Writer, 135. 103Friedman, E. E. Cumminss" The Art of His Poetrz, 25. 104Baum, 0E. Cit., 6. 105Marks, Ope Cit., 103. 106Friedman, E. E. Cummings" The Growth of a Writer, 15.
22. experience .107 The rinal element or Cummings' aesthetics is his imagery. His most ravored images have to do wjLth nature. The word "rlower", ror instance, is the most uned word in his vocabulary.108 Also of importance are times or day which "constitute his chier symbolic clustelr."109 These include sunset, twilight, night, moon, and star particularly. Seasons are important, too; he exhibits a slight prererence for spring and summer over raIl and winter in this group.110 Urban and Rural settings are used about equally. III Frequently animals enter into Cummings' imagery, too. Usually his concern iSi with the smaller creatures (goldrish, grasshoppers, chan~leons, or birds) because of their vast capacity for movement and change. 112 However, he does occaSionally a horse or a goat. In the final analysis, what makes Cummings' aesthetics peculiarly his own is the combination or all these things - typography, word usage, rhythm, and 107Logan, "Advent or E. E. Cummings," 409. 108Baum, OPe Cit., 53. 109Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 41. 110Ibid., 42. 11l~., 43. 112Ibid ·
23. imagery. In a sense, the language that he has developed has become in itself his prinoipal metaphor.113 113Marks, Ope Cit., 121.
III. Given, then, this transcendental outlook, let us examine its application throughout Cummings' pc:>etry. Basically the works can be divided into three chronological periods: early poems, published in the 1920's; middle poems, published during the 1930's and 1940's; and later poems, published during the 1950's. The point to be made is that over this span of approximately forty years the poet's view point remained the sam., the only change coming from refinement of the basic outlook and technique. (Cummings did not perfect and then discard techniques as he continued to wri1;e, but gradually discovered, mastered, and retained devices instead. 113 The range and variety of his style is one of its outstanding characteristlcs.114 ) In 1923 Cummings' first volume of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys, was published. This volume alrel:ldy contains elements of every part of Cummings' overn1l vision - the metaphysics, epistemology, politic~s and aesthetic. In order to demonstrate the validity of such an assertion, let us examine a few typical se1ections from Tulips and Chimneys. 113Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of' a Writer, 15. 114Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of H1.s Poetry, 62.
25. The very earliest Cummings poems are extremely derivative, reminding one of Keats, Shelley, Swinburne and Rosetti especially. "Puella Mea" and "Epithalamion" are representative. 115 However, this kind of poem very quiekly evolves in Tulips and Chimneys into the usual Cummings poem. By the end of the 1920' s all t:races of any outside literary influences disappear.116 During the transition period, "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" is written. Although this poem does contain several hold over traditional strains, it also begins to fuse in the modern experimental style of Cummings. the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds (also, with the church's protestant blessings they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead, are invariably interested in so many thingsat the present writing one still finds delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles? perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D ···· the Cambridge ladies do not care, above Cambridge if sometimes in its box of sky lavender and cornerless, the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candyl17 Traditional Petrarchan sonnet form is employed, an octave and a sextet forming the foundation of the poem. Cummings deviates from the form immediately, however, by 115Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 38. 116Ibid., 50. l17E · E. Cummings, Collected Poems (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), 28.
using an experimental abcddcba efggfe rhyme scheme. Thematically "the Cambridge ladies" voiceB various aspects of Cummings' politics, epistemology, and metaphysics. Women of Cambridge, interested in gossip and pious good works, are seen as actually self-centered, comi'ortably existing adults with "furnished souls." Already there exists in Cummings' theme a rebellion against a life devoid of actual experiential awareness. He says, "Christ and Longfellow, both dead," and firmly implies that the Cambridge ladies are the same. Here, too, is an early awareness of contemporary surroundings. Aesthetically the poem is readily marked as an early product of transitional nature. Lack of capitalization at the beginning and in the ninth line are slightly experimental touches, but, for the most part, the punctuation is quite regular. Only one word in the entire poem hints at Cummings' future experiments in the area - the word "unbeautiful" in the second line. The rhythm and imagery are also basically conventional. lIB In "the Cambridge ladies" Cummings is bridging the gap between the romantic tradition and modern poetry. Although the romantic tradition in technique and material drops away quickly in Tulips and Chimneys, the romantic attitude toward existence remains throughout cummings.119 11f-t.B.. aum, Ope Cit., 122. 119Ibid., 100.
27. The difference in"O sweet spontaneous" im- mediately is noticeable: o sweet spontaneous earth how often have the doting fingers of prurient philosophers pinched and poked thee , has the naughty thumb of science prodded thy beauty · how often have religions taken thee upon their scraggy knees squeezing and buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive gods (but true to the incomparable couch of death thy rhythmic lover thou answerest them only with spring) 120 Obviously all vestiges of a traditional form have dis- appeared. Line arrangement and spacing are totally un- conventional. Elements of Cummings metaphysics and epistemology do appear again, though. The topic under discussion in this poem is nature ("earth") and its relation to science, philosophy, and religion. Nature is orderly, steadfast, and beautiful, and able to withstand the probing onslaught 120Cummings, Ope Cit., 21.
28. of those three forces. Death appears in this c3arly poem, also, in the light of a "rhythmic lover" rather than some dread phenomenon. The answer of nature to all attempts at understanding is the simple natural process of continual return to spring and rebirth. With this poem one can find evidence of the free verse visual stanza pattern that is common in Cummings. 121 Experimentation in punctuation for the purpose of controlling the reading rate is in evidence in the ninth and eleventh lines particularly with the comma at the beginning of a line and the period spaced apart from the final word of the sentence. Emphasis on spacing of words is to be seen in the very last line of the poem where the word "spring" is left by itself in the middle of the page. Unconventional spacing of this kind is another common technique in Cummings' aesthetics that is thus to be found in his very earliest work.122 Vivid figurative effects are frequently to be found in the earlier poetry, also. In "0 sweet spontaneous" the element of figurative language can be seen in "the naughty thumb of science" and "scraggy knees squeezing," in reference to Science and religion. Another example of early Cummings work found in Tulips and Chimneys is "in Just -": 121Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 45. 122Ibid., 39.
in Justspring when the world is mudluscious the little lame balloonman
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it's spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it's spring and the
balloonMan far wanede 123
"in Just-" gives an example of the descriptive
type of poem that makes up the largest proportion (almost one fourth) of his work as a whole. 124 Beside;s that, it
affords a glimpse of Cummings' politics as well as his
metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics. Th~! emphasis
in this poem on the joy of childhood and spring typifies
Cummings' epistemological point of view that children
123cum.mings, Ope Cit., 30. 124Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 39.
30. are truly alive for they experience and respond to the immediate. At the same time Cummings' attitude toward adults shows through the phrase "the queer old balloonman." Once again there is a romantic metaphysical concern with nature. Spring has barely arrived, and the world is "mud-luscious" and "puddle-wonderful,11 a uniquely lyrical description of a much used poetic subject. To add to the sense of joyousness Cummings has included an allusion to Pan, the goat footed Greek god of shepherds and pastures. Clearly in evidence in this poem are several elements of Cummings' aesthetics. Motion is stressed as always through spacing of words on the page. "eddieandbill" and "bettyandisbel" are strung together just as they would be if spoken by excited, happy, busy children. The picture of the retreating balloonman is stressed by the spread out spacing of the last seven lines. Capitalization of the word "Just_If in line one emphasize s thslt the season has barely changed, thereby calling to mind the almost frenzied gaiety felt by children released from a long winter's confinement indoors. Cummings' early "adjectival style" is noted in this poem too. 125 By comb1.ning nouns and adjectives into hyphenated predicate adjec,tives, Cummings creates effective new descriptive c01.nages, "mudluscious" and "puddle-wonderful." 125Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 40.
31. Moving to the second volume of poems published during this early period, & (1925), one finds an early expression of Cummings' vision of some ideal transcendental world in "who knows if the moon's,,:126 who knows if the moon's a balloon, coming out of a keen city in the sky-filled with pretty people? (and if you and i should get into it,if they should take me and take you into their balloon why then we'd go up higher with all the pretty people than houses and steeples and clouds: go sailing away and away sailing into a keen city which nobody's ever visited,where always it's Spring)and everyone's 127 in love and flowers pick themselves Cummings presents parts of all four aspects of his vision in arriving at a vague transcendental ideal in this poem. Nature and reality are the aspects of his metaphYSiCS which appear. The moon, an image taken from nature, is the central image of the poem. The question posed is one of identification of reality. Who really knows what the moon is? Cummings suggests an answer that involves his epistemology and politics. The mind, he implies, is capable of rising above the "hoU::3es and steeples and clouds," of transcending this world to a l26Ibid ., 46. 127Cummings, Ope Cit., 73.
32. better world where individuals ("you and in) aJ?e "in love" and where only the present is important for "always/ it's/Spring." In order to express these sentiments Cumm:lngs naturally employs his developing aesthetics. Later on, the language he develops to express his ideas ls of a more philosophical nature, but already included are such key words as above, depth, height, and beyond.128 "Spring" is the only word in the poem which he deemed important enough to emphasize by use of a capital letter. Actually the poem is set up in four line free verse stanzas although the spacing in the last stanza might cause one to overlook the fact. Perhaps the contained form might be representative of the contained spirit straining for transcendence of this world. At any rate, "who knows if the moon's" voices vaguely Cummings' vision of an ideal transcendental world. Also published in 1925 was XLI Poems. From that volume comes "the skinny voice," an early satire which indicates Cummings' increasing interest in people: the skinny voice of the leatherfaced woman with the crimson nose and coquettishlycocked bonnet having ceased the 128Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 16.
33. captain announces that as three dimes seven nickels and ten pennies have been deposited upon the drum there is need of just twenty five cents dear friends to make it an even dollar whereupon the Divine Average who was attracted by the inspired sister's howling moves off will anyone tell him why he should blow two bits for the coming of Chri::3t Jesus ? 11 ?1? 1 nix, kid129 This increasing interest is gradual and i::3 concerned with people as both individuals and types. 130 The Salvation Army lady is a well described individual with a "skinny voice," a leathery skin, a red nose, and a typical Salvation Army bonnet made individual by its being "coquettishly cocked." Opposed to her iB the Divine Average, the ordinary man on the street,. without phYSical description, who has chanced by and hears the pitch of the woman and the captain. This typed individual thinks briefly about the plea, dismisses the idea, and 129Cummings, Ope Cit., 98. 130Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 32.
34. continues on with his ordinary life. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aesthetic aspects of this poem is Cummings' use of punctuation itl place of words in the last few lines. The Divine Average questions in his mind the plea before him, becomes more and more agitated by it, and finally rather indignantly and quite emphatically ("1") rejects the whole idea. If the reader misses the implication of the series of punctuation marks, Cummings kindly restates the reaction in the It:Lnguage of the Divine Average in the very last line. The final volume of the early period of Cummings' writing is is 5, published in 1926. According to Friedman "is 5 is Cummings first consistently character:1.stic book of poems. "13l From tha t vo uI me comt e wo poems 0 f int eres t , "next to of course god" and "in spite of everyt;hing." "next to of course god" is an example of Cummings' satiric vision which basically starts in~. After this time poems of a satirical nature are more predominant, taking up from a fifth to a third of each book. 132 Topics which fall under the heading of national affairs receive the brunt of Cummings' satire.133 "next to of course god" is typical in this respect: 131Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 50. 132~., 48. 133Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 48.
35. "next to of course god america i love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh say can you see by the dawn's early my country 'tis of centuries come and go and no more what of it we should worry in every language even deafanddumb thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry by jingo by gee by gosh by gum why talk of beauty what could be morel beautiful than these heroic happy dead who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter they did not stop to think they died instead then shall the voice of liberty be mute?" He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water. 134 In this poem the persona is listening to a patriotic speech. All the common cliches are employed to arouse sympathy and lull thought in the hearer, and the speech is made rapidly so that hopefully there is no time for applying reason to what is being said. Although Cummings' epistemology is generally anti-rational, his political belief in the individual overpowers his antipathy for forethought in this poem. The individual stands opposed to the mass of "heroic happy dead" who "did not. stop to think." To the final question posed by the speaker Cummings would answer "yesl" No punctuation or capitalization slow down the reading rate of the first thirteen lines of the poem. In contrast, the last line contains two capitals and two periods, and it is set out from the rest of the poem by the space between the last two lines. In this manner does Cummings cast doubt on the preceding thirteen lines. 134Cummings, Ope Clt., 147.
The rhyme scheme is experimental, but regular .· ababcdcd
etgte g. Line eight contains the only unusual words in
the poem, and they are only American slang terms tossed
in to cover up for the truth which is missing. The imagery
used in the speech is the much used imagery of patriotic
speakers. Soldiers are compared to lions and liberty is
personified. Undoubtedly Cummings has recreat~td a fairly
accurate representation of a political speech 1n "next to
of course god" and just as undoubtedly he disapproves of
the jingoistic political philosophy.
"in spite of everything" is a completely different
kind of poem found in ~.
in spite of everything which breathes and moves, since Doom (with white longest hands neatening each crease) will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and(stooping
through the morning)kiss
this pillow, dear where our heads lived
were 135
Love has been, since the very beginning, cine of
Cummings' favored topics. In ll-§. over forty poems out
of eighty-nine deal with this topic, while less than half that many are satires. 136 "in spite of everything" presents
the view of Cummings' politics that love alone, on an in-
dividual basis, is the solution to the world's problems.
l35~., 168. l3~riedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 49.
37. The world "of everything that breathes and moves" can be largely ignored because death "will smooth entirely our minds." ("Doom" is a neatener, a smoother, ra'ther than .. dreaded blackness.) What is worthwhile in the world, then, is love, and it should be revered accordingly. There is a typical lack of capitalization here. "Doom" is capitalized for emphasis, however. Parentheses are used once in each stanza, but their usage is fairly normal. Spacing in this poem is quite conventional as well. There are two visual free verse stanzas of five lines apiece. For the most part, then, "in sp1.te of everything" is less flamboyantly unconventional than some of Cummings' other early poems, yet it still voices parts of his overall vision. Thus, in the early period of Cummings' writing four volumes of poetry are published within three years. Already most of his predominant themes are being incorporated: love, spring, children, death, society, war, and time. 136 His technique is developing at the same time. The echoes of outside literary influences have died away; experimentation with spacing, typography, and coinage of words has begun; and there is fusion of thought and technique in attempts to accurately recreate experie nee. After is 5 in 1926, five years elapse until Cummings l36Ibid., 49.
- again publishes a volume of poetry. With Viva in 1931 the middle period of his writing begins. By again ex- amining some typical examples from the volumes of poetry published in the 1930's and 1940's we can see In what ways, if any, Cummings is developing. In !!2 Cummings developed the satirioal ~rision that is now a standard part of his outlook. World mrar I and the Depression have helped to bring his satire into focus. 137 His satire is now sharper and has deeper emotional subject matter.138 "i sing of Olaf" is an example: i sing of Olaf glad and big whose warmest heart recoiled at war: a conscientious object-or his wellbeloved colonel (trig westpointer most succinctly bred) took erring Olaf soon in hand; but-though an host of overjoyed nonooms(first knocking on the head him)do through icy waters roll that helplessness whioh others stroke with brushes reoently employed anent this muddy toiletbowl, while kindred intellects evoke allegiance per blunt instrumentsOlaf(being to all intents a oorpse and wanting any rag upon what God unto him gave) responds,without getting annoyed "I will not kiss your flag" straightway the silver bird looked grave (departing hurriedly to shave) but-though all kinds of officers (8 yearning nation's blueeyed pride) 137Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of 8 Writer, 76. 13Bsaum, Ope Cit., 121.
their passive prey did kick and curse until for wear their clarion vo ices and boots were much the worse " and egged the firstclassprivates on his rectum wickedly to tease by means of skillfully applied bayonets roasted hot with heatOlaf{upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat "there is some s. I will not eat"
our president, being of which assertions duly notified threw the yellowsonofabitch into a dungeon,where he died
Christ{of His mercy infinite' i pray to se9; and Olaf,too
preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie be was more brave than me:more blond
Olaf is a conscientious objector. He is the epitome
of Cummings' individual for he will not give up his be-
liefs even in the face of physical as well as verbal
abuse. The situation is carried to its furthefJt extreme
and Olaf dies as a result of his refusal to relinquish
his position. The army personnel, from highest; to
lowest, come in for their share of the blame - particu-
larly the "succinctly bred" Westpoint colonel who takes
it upon himself to correct the "erring Olaf." But it
was the action of the president that was the immediate
cause of Olaf's death, so the president receive!s most
of the blame.
The poem is presented in narrative style, with no
139Cummings, OF. Cit., 204.
40. particular set form. Stanza length varies according to the subject matter ("our president" receiving a four line stanza all to himself, for example). The rhyme scheme, while by no means regular, does eventually wind up rhyming the majority of the lines. The "i" that narrates the poem is uncapitalized, while "Ola:f" and the "r" when Olaf speaks are capitalized. Olaf and Christ are ranked equally by Cummings' use of capitaLs. This poem presents some position changes, too, as in lines eight and nine, "first knocking on the head him." Cummings' typographical and Experimental Techniques, whi(~h are now becoming more frequent, are "used most often in the satirical and comic poems for mockery ··· and in the city and descriptive poems for movement and vision.,,140 After topics of national concern come topics of scientific commercialism as objects of Cummingf3' satire. 141 These topics begin to be developed in the 1930 It S as America becomes grossly concerned with Progress. Cummlngs expresses his opinion of progress in "0 pr": o pr gress verily thou art m mentous superc lossal hyperpr digious etc i kn w & if you d 140Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of' a Writer, 77. 141Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 49.
nit why g to yonder s called newsreel s called theatre & with your wn eyes beh
Id The
(The president The President of The president of the The) president of
the {united The President of the United States The president of the united states of The President of The) United States
Of America unde negant redirE~ quemquam supp
sedly thr
w i n g a b aseball142
Cummings I view of scientific advance has :always been
dim, and in this poem progress is definitely under attack.
It has produced nothing better than a "so call4~d newsreel"
or "so called theatre" which only replaces the much-more-
to-be-desired actual experience. Anything second-hand is,
to Cummings' way of thinking, evil, even if that second-
hand experience be witnessing the president of the United
States wasting his time throwing a baseball.
This poem typifies, too, a few new device:~ that
Cummings is developing in No Thanks. With this volume
comes more emphasis on obvious visual shape {one notices
l42Cummings, Ope Cit., 249.
42. the "0" placed outside the left hand margin of this poem, the inset parenthetical experiments with the words "the president of the United States," and the descellding arrangement of the last seven lines), interlacing of words (particularly noticeable in the parenthetical material and experiments with setting the "0" out and letting it tie together the whole poem), and typographical spacing (evidenced especially in the last seven lines).143 Other new devices in this volume are capital letters that appear and disappear and words that are built by cumulative additions. What is developing is a more conceptual vocabulary for expressing his ideas. From the "New Poems" section of Collected Poems, published in 1938, comes "you shall above all things be glad and young," which expresses parts of Cummlngs' metaphysics, epistemology, politics, and aesthetics without being satirical as "0 pr" and "i sing of Olaf" are. During this period ( No Thanks and "New Poems"), love poems per se seem to be on the wane. Only two poems out of ninety-three can actually be classified as suc11. l44 However, there are a number of transcendental poems which praise love and lovers in general, and "you studl above all things be glad and young" is of this variet;y: l43Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of' a Writer, 84. l44Ibid., 127.
43. you shall above all things be glad and young. For if you're young, whatever life you wear it will become you; and if you are gl:!.d whatever's living will yourself become. Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need: whose any mystery makes every man's flesh put space on; and his mind takE~ off time that you should ever think,may god forbid and(in his mercy)your true lover spal'e: for that way knowledge lies, the foetn.l grave called progress,and negation's dead undoom. I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing 145 than teach ten thousand stars how not; to dance Once again one finds a poem incorporating some as- pects of all four parts of Cummings' vision. Prom his metaphysics comea the accent on nature found in the last two lines of the poem. His metaphysics provide" also, the view of "the foetal grave called progress" and one remembers that where society sees life, Cummings sees death. From his epistemology comes the emphasis on youth and the plea that the "mind take off time," i.e. stop planning for the future and live for the present. From his politics comes the stress on the individual the "you" - and the individual's lover. His aesthetics bind the whole together. The form that Cummings uses in "you shall above all things be glad and young" is an alternating pattern of two line stanzas, with a three line and four line stanza in between. Written in free verse, this poem continues the developml:lnt of the l45cummings, Op. Cit., 315.
44. appearing and disappearing capitals noted in the last volume, No Thanks. It also hints at a more controlled, complex style.146 Even more representative of Cummings' transcendental vision as a whole is "anyone lived in a pretty how town": anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn't he danced his did. Women and men{both little and small) cared for anyone not at all they sowed their isn't they reaped their same sun, moon, stars, rain children guessed(but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew autumn winter spring summer) that noone loved him more by more when by now and tree by leaf she laughed his joy she cried his grief bird by snow and stir by still anyone's any was all to her someones married their everyones laughed their cryings and did their dance (sleep wake hope and then) they said their nevers they slept their dream stars rain sun moon (and only the snow can begin to explain how children are apt to forget to remember with up so floating many bells down one day anyone died i guess (and noone stooped to kiss his face) busy folk buried them side by side little by little and was by was all by all and deep by deep and more by more they dream their sleep noone and anyone earth by april wish by spirit and if by yes. 146Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 130.
45. Women and men(both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun moon stars rain147 Published in 1940 in 50 Poems, "anyone lived in a pretty how down" presents a narrative picture of Cummings' vision and development to that date. "anyone" is an individual in the true Cummings sense of the word. He responds joyously to life and is truly alive. Anyone is placed in the setting of an ordinary town, /3urrounded by a cyclical ordered natural universe ("summer autumn winter spring"). Also in the setting are the ordinary "someones" and "everyones" of the town whose sc:ope of life stretches from little to small. Their dally life is unimaginative and unresponsive. They don't understand and therefore "care for anyone not at all." But anyone is not to face the someones and everyones of pretty how town alone. Noone, his lover, who 1s also a responsive Cummings individual, is there to s,hare in anyone's day by day positive acceptance of experience. Thus one sees Cummings' vision of the individual, the lover, opposing the mass society of unresponsive citizens. Individualism and love are the answers to find1ng the happy life inside the confines of the ordered universe. Cummings suggests that perhaps a few of the children of pretty how town understand the feelings of anyone and 147E · E. Cummings, 50 Poems (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1940), 39.
46. noone but "down they forgot as up they grew." One day, however, anyone dies. His death is no traumat.ic incident in the poem, reflecting Cummingst lack of fear of the eventuality. There is instead a confidence in the rightness of the cyclical process that is continually leading back to spring. Here, too, is Cummings' aesthetic developed to its fullest extent to date. The poem exhibits a controlled command of rhyme and meter set in a regular stanza. (From 50 Poems on the use of a regular stanza increases in importance.)148 Throughout the poem Cummings uses his developed conceptual vocabulary in phrases lik,e "with up so floating many bells down" and "down they forgot as up they grew." His parallels are also of a conceptual nature - "bird by snow and stir by still" and "wish by spirit and if by yes." As usual there are the capitalization and punctuation quirks that add emphasis and motion to any Cummings poem. And, as frosting to the cake, besides the successful combination of all the developed techniques used previously, Cummings manages to add a new touch - a refrain. 149 Or perhaps refrains is more accurate, for both "spring summer autwlO winter" and "sun, moon, stars, rain" are repeated throughout the poem. l4~riedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 100. 149Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 131.
47. There is yet one more volume of poetry published in this middle phase of Cummings' evolution: 1.xl , ! I published in 1944. As lxl reflects the events of early years of the forties, 150 the particular poem "what if a much of a which of a wind" cdnsiders the parti.cular question posed at that time (!and ever since) about the results of an atomic war. what if a much of a which of a wind gives the truth to isummer's lie; bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun and ya.nks immortal !stars awry? Blow king to begga~ and queen to seem (blow friend to fi~nd;blow space to time) -when skies are haqged and oceans dr'owned, the single secret ~ill still be man what if a keen of a lean wind flays screaming hills with sleet and snow: strangles valleys by ropes of thing and stifles forest~ in white ago? Blow hope to terro~;blow seeing to blind (blow pity to envy ;and soul to mind) -whose hearts are mountains,roots are trees, it's they shall cry hello to the spring what if a dawn of a doom of a dream bites this univers~ in two, peels forever out qf his grave and sprinkles nowhe!re with me and you? Blow soon to never ;and never to twice (blow life to isn' t!:blow death to was) -all nothing's onl;1 our hugest home; the most who die, t\he more we Iive15l Most of Cummings' metaphiysics come into play here. The poem itself may be seen aJs an affirmation of the in- destructability of man. Natu~e is once more brought into 150Ibid., 133. 15lE · E. Cummings, Ixl (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944), 20.
48. the playas the bomb is likened to a wind which blows everything awry - including the more or less constants of nature, the skie s and the oce ans. Man, as lin enigma only, will remain the one constant. If a bomb should destroy the universe, Cummings says, blowing "me and you" to "nowhere", only those individuals who had had a firm close relationship with nature will "cry hello to the spring. It As suggested earlier, Cummings' stanza pattern is becoming increasingly more regular. "what if a much of a which of a wind" is set up in three regular eight line stanzas. The rhyme scheme is fairly irregular except that the second and fourth lines of every stanza rhyme. The seventh line of each stanza is introduced by a dash, and each stanza begins with "what if a ··· " thus maintaining a parallelism and balance throughout the poem without the use of an absolute rhyme scheme to keep balance. Almost half the poems in this volume utilize regular rhyme and meter thereby producing the distinct impression that this is a "crystallized book, both in art and in vision."152 So, in the 1930's and 1940's one finds in Cummings' poetry a broadening and deepening of the satirical vision, and an increasing control of form and technique. The predominant themes have remained unchanged. 152Friedman, §. E. Cummings, The Growth Clf a Writer, 139.
49. Moving to the third and final period of Cummings I writing, one finds three volumes of poetry published during the 1950'8: Xaipe (1950), Poems 1923-1954 (1954), and 95 Poems (1958). When Xaipe appeared Cumm.ings was fifty-six years old. Therefore, these poems represent "the full flowering of his development.,,153 Examination of a few typical selections would seem to be in order to judge whether, or how, his work is changing. In both Xaipe and 95 Poems there appears "a re- surgence of interest in typographical experimentation, which S~6ms to be directly related to the increased emphasis upon description."154 Past emphasis on people seems to be decreasing and impressions increasing.155 There is also a trend toward rural scenes.156 Examples of these developments are "(fea" from Xaipe and "un(bee)mo" from 95 Poems: (fea therr ain :dreamin g field 0 ver forest &; wh o could be 153Ibid · , 152. 154Ibid ., 156. 155~., 127. 156Ibid · , 156.
50. so U'1 te r?n 00 ne )157 "(fea" presents an impressionistic description of a soft rain falling on a rural scene. Here is part of Cummings' metaphysics once again. The dreamlike quality is enhanced by the use of parentheses which enclose the whole poem. The setting, in nature. presents the same metaphysical emphasis that has been remarked throughout Cummings' work. Typographical experimentation is not only to be noted in the use of the parentheses and the visual split-up arrangement of the words on the page, but also in the use of punctuation to add emphasis and impact to the word "softer." Other punctuation is, as usual, to slow down the reading rate and control the emotional evocation as much as possible. un(bee )mo vi n(in)g are(th e)you(o nly) asl(rose)eeP158 "un(bee)mo" creates a different kind of impression. 157E · E. Cummings, Xa~~ (New York: Oxford University Press. 1950). 55. 15~. E. Cummings, 95 Poems (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), 19.
51. on the other hand, and employs a different typographical experimental technique in so-doing. Cummings has again chosen a subject from nature in this poem - a bee enclosed in the petals of a rose. Typographically this enclosure is expressed by parentheses which place one poem within another. Both exist simultaneously. Although both parts of the poem are separate entities, they depend on one another for unity of meaning and impression. There are concerns other than typographical ex- perimentation in these last volumes, of course. For example, "i thank You God for most this amazing" is concerned with a number of Cummings' favorite topics - nature, death, and life: i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any-lifted from the no of all nothing-human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened}159 This poem is a hymn to a life of responsiveness - one of the permeating involvements in Cummings' metaphysics. 159Cummings, Xaipe, 65.
52. Involved in this overriding theme is praise of God and praise of nature. His politics are involved too, insofar as only the true individual, the lover, can experience life in this manner. "i who have died" in line five expresses Cummings' constant view that society is dead, and in order to escape that death and be reborn one must become an individual responding to that "which is natural which is infinite which is yes." Cummings strongly implies that everyday can be and ideally is "this amazing day ··· the birthday of life and of love and wings." The method of presentation is Cummings' developed controlled sonnet form. As a matter of fact, he has brought this technique so far under control that he can fit it smoothly into a regular Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme. Cummings' later sonnets all exhibit more regular spacing, meter, and rhyme scheme; however, at the same time he seemingly compensates by using more coined words and half rhymes. 160 As usual, the phraseology Cummings' uses particularly suits his needs. Making "yes" and "no tl serve as nouns, and making adjectives into adverbs always are intended to result in revitalizing worn out words. He manages to capture the transcendental outlook, too, by using the word "wings" and its connotations. This sonnet blends a now controlled technique with Cummings' 160Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry, 102.
53. long term vision. A poem of a similar theme, "maybe god," also from Xaipe, does present one more new aspect of Cummings' development: maybe god is a child 's hand)very carefully bring -ing to you and to me(and quite with out crushing)the papery weightless diminutive world with a hole in it out of which demons with wings would be streaming if something had(maybe they couldn't agree)not happened(and floatingly int °161 The difference in "i thank You God for most this amazing" and "maybe god" is especially to be noted in the first three lines of the latter. Cummings' epis- temological faith in children has translated itself into a symbol in this poem, and this shift to symbolism in Cummings' later work is significant for it makes his later poetry "more lucid, more moving, and more pro- found."162 These poems do not indicate that Cummings l61cummings, Xaipe, 54. l62Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of HJ-Voetrz, 89.
54. is "becoming mellower," but rather that he is generally "more absorbed in visionary things. n163 However, Cummings is still very much aware of what is going on in the world around him. "Thanksgiving, 1956" testifies to that fact: THANKSGIVING (1956) a monstering horrow swallows this unworld me by you as the god of our father's fathers bows to a which that walks like a who but the voice-with-a-smile of democracy announces night & day "all poor little peoples that want to be free just trust in the u s an suddenly uprose hungary and she gave a terrible cry "no slave's unlife shall murder me for i will freely die" she cried so high thermopylae heard her and marathon and all prehuman history and finally The UN "be quiet little hungary and do as you are bid a good kind bear is angary we fear for the quo pro quid" uncle sam shrugs his pretty pink shoulders you know how and he twitches a liberal titty and lisps "i'm busy right now" so rah-rah-rah democracy let's all be as thankful as hell and bury the statue of liberty (because it begins to smell)164 163Friedman, E. E. Cummin~s, The Growth of a Writer, 152. 164cummings, 95 Po~, 39.
55. The Hungarian revolt of 1956 has caused violent literary reaction the world over. Cummings' caustic remarks on the subject have been called by Friedman, "nothing but obscene outrage ··· not art.,,165 To fly in the face of one of the outstanding Cummings scholars is perhaps unwise, but it would seem that Cummings could not have said less and remained true to his convictions. Like Olaf, whatever else Cummings may be guilty of, he has never been backward about stating flatly and holding to his opinion on any subject that did not agree with his view of life. "Thanksgiving, 1956" is one of the few satires in 95 Poems. Their number has been cut down to the point that they only comprise approximately one-tenth of this volume.166 They do seem a bit sharper than such earlier ones as "pity this busy monster, manunkind," however. Any politics other than the individual and love is not acceptable to Cummings. The first stanza of this poem firmly states that the "unworld" is being swa.llowed by "a which that walks like a who, It or in other words some mass political body that is trying to pass itself off as a benefit to the individual. Democracy to Cummings is all wrong to begin with because it is a mass action, but it comes into even greater 165Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer, 164. 166Ibid ·
56. disfavor here because it fails in its promise to help make the little people free. Even "The UN" which also stands for mass action, and is therefore bad in Cummings' sight, is afraid to aid Hungary. The form employed here is a regular four line stanza with alternating rhyming lines. Only "The UN" is capitalized, probably for the purpose of emphasizing Cummings' favorite symbol of non-life. (It appears in its usual use in line two - Itunworld~') Not only the sonnets, then, are appearing in controlled conventional form. As Cummings grew older he continued to explore the meaning of timelessness and death. 167 Several poems of this variety appear in 95 Poems. "over us if(as what was dusk becomes" is one of them: over us if(as what was dusk becomes darkness)innumerably singular strictly immeasurable nowhere flames -its farthest silence nearer than each our heartbeat-believe that love(and only love) comprehends huger easily beyonds than timelessly alive all glories we've agreed with nothing deeper than our minds to call the stars. And(darling)never fear love,when such marvels vanish, will include -there by arriving magically herean everywhere which you've and I've agreed and we've(with one last more than kiss)to call 167Marks, Ope Cit., 141.
57. most the amazing miracle of all168 In this poem onee again elements of all four parts of Cummings' vision are to be noted. There is a concern with nature (dusk, darkness, stars) that immediately brings to mind his metaphysics. Looming large is his concern with timelessness in this particular poem. Death, that "strictly immeasurable nowhere," 1s conquered by love. Cummings' politics are completely conquering here. The individuals and love triumph over not only life, but death. The view is that there is nothing more powerful. The mind is relegated to a very minor role - "nothing deeper than our minds" - that of naming (not defining or knowing) the stars. The aura of transcendentalism is captured again by use of words like "beyonds" in line six. Aesthetically the poem continues the trend in the later work of Cummings to a controlled fusion of his technique with a regular sonnet form. Like "i thank You God for most this amazing", "over us if{as what was dusk becomes" is in Shakespearean sonnet form. And like the former, this poem employs abundant coinages and half rhymes. The unconventional spacing used here is misleading. Certainly the poem does not look like a conventional sonnet on the printed page. Instead Cummings has used again the technique of the visual stanza. 168Cummings, 95 Poems, 69.
58. Capital letters are still appearing and disappearing at random. The first sentence of the poem does not begin with a capital letter, while the second does, for example. Punctuation is still serving to control reading rate and emotional response generally.
IV. Thus having examined representative poems from all three periods of Cummings' writing, and having applied to these samples the elements of his transcendental vision which pertained, some conclusions can now be drawn about Cummings' overall development as a poet. In order to do this, a brief general review and synthesis of facts is necessary. That Cummings began writing with an already set outlook 1s undeniable. His view of an ideal transcendental world peopled by individuals (lovers), finds very early expression in "who knows if the moon's." At the same time, however, Cummings recognizes that, unfortunate as it may be, "mostpeople" rather than "you and i" inhabit this "unworld." Therefore, he spends much of his time defining a genuine mode of living. This involves his attempt to capture spontaneity and immediacy of experience for his reader by means of his aesthetic techniques. Tulips and Chimneys provides examples of every facet of Cummings' vision. Each poem, of course, depicts aesthetics. Aside from that, though, any Cummings poem has in it at least one other element of his vision and quite frequently more than one. Already extant in "the Cambridge ladies," "0 sweet spontaneous," and "in Just-It
60. are emphases on romantic appreciation of nature and natural order, awareness of a genuine life above the pettyness of everyday society, confidence in the aliveness of children as opposed to the deadness of trained or educated adults that life is in the future rather than the present, belief in the efficacy of individualism and love, and a conceptual method of presenting all of these ideas. His next three volumes of verse are much like Tulips and Chlmneys. They all deal with love, spring, children, death, war, and time. At the end of the first period of his publication, Cummings is, then, employing his full vision. With the exception of a romantic attitude toward existence, he has developed a style peculiarly his own and hints of outside literary influences have gradually disappeared. In the second period, the 1930's and 1940's, Cummings' work is marked by a greater emphasis on the satirical vision prompted by his dissatisfaction with mass political bodies and mass production which predominate the world scene. At the same time comes an increasing control of form and technique in the realm of aesthetics. By this time he is able to fuse effectively his conceptual language and experimental techniques with the traditional forms of poetry, particularly the sonnet. His metaphYSiCS, epistemology and politics remain unchanged.
61. The poem, "anyone lived in a pretty how town," published in 1940 in 50 Poems, is a statement of his total transcendental vision. It shows particularly well the unchanged outlook and the developing control of technique common to this period of Cummings' production. The development seems most evident when "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is put side by side with "who knows if the moonts," its closest equivalent from the representatives of the first period. The vision is more completely and concretely expressed, and the technique is more competently and effectively handled. The final period of Cummings' work contains even further developments in poetic technique and a noticeable refinement of some aspects of his theme. Typographical experimentation for the purpose of attempting to capture impressions is on the upswing. There is much continued emphasis on description (particularly of rural scenes), proportionately fewer satires, and less emphasis on people, while at the same time greater concern with concepts and ideas. There is a trend toward symbolism in this later work as well which tends to give it more lucidity and respectability. In conclusion, to quote Friedman once again on Cummings' work, "The development of his poetic thought, then, has been rather an unfolding than a series of climaxes and new directions; his later thought, indeed
62. implicit in his earlier work, simply becomes fuller and more precisely and accurately expressed."169 Or as Cummings himself might have put it, "he remained always and irrevocably himse1f."170 l69Friedman, E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry. 27. 170Marks, Ope Cit ·· 141.
Cummings, Edward Estlin. Collected Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938.
· · ________ ·
50 Poems. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1940. lxl New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944. Xaipa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950.
· 95 Poem.. New York: Harcourt, Brace and ----~C-om-pany, 1958.
Baum, Stanley Vergil. Eovi:eec; E. E. Cummings and the Critics. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1962.
Ciardi, John. "To Speak An Age," Saturday Review, XLV (September 29, 1962), 10.
Firmage, George J. E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1960. Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings, The Art of His Poetry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960.
____~~. E. E. Cummings, The Growth of a Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.
Harrington, M. "Modern Idiom, Traditional Spirit," Commonweal, LXI (December 10, 1954), 294-295.
Jacobsen, J. "Legacy of Three Poets," Commonweal,
LXXVIII (May 10, 1963), 189-192. -
Logan, John. "Advent of E. E. Cummings," Commonweal,
LXX (May 29, 1959), 233-235.
· "E. E. Cummings," Commonweal, LXI (January 14, ---::1~9"="55), 409-410.
Marks, Barry A. E. E. Cummings. New York: Twayne, 1964.

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