Saturday, January 09, 2010

e.e. cummings

E.E. Cummings, or ee cummings, if you prefer -- he didn't care much either way from what I've read, was influenced early on by the Imagists however his spirit did not fit the Imagist description. His work was too personal and too passionate to satisfy the militant Imagist. You may be surprised by the form of his poems. Some like it may not always be so; and i say are traditional in construction with rhyme and scheme as sonnets. Certainly there are some odd things about it: the punctuation and capitalization are eccentric, as cummings always made them.

More important is the meter. Does a line like "saying,Accept all happiness from me" belong in a sonnet? Well, it's there, so it must. About the only way you can make this line fit is to sing the sonnet. You might want to try it; make up a tune for the last six lines of it may not always be so; and i say --it makes the language flow smoothly. It's very simple, and that is what cummings was up to.

E.E. Cummings's is confusing at first, you may be wondering about the non-standard punctuation and strange placing of words on the virtual page. Many people have the idea that this makes Cummings quite the rebel who "throws out all the rules". But from reading around I discovered that origins of this style are due to his art training as a painter, and particularly in his eagerness in regards to Imagism. He had the idea that there were better uses for spaces, capital letters, and even parts of speech, than those for which they were commonly used. Unlike most who tried he enjoyed some success, as the Imaginists, he rearranged things creating a new effect. Here is an short excerpt from his introduction to New Poems:

    The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople-it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootof-minusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs.
    Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to most-people? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous super-palazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesireable organism. Mostpeople fancy a garanteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they'd improbably call it dying-
    you and i are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. you and i wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now;and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.
    Life,for mostpeople,simply isn't. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by "living"? They don't mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has suc-ceeded in selling their wives. If science could fail,a mountain's a mammal. Mostpeople's wives can spot a genuine delusion of embryonic omni-potence immediately and will accept no subsitutes.
    -luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal....

    -e. e. cummings

Like it or not Cummings odd typography has become closely associated with him and readers come to expect an e e cummings poem to look funny. By the time Cummings became popular, his odd typography had become closely identified with him. Some scholars guess that in the long run he might have felt limited by this expectation.

Cummings was also a fine artist, playwright and novelist; his life and art were tightly interwoven. As for his poetry, don't be confused by it. It's just a song and the surprising thing about his work, given the way it looks, is that it reads very regularly, especially if you follow the typographical clues. Try reading it aloud and see if you don't agree. A common misconception is that he never used capitals though as you read through his work of course he uses capitalizations often, but not in a conventional way. Of interest is a letter he wrote to his mother he said, , "I am a small eye poet." September 3, 1925 (Selected Letters, F. W. Dupee and George Stade, eds., 1969, pp. 108-9) He uses the meaning quite cleverly with the use of capitalization to differentiate the writer of the letter (first person singular) and the writer of the poetry. Some say "e. e. cummings" is the spelling legalized by the author himself as his signature to his poems, but this is apparently a fiction. Frequently fans will will uncapitalize in commemoration of his revolutionary style but the official spelling is capitalized correctly.

He was a Harvard graduate, and served in an ambulance unit in France during World War I. After the war, Cummings committed himself completely to his writing and painting, publishing eleven books of poems--with a posthumous volume appearing the year after his death. All are collected in Complete Poems 1913-1962 (1972).

Other works:

  • Eimi (Greek for "I Am"), in 1933, a second antibureaucracy journal about his journey to the Soviet Union.

    Several plays :

  • --Him (1927),
  • Anthropos: The Future of Art (1930; 1945), and
  • Santa Claus: A Morality (1946)

    A scenario for a ballet:

  • Tom (1935), based on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

    Essays and lectures:

  • i: Six Nonlectures (1953) and E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany (1958; rev. ed., 1965).

    A collection of childrens stories: Fairy Tales appeared in 1965; and his Selected Letters was published in 1969.

Popular particularly among young readers, for his playful style, simple use of language, and his attention to subjects such as sex and war. He was second only to Robert Frost as one of the most widely read poet in the United States at the time of his death in 1962. He wrote with typographical ingenuity, showing how his presentation of words on the page could change oral readings of the poetry.


E. E. Cummings

NOT "e. e. cummings"

Excerpt from the introduction to New Poems

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