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In E.E. Cummings poems, how does his life appear and contradict itself in these...

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misssbooo | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 27, 2011 at 7:58 AM via web

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In E.E. Cummings poems, how does his life appear and contradict itself in these works?

Please pay attention to these poems in particular and their use of pronouns:

"in Just-", "anyone lived in a pretty how town", and "next to of course god america".

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 29, 2011 at 3:19 AM (Answer #1)

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“in Just-” is a strong example of Cummings’ topiary style; by varying the line length and indentation, the poem on the printed page takes to shape of the “goat-footed”(read Pan) balloon man.  As an expression of the joyful, spontaneous exuberance and playfulness of both Spring and Youth, there is no poem in the English language more succinct and exact on these subjects–the term “puddle-wonderful” is concentrated word magic.

    “anyone lived in a pretty how town” discusses polarity by pairing opposites as nouns and adjectives.  His technique allows the poet to express the movements of life itself, of the inevitable progress through life, the ebb and flow of existence itself, in its natural (“tree by leaf,” “bird by snow” and the repeated but varied list of seasons) and in human activity, especially the lives of two lovers (“she laughed his joy she cried his grief ” implying husband and wife, father and mother).

     The technique of using unexpected parts of speech (“a pretty how town”), a Cummings trademark, makes the poem difficult to read as first, but after analysis we see the portrait of a New England town (with churchbells) where the inhabitants lived a partially conscious, partly unconscious, but finally anonymous life (one day anyone died I guess).  The poignant tone of the pairings gives voice to the otherwise ineffable flow of life through its stages.

        “next to of course god america I”  is first and foremost an ironic satire on all insincere political speeches spouted from podiums by speakers on patriotic occasions.  By separating and then parsing together all these  slogans, the poet exposes the emptiness of the clichés and the hollowness of the “God bless America” sentiments imbedded in them.  Deeper in the poem’s tone is the anti-war sentiment so unpopular in New England after World War I (this poem was in the 1926 collection, “is 5.”) and almost taboo to be expressed.  Cummings’ whole artistic intent throughout his canon is to combat cliché and the shallowness, hypocrisy, and insincerity of standard utterances.

      

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 27, 2011 at 9:09 AM (Answer #2)

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E.E. Cummings, a major figure in the 1950’s and 1960’s and a strong influence on the "beatnik" poetry movement (Corso, Ginsberg, etc.), is unfortunately known mainly for his avoidance of punctuation and capitalization, as in his preferred name spelling, e e cummings.  His topiary poems such as “in just spring” (shaped into figures by varying line lengths,)  are often anthologized.

His strongest contributions are his longer poems, such as “Epithalmion,” collected in a 1962 anthology; his Charles Eliot Norton essays at Harvard, published as “I, Six Nonlectures”; and his autobiographical novel, “The Enormous Room,” describing his imprisonment under Communist rule, “tovariches before me, tovariches behind me, a me sandwich.”

His constant theme was individuality vs. the conforming self that society tries to make us:

 

to be nobody but myself

in a world which is doing its best

night and day

to make you everybody else

means to fight the hardest battle

which any human being can fight

and never stop fighting

e e cummings, letter 1955

 

Another theme, one that even more closely reflects his own life, is best summed up in this small poem:

 

Seeker of truth

 

Follow no path

All paths lead where

 

Truth is here

 

e e cummings

 

He expressed this belief in a personal postcard to someone who wanted to be his student: “I am too busy being to teach.”

His personal life, with the exception of his Russian experiences, was fairly peaceful; he was the child of affluent New England parents, and lived his adult life in a swanky Manhattan neighborhood.  Despite his own Ivy League education, his poems celebrated lower-class lifestyles (examples:  the touching prostitute poem “Maggie and Millie and Molly and May” and his paeon to the famous New York bar “I was sitting in McSorley’s/ outside it was New York and beautifully snowing.”)

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