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What are the major characteristics of E. E. Cummings's poems?

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electro | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 17, 2010 at 5:49 AM via web

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What are the major characteristics of E. E. Cummings's poems?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 17, 2010 at 8:15 AM (Answer #1)

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There are two aspects of the poetry of E.E. Cummings that make him significant:

  1. He was on the "cutting edge" of the Modernist, experimental movement.  His poetry is new in its typography, its syntax (he uses nouns for verbs and vice versa), grammar, and punctuation, introducing audiences to the innovations of verse and prose in the early parat of the twentieth century.
  2. Cummings was an effective satirist and intense lyric poet.  His targets for satire are often hypocrisy and the submergence of the individual in the military and in society  because of the "mass mind of the mass market."  His lyric poems celebrate love and the truth of the moment, herald individuality, exalt a child-like love for nature.  In an age that was reserved in its feeling, Cummings was personal and unapologetic about his lustful feelings and individual desires.

Possessing a highly personal and idiosyncratic style, Cummings appeals much to youth in his giving of new life to the ideas that have always been.  His poetry exists in the present,  in the aliveness and pure essence of the state of being without regard to the flow of time.  His poetry is existential and romantic both:

Spring is like a perhaps hand

(which comes carefully

out of Nowhere) arranging

a window, into which people look (while

people stare

arranging and changing placing

carefully there a strange

thing an a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully....

In these lines from the poem "Spring is like a perhaps hand," Cummings demonstrates the existentialism--coming out of Nowhere--and romanticism--nature/Spring that is "like a perhaps hand" that people watch appreciatively through a windo. The odd use of syntax in "perhaps hand" is apparent as is "arranging and changing and placing carefully." 

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