Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
A sonnet, “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls” attacks a broad group of people who, Cummings believed, populated Cambridge, Massachusetts, and many other locales. These faculty wives, church women, and literary society ladies are described in careful detail, beginning with the first line, in which they are seen in terms of the stuffy Victorian rooms in which many of them reside. They have “comfortable minds,” suggesting their lack of individuality and originality, and daughters who are like themselves: “unscented shapeless spirited.”
These Cambridge ladies believe in Christ and the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “both dead.” They themselves are also dead, unaware that, above their stuffy rooms and beyond their stuffy lives, the “moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy.” Isolated in their artificial world, they engage in meaningless banter, oblivious of the wonders of the natural world within and around them.