E. E. Cummings Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201199-Cummings.jpgE. E. Cummings. Published by Salem Press, Inc.
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The first of two children born to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke, E. E. Cummings was raised in a curious milieu for a rebel poet. He virtually grew up in Harvard Yard and was surrounded by the most traditional aspects of Cambridge culture. His father, an instructor in sociology who later became a Unitarian churchman, instructed his son to pass the collection plate during certain church services. One of the few deviations from this elite, exclusive upbringing was E. E. Cummings’s time in public high school, the result of one of his father’s democratic ideas.

In 1911, Cummings entered Harvard University. He lived at home during the first three years of his university education. He wrote for the Harvard Monthly, publishing his first poems in that journal in 1912. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in 1915, and he delivered the commencement address, titled “The New Art.” During his undergraduate years at Harvard, Cummings demonstrated a revolutionary and rebellious attitude toward traditional, conventional art and literature, an attitude that would be characteristic of Cummings throughout his life.

After receiving his M.A. from Harvard in 1916, Cummings moved to New York City and spent three months in an office job. The following year he sailed for France as a volunteer in the Norton Harjes Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross. His four-month imprisonment by French authorities on suspicion of disloyalty provided the basis for his first autobiography, The Enormous Room, published in 1922. Released from prison on New Year’s Day, 1918, Cummings returned to New York City, where he lived in Greenwich Village.

In 1920, Cummings made his first major appearance in The Dial, a literary magazine that was a vehicle for most of the leading artists of the time. From 1921 to 1923, he made his first trip to Paris, where he met many leading avant-garde figures who found Paris to be a lively and stimulating place for art and artists. Cummings lived in Paris intermittently throughout the 1920’s and made numerous trips abroad throughout his life. When he returned to the United States in 1923, he took up permanent residence in New York City, spending the summers at Joy Farm, his family’s summer home, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. His return to New York coincided with the publication of the first of twelve volumes of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), all of which revealed Cummings’s effort to experiment with language, structure, and ideas.

Cummings was married three times: first to Elaine On in 1924, then to Anne Barton in 1927, and finally to Marion Morehouse in 1932. While he was dealing with these personal changes, he wrote prolifically: nearly eight hundred poems, plays, ballets, fairy tales, and autobiographies. He also produced a number of drawings and watercolors, having his first major showing of paintings at the Painters and Sculptors Gallery, New York City, in 1931. Other shows were held at the American British Art Center and the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery.

During his life, E. E. Cummings was recognized for both the quantity and quality of his work. He was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, the first in 1933—the year his book Eimi, based on a trip to Russia, was published—and the second in 1951. He was also awarded a fellowship of the American Academy of Poets in 1950 and a National Book Awards special citation in 1955. In 1957, Cummings received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry as well as the Boston Arts Festival Award.

Despite this public recognition of his work and despite his position as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard during 1952-1953, Cummings was a private person. Toward the end of his life he made few public appearances except for a series of lectures at Harvard and readings of his poetry to mostly undergraduate audiences. He became partly crippled by arthritis and wore a brace that forced him to conduct these readings while sitting in a straight-backed kitchen chair. He would read for a half hour, rest, then return to finish the program, charming audiences with his poetry and personality. Cummings died in 1962, having worked to the last day of his life.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cummings’s works are testimonies to the self and the natural world which nurtures that self. They speak of the need to experience the world, not control it; they remind their readers of the importance of the present moment. They celebrate the individual over society, the self over selves. They honor emotion over intellect, feeling over thought. In Cummings’s works, one hears a voice that speaks clearly and loudly to the modern world, a voice that both warns and celebrates. That combination of sounds is, in itself, one of Cummings’s most significant contributions.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894, the first of two children born to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. His father was a Harvard graduate and lecturer, an ordained Unitarian minister, and pastor of the South Congregational Church from 1909 to 1925. Cummings received his degree magna cum laude from Harvard in 1915 and a Harvard M.A. the following year. A landmark in his career came in 1952 when he returned to Harvard to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures. Subsequently published as i: six nonlectures, all of which are highly personal and autobiographical, the first is of particular interest because of its affectionate, idealized portraits of his parents.

Cummings went to France in 1917 to join Norton Harje’s Ambulance Corps. A combination of unfortunate and nearly ludicrous events led to his incarceration by the French authorities on suspicion of disloyalty. He and a friend were confined in a concentration camp at La Ferté Macé from late September through December, 1917. That experience is the subject matter of Cummings’s first book, The Enormous Room, which has come to be regarded as a classic account of personal experience in World War I. Although prose, it launched the poet’s career and, because of its style, set the tone and, implicitly, some of the basic themes that were to characterize the responses to his poetry for the next two decades. Before 1922, Cummings had published poems in the Harvard Monthly, in The Dial, and six poems in Eight Harvard Poets, but it was The Enormous Room that began his critical reputation. His first book of poems, Tulips and Chimneys, was published in 1923.

In 1923, Cummings moved to Patchin Place in New York City and lived there, spending the summers at his family’s place in New Hampshire, until his death in 1962. Cummings traveled to Russia in 1931 and converted that experience into the second of his two major prose works, Eimi. In 1932, he married Marion Morehouse, a model, actress, and photographer. It was his third marriage and it survived. She died in 1969. The three decades Cummings spent with Marion and the nearly four decades at Patchin Place deserve emphasis in a biographical sketch because they provide a perspective that brings some balance to the poet’s reputation as a bohemian enfant terrible. Although he never lost the cutting edge of his capacity to shock, he lived a relatively settled life devoted to painting and writing poetry.

E. E. Cummings Biography (20th-Century Biographies)

Early Life

(E)dward (E)stlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard University. His father taught sociology at the university before leaving it to become a Unitarian minister. The young Cummings’s playmates included the children of other Harvard professors. Cummings later obtained both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard, and his studies there gave him a solid grounding in English and classical literature as well as an understanding of language, all of which proved invaluable to him as a poet.

Just as he rebelled against the traditions of English literature, Cummings rebelled against Cambridge and Harvard, distancing himself from the academic milieu and, except for a brief period as a visiting professor at his alma mater, never again living in Cambridge after 1918. He found himself more at home in bohemian surroundings, including Paris, France, where he often visited, and Greenwich Village in New York City, where he lived for most of the last forty-five years of his life.

Unlike many poets, Cummings was encouraged to devote himself to poetry by his parents, especially his mother, who recorded his first rhyme when he was three and helped him start a diary at the age of six. Over the next few years, Cummings wrote many stories and verses, and by the age of fifteen he was writing one poem per day. He published poems and stories in his high school magazine and at Harvard contributed to the university’s two literary periodicals. Through his literary acquaintances at Harvard, he was introduced to the latest developments in various arts, from Cubism in painting to the musical innovations of Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky to the literary experiments of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Cummings celebrated these avant- garde developments in “The New Art,” his commencement address to the Harvard class of 1915.

After receiving his master’s degree, Cummings took a job for the Collier publishing company in New York City but quit after less than two months. He never held a regular job again. Supported financially by his parents and his friends, he devoted himself to writing poetry and also to painting. Cummings considered himself a painter as well as a poet; he had many of his paintings exhibited and even published a collection of drawings, cartoons, and other art works (CIOPW, 1931), but he did not have the same success with his art as with his literary works.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Cummings volunteered for the ambulance corps and was sent to France. However, he found life in the corps tedious and developed an antagonistic relationship with his commanding officer. When a friend of his was arrested on suspicion of espionage for writing indiscreet letters about army morale, Cummings refused to dissociate himself from the friend and also refused to say that he hated Germans. The result was that he was sent to a detention center in Normandy, France, where he stayed for two months. Oddly enough, Cummings seemed to enjoy this imprisonment more than his time in the ambulance service. Moreover, the experience led to the publication of his first book.

Life’s Work

Throughout his literary career, Cummings devoted himself to attacking convention and conformity while celebrating imagination, intuition, and the individual. Signs of both the attack and the celebration can be seen in his first major work, The Enormous Room (1922), a prose narrative of his time in the French detention center. The book contains mockery of the slogans of war and of regimentation, along with a joyful celebration of the value of individuals who can rise above regimentation and be themselves. What is striking about the book is that despite the injustice and suffering that it describes, the emphasis is on the celebration and not the attack. This emphasis is reflected in the exuberant experimentation with language found in the book; Cummings mixes French in with his English and begins his practice of transforming verbs into nouns: For instance, one of the characters in the book, because he is so alive, is, for Cummings, an “Is.”

Before writing The Enormous Room, Cummings had assembled a large collection of the poetry he had written over the years and had tried to have it published under the title Tulips & Chimneys. Several publishers turned the collection down before one finally agreed to publish an abridged version that left out Cummings’s most experimental work and his poems with sexual themes. The publisher also, to Cummings’s dismay, replaced the ampersand in the title so that the book appeared in 1923 as Tulips and Chimneys. Two years later, another publisher agreed to publish forty-one of the omitted poems as XLI Poems, and the same year Cummings had the rest of the poems from the original collection, along with thirty-six new ones, privately published under the title &, using the ampersand the first publisher had denied him.

These three books contained some early poems that were fairly traditional, including numerous sonnets. Indeed, throughout his career Cummings continued to write in traditional forms such as the sonnet, though at times he disguised the fact by playing with spacing, rhythms, and rhymes. The three early books also included works on traditional poetic topics such as love and nature, but there were also ventures into less traditional areas, “low” subjects such as beggars, gangsters, and prostitutes. The collections also included experiments with form and language in which the poet ran words together and used lowercase letters instead of capitals, as in his poem that began “i like my body when it is with/ your body.”

The publisher of Cummings’s next book of poems—Is 5 (1926)—was so concerned about Cummings’s unusual style and the resulting obscurity of some of his poetry that he had Cummings write an explanatory foreword. In the foreword, Cummings explained that his title was an abbreviated form of the statement “twice two is five,” indicating that for him truth was a mystery not reducible to conventional facts (such as “twice two is four”). The book contained several satires directed against conventional thinking, such as the poem that began “next to of course god america i/ love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth . . .”

Cummings’s dislike of convention, conformity, and authority put him at odds with American culture of his day and made him identify, for a time, with the political left. This led him to make a trip to the Soviet Union in 1931, which he wrote about in his memoir Eimi (1933). However, he hated the Soviet Union, calling it an “Unworld” and comparing it to Dante’s vision of Hell. He found it dirty and ugly and, above all, joylessly conformist and authority-bound. It confirmed in him his dedication to individualism and his opposition to mass society and alienated him from his left-wing friends. In his poetry after this experience, communists and utopian reformers are included among the objects of satire, along with politicians, businessmen, and “mostpeople” (that is, conformists who fail to live as individuals).

However, satire became less prominent in Cummings’s later works. He began to focus less on attacking the dull and sterile conformity he saw around him and instead wrote more poems in the spirit of Transcendentalism, talking of how the individual can transcend everyday society and attain a joyful level of existence by rejecting systems, beliefs, and standardization and turning to the imagination and the feelings. This more joyful, loving, and perhaps partly religious mood emerged most strongly in his two poetry books of the 1940’s, 50 Poems (1940) and 1 x 1 (1944), at a time when Cummings said he was trying to cheer up his country.

In the early stages of his career, Cummings did not win widespread recognition from the public or praise from the critics. His works did not sell, and one of his books—No Thanks (1935)—was turned down by fourteen publishers. Some critics said he was not serious or even modern, despite his typographical experiments, or accused him of not developing. However, his reception began to improve with the publication of his Collected Poems (1938) and especially with the appearance of 1 x 1, for which he was awarded the Shelley Memorial Award. Many more awards followed in the 1950’s, and he came to be in constant demand for poetry readings at campuses around the country. He was also granted the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard for 1952-1953, for which he gave a series of six autobiographical talks published as i: six nonlectures (1953).

Cummings published two more poetry collections in his lifetime—Xaipe (1950) and 95 Poems (1958)—and a posthumous collection of new work, 73 Poems, appeared in 1963. His poems in these volumes dealt more with the cycle of life, with age, youth, and death. His typographical experiments continued to the end, as with his poem in 95 Poems about loneliness and a leaf falling, which was laid out on the page so that only two letters appeared on most lines and a parenthetical insertion interrupted the word “loneliness.”

Summary

Best remembered as the poet who refused to use capital letters—though in fact he did use capitals, just not in conventional places—Cummings was an important figure in the revolt against poetic convention, encouraging greater freedom among later poets. The American poet Louis Zukofsky said it was thanks to Cummings that he realized there was no need to begin every line in a poem with a capital letter.

Cummings’s revolt against the conventions of poetry was coupled with a revolt against larger conventions, against conformity, dogmas, authorities, and institutions. In his own time, this made Cummings something of an outcast, for he stood against both American capitalism and Soviet communism, the two major belief systems of his day. However, his attitude of irreverent opposition to all authority, no matter what its belief system, and his celebration of love and nature and joy as means of transcending the sterility of society anticipated and perhaps even influenced attitudes that became prominent in the 1960’s and later.

Bibliography

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. These interchanges cast light on both the poets and their times. Includes bibliographic references.

Cowley, Malcolm. A Second Flowering: Works and Days of the Lost Generation. New York: Viking, 1973. Contains a chapter on Cummings that focuses on his life in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Discusses his philosophy and evaluates his poetry.

Dumas, Bethany K. E. E. Cummings: A Remembrance of Miracles. London: Vision Press, 1974. Contains a chapter on Cummings’s life and several chapters analyzing his poetry, prose, and dramatic works. Includes a bibliography and indexes.

Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings: The Art of His Poetry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960. The first book-length analysis of Cummings’s poetry. Discusses his poetic vision and his techniques. Includes indexes.

Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964. Detailed discussion of each of Cummings’s major works in order to show his development. Includes index and a brief bibliographical note.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980. A detailed, scholarly study of Cummings’s life that discusses his poems and his philosophical views. Includes a chronological list of Cummings’s works, a bibliographical essay on secondary works, an index, and illustrations.

Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. Primarily an analysis of Cummings’s major writings but also provides a condensed version of his life interspersed with the analysis. Includes a chronology of the poet’s life, a bibliography of works by and about him, an index, and numerous illustrations.

Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Because of the separation in time between Cummings’s life and the appearance of this volume, Kidder had gained some objectivity over earlier critics, enabling him to focus on enduring values in the poetry. His commentaries are fresh and insightful, often correcting existing misconceptions. Includes a bibliography and indexes.

Lane, Gary. I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ Poems. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976. A good reference for new readers. Reprints selected poems, appending detailed discussions designed to make the obscure and complicated devices transparent. The critical apparatus features complete notes, an index, and a bibliographical note.

Norman, Charles. The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings. Rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972. First written while Cummings was still alive, this combination memoir and critical introduction grows out of a long and intimate relationship with the poet. The personal material bears a rich authenticity, full of telling anecdotes. The illustrations are unrivaled. A good index offers useful cross-references, but there are no notes.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E.E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2004. Massive in scope and in number of pages, this biography and literary study of Cummings is readable, comprehensive and highly recommended.

Waggoner, Hyatt H. American Poets from the Puritans to the Present. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968. Contains a section on Cummings that discusses his transcendental philosophy and evaluates his poetry.

Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965. More than the other sources, this book focuses on revealing the evolution of Cummings’s style and the relationship between his life and work. It includes a chronology of publications rather than of his life. Includes footnotes and indexes of first lines and subjects but no bibliography.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno has written a substantial biography of E. E. Cummings, an American poet who gained great popularity and critical acclaim in his lifetime and who, over forty years after his death, still speaks trenchantly to poetry lovers. Cummings’s unconventional but sonorous sonnets and typographically challenging short lyrics remain anthology favorites, and two of his prose works, The Enormous Room (1922) and i: six nonlectures (1953), continue to attract readers.

To read this biography is to realize how inventive and uncompromising a man produced these startlingly innovative poems. Cummings possessed the quintessential artistic temperament. Nobody and nothing could stand in the way of his work. In nearly all aspects of his life other than in his devotion to his poetry and painting he was irresponsible. He typically required and received financial support and various other services from his parents—especially his father—and a coterie of admiring friends. He drank too much, whored indiscriminately, and often seemed totally oblivious to the feelings of others.

Yet he inspired loyalty because, for all his faults, he could be a scintillating companion and because his companions recognized in him a supremely gifted and completely dedicated artist who needed to be free to pursue his art. For Cummings poetry was his only way of acknowledging the assistance he so readily accepted. In the case of his upright and conventional clergyman father, who disapproved of his behavior but loved, encouraged, and defended him, this recompense took the form of specific poetic memorials, including the marvelous “my father moved through dooms of love.”

Sawyer-Lauçanno has not neglected to comment critically on Cummings’s verse, but his main achievement is the composition of an unflinching portrait of a complex personality—deficient in many of the arts of living but eminent in the art of poetry.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

When Cummings gave his father the manuscript of his book The Enormous Room (1922) to deliver to Boni and Liveright for publication, his instructions were explicit: No changes were to be made in his work. When the autobiographical narrative appeared in print, however, he found that several chapters had been omitted. Horace Liveright maintained that he had removed only a few obscenities to make the book’s publication possible. He suggested that Cummings’ father was responsible for the missing chapters, a charge strongly denied by Edward Cummings.

Prior to sending The Enormous Room out to reviewers, Liveright received word of an intended raid by John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. To avoid trouble with Sumner, an office worker went through every copy of the book to ink out a word deemed offensive. Nevertheless, some reviewers still complained that the work was full of crudities and gratuitous filth. The book was eventually reprinted in an edition that included all materials from the original manuscript.

Editors also often censored Cummings’ poems by substituting inoffensive words, or dashes or periods, for words that they regarded as obscenities. Vehemently opposed to such alterations, Cummings stated that the one way government could assist writers would be by abolishing censorship. He also satirized the feared censor John Sumner in his poem “the season ’tis, my lovely lambs.”

Bibliography

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. These interchanges cast light on both the poets and their times. Includes bibliographic references.

Cowley, Malcolm. A Second Flowering: Works and Days of the Lost Generation. New York: Viking, 1973. Contains a chapter on Cummings that focuses on his life in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Discusses his philosophy and evaluates his poetry.

Dumas, Bethany K. E. E. Cummings: A Remembrance of Miracles. London: Vision Press, 1974. Contains a chapter on Cummings’s life and several chapters analyzing his poetry, prose, and dramatic works. Includes a bibliography and indexes.

Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings: The Art of His Poetry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960. The first book-length analysis of Cummings’s poetry. Discusses his poetic vision and his techniques. Includes indexes.

Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964. Detailed discussion of each of Cummings’s major works in order to show his development. Includes index and a brief bibliographical note.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980. A detailed, scholarly study of Cummings’s life that discusses his poems and his philosophical views. Includes a chronological list of Cummings’s works, a bibliographical essay on secondary works, an index, and illustrations.

Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. Primarily an analysis of Cummings’s major writings but also provides a condensed version of his life interspersed with the analysis. Includes a chronology of the poet’s life, a bibliography of works by and about him, an index, and numerous illustrations.

Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Because of the separation in time between Cummings’s life and the appearance of this volume, Kidder had gained some objectivity over earlier critics, enabling him to focus on enduring values in the poetry. His commentaries are fresh and insightful, often correcting existing misconceptions. Includes a bibliography and indexes.

Lane, Gary. I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ Poems. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976. A good reference for new readers. Reprints selected poems, appending detailed discussions designed to make the obscure and complicated devices transparent. The critical apparatus features complete notes, an index, and a bibliographical note.

Norman, Charles. The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings. Rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972. First written while Cummings was still alive, this combination memoir and critical introduction grows out of a long and intimate relationship with the poet. The personal material bears a rich authenticity, full of telling anecdotes. The illustrations are unrivaled. A good index offers useful cross-references, but there are no notes.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E.E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2004. Massive in scope and in number of pages, this biography and literary study of Cummings is readable, comprehensive and highly recommended.

Waggoner, Hyatt H. American Poets from the Puritans to the Present. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968. Contains a section on Cummings that discusses his transcendental philosophy and evaluates his poetry.

Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965. More than the other sources, this book focuses on revealing the evolution of Cummings’s style and the relationship between his life and work. It includes a chronology of publications rather than of his life. Includes footnotes and indexes of first lines and subjects but no bibliography.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894. His father was the Reverend Edward Cummings, who taught English at Harvard University and Radcliffe College and was a well-known preacher and lecturer. E. E. Cummings also attended Harvard, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1915 and his master’s degree in 1916. A year later he and Slater Brown, a Harvard friend, enlisted in the ambulance service and served as drivers for six months in France. Because of an error of the military censor, Cummings spent three months in a French prison. From this experience came The Enormous Room, a prose account of life in a military prison that contains none of the bitterness and self-pity commonly found in such works. Instead, Cummings looked at the daily life and the strange characters in the enormous room with the saucy eye and original wit so evident in his poems. The Enormous Room may not be the most powerful book to come out of World War I, but it is certainly one of the most original and interesting. It was written because his father offered to pay him a thousand dollars if he would write it. The book was Cummings’s first remarkable achievement.

After his release from the French prison, Cummings served as a private in the American infantry until the armistice. He then returned to New York for two years. He subsequently spent some time in Paris, where he won recognition both as a poet and as a painter. Cummings shuttled between these two cities for many years and finally settled in New York.

Between Cummings’s first book of poems, Tulips and Chimneys, and his Poems, 1923-1954, there is a sort of consistent inconsistency. His recurring themes are conventional: nature, which he treats with charming lyricism; love, which for Cummings can be idyllic or brutally sensual; the underdogs, both men and women, whom he tenderly champions; and the blatant materialism of the times, at which he scoffs in witty satire. In the presentation of these themes Cummings turns into a fearless experimenter, using every trick of typography to heighten the visual image. At his best he can depict his scene with the arrangement of words (as in “Sunset”) or use it to intensify his colloquial style (as in “Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal”). His critics have sometimes disparagingly referred to him as “lower case cummings” because of his unusual typography; Cummings himself wrote his name e. e. cummings, using no capitalization.

In 1952 Cummings was invited to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton lectures in poetry at Harvard. Characteristically, he refused to become a lecturer. His witty, and frequently wise, series of comments on poetry was published as i: six nonlectures. In 1955 he received a special citation from the National Book Awards Committee for his collected poems.

About the middle of his career Cummings appeared headed for the oblivion of an avant-garde poet who fails to bound ahead of his competitors. However, his complete work reveals a poet who cannot be dismissed as an upstart innovator; his is an authentic voice of the twentieth century, and his works reflect an element frequently lacking in those of his dour contemporaries: a sense of humor.

E. E. Cummings Biography (Poetry for Students)

Born October 14, 1894, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just blocks away from Harvard Yard, Edward Estlin Cummings (known as e. e. cummings) grew...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

E. E. Cummings Biography (Poetry for Students)

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894, cummings spent his childhood in that city, where his father Edward Cummings was a sociology...

(The entire section is 470 words.)