Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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.
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
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...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
(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.
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...
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Biography (Magill Book Reviews)
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...
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Biography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
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.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised 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...
(The entire section is 534 words.)