Cummings, E(dward) E(stlin) (Vol. 15)
Cummings, E(dward) E(stlin) 1894–1962
Cummings, an American poet, playwright, essayist, and novelist, was one of the most innovative poets of his time. Avoiding highly intellectual concerns, Cummings's poems were often deliberately simplistic. Cummings's poetry is noted for its innovative handling of grammar, punctuation, and typography. Some of Cummings's best known works are The Enormous Room, The Balloon Man, and Fifty Poems. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
In the 1920s Cummings was known as a conspicuous member of the avant-garde, an arch-experimentalist, a modernist, and a bohemian. The New Criticism, which was just beginning to germinate in the writings of T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and I. A. Richards, had not yet noticed any serious discrepancy between its own principles and the writings of Cummings. The real hostility he aroused was among the antimodernists … and, in later decades, critics such as John Sparrow and Ivor Winters—men who were attacking Pound and Eliot as well. There is no real problem here, for, while it cannot be said that the critics, favorable or otherwise, really understood what Cummings was about, neither can it be said that he himself had altogether found his way. It was suspected—and it was probably partly the case at the time—that he was a poet of sensations rather than of thoughts, and this notion has continued to haunt his reputation ever since, despite the obvious truth that he did in fact develop a vision of life as he matured. (pp. 1-2)
Although Cummings is no mere "romantic" love poet and has written some of the most effective poems about sex in the language, the fact remains that he does not always depict the worm within the rose, the skull beneath the skin. His characteristic love poems are based on a single wholeness of feeling—praise, reverence, joy, passion, devotion—rather than upon the mixed feelings favored by the New...
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Rushworth M. Kidder
"For more than half a hundred years," wrote E. E. Cummings in 1954, "the oversigned's twin obsessions have been painting and writing." (p. 342)
[Recent exhibitions of Cummings' art], along with an increasing number of scholarly and journalistic pieces on his art, have made several things clear. First, Cummings was entirely self-taught…. Second, he treated his art as profession rather than avocation: he set himself, especially in his early years, to solve problems of composition and color in his canvases, he regularly sought opportunities to exhibit, and he earned some much-needed funds by selling work to The Dial. Third, he was drawn to theorize extensively, in his private and largely unpublished notes, on the practice and the aesthetics of the visual arts, ranging in his studies from detailed self-instruction in human anatomy to esoteric investigations into color relationships. Fourth, he constantly probed into the parallels among painting, literature, and music, challenging himself to adapt into literature the principles of the other arts.
This fourth point is of central importance for students of his poetry and for those concerned with the relationships between literature and the other arts…. For Cummings, it seems, not only thought and heard his poems but saw them as well. Not surprisingly, his best poems tend to be short, of a length readily contained on a single page and easily "seen" in a single...
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Edith A. Everson
At the heart of E. E. Cummings' most characteristic work is a keen sense of the mystery and miracle of life. But this American poet has a great deal to say about death as well, not only in the lyrics, but also in a morality play [Santa Claus] in which Death is one of the leading characters…. [Cummings'] concept of death is many-sided, manifesting itself in widely varying contexts and under differing lights. For example, death may be shown to have positive value as an experience that is natural to and inseparable from the ongoing process of life. Considered in this vital sense the concept is, in this paper, designated by the verbal form, "dying." On the other hand, death may be revealed as a negative, life-denying condition, one that is associated with the conventions of society which, Cummings believes, oppress the individual and inhibit his intuitive and spontaneous impulses. In this negative aspect the concept is here named by a more static word, the noun, "death." (p. 243)
Cummings' expressions are not always concrete. Indeed, the poet does, frequently and deliberately, use general concepts and abstract ideas, particularly in his later works. Paradoxically, however, Cummings enlists abstractions in the service of proclaiming his unchanging gospel of the concrete and the unique.
One of the most obvious examples of Cummings' use of general ideas is discovered in his morality play, Santa Claus. In this...
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Rushworth M. Kidder
It is important to recognize … that the spatial arrangements of [Cummings'] poems are the work neither of a whimsical fancy nor a lust for novelty. Poetry and visual art grew, in Cummings' mind, from one root; and while their outermost branches are distinct enough, there are many places closer to the trunk where it is hard to know which impulse accounts for a piece of work. Throughout his life he labored to articulate, in his essays and especially in his unpublished notes and journals, the relationship between literature and the visual arts. A number of his poems, too, deal verbally with visual ideas—not only with transcriptions of visual patterns (a common enough phenomenon in poetry) but with attempts to articulate visual thinking and bring into poetry the aesthetic principles of the painters.
The portrait that gives us the man in the round, then, must include proper emphasis on Cummings as a man of feeling and as a man of visual responsiveness. But it must do more. Primarily and essentially it must also portray him as a man of thought. For underneath the antirational guise, which delights or disgusts readers according as they see in it the purely childlike or the merely immature, lies a core of knowledge and a capacity for abstract and analytic thought strongly buttressed by something that can only be called scholarship. (pp. 3-4)
[Cummings gives a strong place] to feeling: to intuition, to the sensibilities,...
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