Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In what ways did E. E. Cummings’s prison camp experience help to preserve him from the elitist attitude that a privileged upbringing such as his can easily foster?
Cummings can express both childlike and childish attitudes in his writing. What is the difference? Exemplify each.
What is traditional in Cummings’s sonnets and what unique?
“Anyone lived in a pretty how town” is a relatively short lyric poem that implies but compresses a love story. Explain the suggestions of the story.
Cummings is also a satiric poet. What satirical techniques does he bring to a poem like “I sing of Olaf”?
What does Cummings mean by his reference to the Cambridge ladies’ “furnished souls”? To what exactly is the poem objecting? Comfort? Complacency? Some other unstated quality in their lives?
Choose one of Cummings’s grammatically unconventional poems and explain how it challenges you to think productively about the poem.
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
In addition to poetry, E. E. Cummings also published two long prose narratives, The Enormous Room (1922) and Eimi (1933); a translation from the French of The Red Front, by Louis Aragon (1933); a long play, Him (pb. 1927); two short plays, Anthropos: The Future of Art (pb. 1944) and Santa Claus: A Morality (pb. 1946); Tom: A Ballet (pb. 1935); a collection of his own drawings in charcoal, ink, oil, pastels, and watercolor, CIOPW (1931); his autobiographical Harvard lectures, i: six nonlectures (1953); and a collection of his wife’s photographs with captions by Cummings, Adventures in Value (1962).
Of these, The Enormous Room and Eimi are of particular interest because of their contributions to Cummings’s critical reputation and to his development as an artist. The former is the poet’s account of his three-month confinement in a French concentration camp in 1917. It was hailed on its appearance as a significant firsthand account of the war and has become one of the classic records of World War I. It is also significant in that it is Cummings’s first book, and, although prose, it reflects the same kinds of linguistic experimentation and innovation apparent in his poetry. Also reflecting his stylistic innovations is Eimi, Cummings’s...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
E. E. Cummings is not usually included in the first rank of modernist poets, which always begins with T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Ezra Pound and is, more often than not, rounded out with Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Two aspects of his career, however, give his achievement a great deal of significance. First, he was on the cutting edge of the modernist, experimental movement in verse. Pound, at the center of that movement, was dedicated to restoring value and integrity to the word by breaking the mold of the past, and in that cause, he evangelically admonished the poets of his generation to “make it new.” Although a disciple of no one, Cummings led the assault on conventional verse, pushing experimentation to extremes and beyond with his peculiarly distinctive typography and his unconventional syntax, grammar, and punctuation. Although he paid the price of such experimentation, which brought charges of superficiality and unintelligibility, he served the modernist movement well by helping to educate an audience for the innovations in verse and prose of the second and third decades of the twentieth century.
Second, Cummings was not only a leading experimenter in an age of experimentation but also an intense lyric poet and an effective satirist. As a lyricist, he celebrated those experiences, values, and attitudes that lyric poets of all times have celebrated, and high on his list was love—sexual, romantic, and ideal or...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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:...
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