Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Cummings’s poetry is essentially a poetry of oppositions, and this poem dramatizes two of the most important of those oppositions: the individual against the collective, and the organic or natural against the artificial. Cummings deplored the trends in modern society toward the conquest of the natural environment by the human-made and synthetic and toward the destruction of the individual by the mass. The busy monster of “manunkind,” is pictured as a society frenetically engaged in subverting the natural (“poor stones and stars”) in the name of progress. This progress that supposedly advances the good of the collective, however, ignores the vitality of the individual and thus fails miserably. Such is the motivation behind the incipient metaphors of the body politic pictured as terminal patient: “your victim (death and life safely beyond)/ plays with the bigness of his littleness.” Society has moved “beyond” life and death because, in treating the mass, the individual has been dehumanized (an experience Cummings witnessed in both world wars).
This metaphor continues in the glib talk of the experts—the doctors—that concludes the poem. The body politic, stripped of the individual and the organic, becomes “a hopeless case.” Faced with the reality of death, the technology-driven doctors seek, in imperialist fashion, to find new territories to conquer, and they set off for the universe “next door.” The final invitation—“let’s...
(The entire section is 343 words.)
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