Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The narrator of this love poem tries to express the inexpressible, to describe the intensity of his emotions. He finds himself unable to meet the challenge except in paradoxical words that simultaneously express his surprise and wonder at the mystery of love.
The narrator describes the love as similar to a foreign territory, an area never before explored; the effect of the journey is stunning, evoking a disorientation which causes the senses to overlap. Yet at the same time he finds himself unable to delineate the specific elements which attract him; instead, he explores the inexpressible by saying that the sense of touch fails when objects are too near. Love can also bring about a beautiful and sudden seclusion, with the individual shutting out other demands in favor of love; the speaker depicts such a closing by using the image of a flower as it begins to close when it senses falling snow.
Cummings’s descriptions of his beloved as having texture and color indicate her depth of character, but they also, when combined with the word “countries” at the end of line 15, suggest mapmaking and tie in with the poem’s initial image of traveling. Just as explorers of new lands are awed by their initial discoveries, so the narrator reacts with surprise at the variety he finds in his lover, a woman who with her very breathing destroys or breaks down the fear of death and eternity.
The narrator reiterates his inability to understand exactly what it is about the beloved that possesses the power to open and close him. The image of the garden is repeated, as the flower (rose) symbolizes both the narrator and his beloved, and the powerful final line states the incomparable quality of love. No body and no thing (lines 13 and 20) can truly attain the level of the narrator and his beloved. The rain, nurturer of the symbolic garden, though it is important, pales in importance to the small hands of the beloved, whose touch has moved the narrator to ecstasy, to a height of emotion never before experienced.
The five senses, emphasized and raised by the association with love, are combined with the traditional and archetypal symbols of a garden and flowers to serve as symbols for wordlessness, for the inexpressible expressed and given life by the poet’s effort.