Essays and Criticism
Use Of Punctuation
Many people first think of cummings’s uses of language, especially his odd methods of punctuation, when they think of the poet. In fact, his unconventional approach to poetry inspired the wrath of many conservative critics during his lifetime. As S. V. Baum notes in his 1954 South Atlantic Quarterly article, “E. E. Cummings has served as the indispensable whipping boy for those who are outraged by the nature of modern poetry.” Yet, cummings has also been acknowledged, especially recently, as one of the great modern love poets. In turn, the poem, “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond,” is often thought of as one of cummings’s best love poems. As Robert K. Johnson notes in his 1994 entry on the poem in the Reference Guide to American Literature, it “exemplifies Cummings’s many poems in praise of love.” It is cummings’s unique use of language that makes “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” such a potent statement on the powerful qualities of love.
It is apparent from a first glance at the poem that cummings follows his own rules when it comes to the use of language. This is most noticeable in his lack of spaces. The first line reads “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond,” a sentence construct that lacks proper grammar. Normally, when a writer uses a comma, he or she includes a space after it, to set the preceding phrase apart from the words that come after it. In this first line,...
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Transcendental Love and Spiritual Knowledge
Cummings’s love poems are celebrations of a many-leveled intimacy between a man and a woman. Many of them also reveal a mystical longing for transcendence that grows out of the experience of love. Transcendence is the experience of a dimension of life that is beyond all everyday categories, something that feels utterly complete, is timeless and silent, and conveys the feeling of being at the very root and essence of existence, beyond all distinctions of subject and object, of “I” and “you.”
“somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” is one such poem. At its most immediate level, it is a poem that honors an inexplicable mystery: how, through the experience of love, one human being can awaken something in the beloved that nothing or no one else has ever managed to touch. Lovers will recognize this experience, the sense that one’s whole being has opened up to the call from another, and that nothing can now be hidden or held back. No amount of seminars, books, or workshops on how to find love can teach this experience to anyone. It just happens when it happens, and it often leaves the person, as the speaker in the poem testifies, lost in wonder at the mystery of it and searching for words to express what is inexpressible.
It is at this point that the experience of being in love, of knowing and being known at the deepest levels not of personality but of soul, comes close to some types of mystical experience and parallels the...
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In Consideration of Cummings
E. E. Cummings’ 100 Selected Poems was published in 1959. This selection, which includes work from Tulips and Chimneys (1923) through Xaipe (1950), was made by Cummings himself. These were the poems, no doubt, that he considered his best and perhaps most representative. I’d like to talk about a few of the lyrics in this volume, and to move from them to critical considerations that they inevitably raise.
I am now three sentences deep into my talk and already almost forced to stop. For there is a sense in which, from Cummings’ point of view, from the assumptions and visions of his life and life’s work, poems do not inevitably raise critical considerations. Poems are poems, and they are to be taken for what they are or are to be left alone. And when mind starts tampering with them, Cummings would say, we’ll have the same situation as occurs in one of his poems when the “doting / fingers of / prurient philosophers” poke and prod the earth to no avail. In the first of his i: six nonlectures (1953) Cummings quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing to be so little reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and fairly judge them.” This is said so well and it sounds so good that it may be true, but I don’t know just what “love” is; or, at least, I think that part of the love I bring to any poem is the result of something more than pure feeling....
(The entire section is 4880 words.)