E. E. Cummings Questions and Answers

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What is the author's message in Cummings' poem "next to god of course america i"?                                        

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One of the excellent effects cummings uses in this poem to convey his message can be detected in the final line of the poem. cummings's work often does not utilize full sentences structured in a conventional way. His use of English forces us to reconsider language and its tropes, nowhere less evident than in his consistent spelling of his name without conventional capitalization: e.e. cummings. And yet, in the final line of this poem, we find the only straightforward and clear sentence in the voice of the poet himself, rather than the speaker he is describing: "He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water." Compared to this politician, then, even e.e. cummings seems straightforward and easy to understand.

Meanwhile, the politician's rhetoric is full of catchphrases: "liberty," "land of the pilgrims," "my country 'tis of." And yet, he doesn't seem to be embracing these ideas beyond superficially, phrases such as "so forth" and his insistence upon "these heroic happy dead" betraying the politician's commitment to style rather than sympathy or true understanding. The real state of affairs betrays itself in words like "gorry," rather than "glory." The message of heroism, even jingoism, in death and war emerges as nonsense from politicians' lips. cummings, a pacifist, is saying in this poem that the words of politicians may sound impressive, but ultimately they are saying very little of value and very little that is true, particularly when they celebrate the death of young men in war as an example of "liberty" being achieved.

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This poem is an excellent example of Cummings’ irony. As the last line indicates, the “speaker” is actually a political speaker, jamming together many empty clichés (“land of the pilgrims”, “dawn’s early,” etc.) to “sell” his/her political loyalty and pro-war stance. The way Cummings uses a convoluted syntax and grammar and missing punctuation (“the dawn’s early,” “they did not stop to think they died instead,” etc.) makes his point so clearly—these empty speeches are void of real meaning, void of honesty, empty of actual content. Linguists refer to this language as “utterances without speech act,” meaning that words can be put together without content, without a “message-receiver” intent. The poem descends to anti-war, anti-heroism rhetoric (“these happy heroic dead”). The whole poem must be understood as an ironic statement about the rhetoric that disguises war and patriotism as some heroic moment in a soldier’s life. You might enjoy also Cummings’ novel “The Enormous Room,” which continues this theme.

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