my father moved through dooms of love

by E. E. Cummings

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

E. E. Cummings pens a beautiful tribute to his father in "my father moved through dooms of love." In the poem, Cummings—presumably speaking as himself—explains how his father lived his life.

The first stanza presents several paradoxes: doom/love, have/give, morning/night, depth/height. The speaker presents his father as a man capable of the impossible. He would "[sing] each morning out of each night" and bring light out of the darkness. One "glance" from his father turned the "motionless" or dead into something "shining." As Cummings writes in an adoration-laden past tense, readers quickly realize that the poem is an elegy.

The third stanza tells readers that the speaker’s father "drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates." A sleeping self represents someone who does not yet know what he desires in life; this inspirational man "drove" such people to chase their fates with passion and vigor.

Stanza four reveals his father’s softer side as a comfort to those who “weep.” So sensitive and in tune to the ebb and flow of the world was he, that he used to "feel the mountains grow." Typically, mountains represent difficulty or struggle, but Cummings uses them to express the subtlety of his father's feelings and power. This “mountain” of resolve contrasts the “small voice” of despair he eases, and readers see that his father was a larger-than-life figure intent on inspiring others.  

Moving through "griefs of joy" is another paradox reminiscent of the first stanza. Stanza five indicates that his father had experienced life's ultimate highs and lows—all of its grief and joy. He inspired others, coaxing them to shape their dreams into action. In the following stanza, Cummings recalls the pure joy of his father's life to focus on the positive half of the pendulum of “griefs of joy.” He repeats the words "joy" and "pure" to ensure the reader understands the peace and bliss of his father's simple, service-oriented life. 

In the midsummer of his life, his father’s dreams loomed overhead. This reference to time likely points to midlife, when people often shift their goals and perspectives about life. His father faced this novel dream with a keen mind; the adjective is repeated twice for emphasis, for he had a good sense of reason.

The speaker has presented his father as an almost superhuman hero, so the eighth stanza reminds readers that he was only human. Composed of “flesh” and “blood” like all people, this inspiring man also faced struggles in life. Despite these struggles, he prioritized joy and service; people were drawn to him for his compelling, confident air.

In the ninth stanza, the speaker acknowledges that his father did not feel joyful every moment of every day. He scorned excess celebrations put on just for the sake of doing so. He avoided doing things out of obligation and disliked the conventions of "must and shall." He felt justified anger and pitied those who were deserving. Indeed, as much as he was joyful and pure, he remained a complex and nuanced man capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion.

In the aging September of his life, his father still reached out to help people—both foes and friends. Even in this dark “autumn,” he encouraged people to realize how immeasurably wonderful life is and help them live better lives.

T he month of October is referenced immediately after September. The rapid progression refers to his father’s declining health and his journey to the deadly chill of oncoming winter. As his death approached, his father was not discouraged. Instead, he prepared himself for his "immortal work" and took pride in his earthly...

(This entire section contains 900 words.)

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In the twelfth stanza, the speaker notes that if every friend turned against his father, he would have laughed. Not only that, but he would have "build a world with snow." His father could create something new out of the impossible, taking their cold sentiments and laying a new foundation for something lasting.

Spring images appear in the following stanza, but this time it is to remind the reader that even in this autumn of his life, his father was still very much engaged with the living. He was not just an old man passively waiting for death, for he continued to live as he always had: truly and passionately.

His father disappears from the fourteenth stanza, and the sense of peaceful joy disappears with him. Instead, this stanza is filled with images of war as "men kill" over things that they "cannot share." Human bodies, made of "blood and flesh" become mere "mud and more" through the fighting.

The fifteenth stanza continues these images of suffering in the absence of his father, and the speaker touches on another idea as well: the danger of conformity. The speaker views this as a "disease."

The sixteenth stanza continues in dark imagery, noting that humans often swallow the "bitter" and proclaim it "sweet," either through ignorance or through conformity. And for this, humans inherit death and then "bequeath" it to their children.

The speaker brings back hope in the final stanza by saying that, although it seems at times that man exists simply to hate, his father proved that life is more than this. His father lived in love and joy and, as a result, had the power to overcome all the hate in the world.