my father moved through dooms of love

by E. E. Cummings

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Arguably, the best way to understand and appreciate "my father moved through dooms of love" by E. E. Cummings is to read it and feel it, absorbing the meaning and powerful emotions instinctively. Cummings’s style of poetry is fluid and buoyant; it is most legible when readers impulsively accept the latent meaning of the abstract, loosely worded concepts he poses.

As part of his uniquely modernist style, Cummings abandons the rules of English syntax and plays with combinations that defy normal interpretation. Throwing conventional word order to the wind, he creates phrases that sound like nonsense: "sames of have," "offered immeasurable is," "theys of we." With a little effort, these sentences are decipherable and meaningful; despite these jarring constructions and word placements beyond their normal roles, Cummings’s style is not only legible but capable of communicating complex emotions.

This poem was written in honor of Cummings's father, a minister and Harvard professor. Cummings had a pleasant childhood and a good relationship with both his parents, who supported his writing and other creative efforts. The elder Cummings died when a train collided with his car. Though the speaker remains unidentified, it is fair to assume that “my father moved through dooms of love” is written in the voice of the younger Cummings himself. 

In seventeen quatrains, the poem—an elegy—praises the positive qualities of the poet's deceased father. Although the form echoes traditional verse in its strict adherence to the rhythm and meter of iambic tetrameter, it primarily uses near-rhyme rather than rhyme, and, like most of Cummings's poems, lacks standard capitalization and punctuation. Each stanza consists of two rhymed couplets, although the rhymes are usually slant rhymes, as in the love/give, where/here, and which/touch pairings.

Stanza by stanza, the poem reproduces how the father’s way of interacting with people and the qualities he displayed. Stanza three describes how he encouraged people to "swarm their fates," using an allusion to the first lines of The Canterbury Tales. His father is the "April" that pierced the roots of the dreamers—perhaps his students.

Stanza four suggests how patient his father was, while stanza five implies his ability to feel deeply, for he "moved through griefs of joy." Stanza five compares him to the North Star, and stanza six refers to his hopeful optimism. Stanza seven powerfully describes how much others appreciated and loved him, as "no cripple wouldn't creep one mile uphill to only see him smile." Stanza eight shows his father was genuine, not succumbing to "the pomp of must and shall." He accepted all people, whether foolish or wise. He was able to grieve but rose above his sorrow, and he was especially good with children.

The last three stanzas take on a darker, somewhat bitter tone. This signifies the poet's anger and anguish at losing his father so unexpectedly. Nevertheless, he ends the poem on a swelling note of tribute and glowingly summarizes his father’s life ethos in the final line: "because my father lived his soul love is the whole and more than all." This paradox, though written in somewhat legible syntax, seems to sum up what Cummings was doing in the poem. The strong emotions—spurred by so many memories of such a great man—could not be contained by normal speech or syntax. The overflow of words that the jumbled syntax represents is in itself a tribute to a loving and beloved father.

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