my father moved through dooms of love

by e. e. cummings
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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

E. E. Cummings’s “my father moved through dooms of love” is an elegy in seventeen four-line stanzas. The poem commemorates Cummings’s own father, the Reverend Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and Harvard University professor.

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The poem is written in the first person. Unlike much of Cummings’s love poetry, in which the speaker addresses his beloved while the reader overhears, in this poem the speaker addresses the reader directly. Cummings offers the example of his father’s life for the reader to consider and closes the poem with the moral of the story.

The first four stanzas make up the first section of the poem, which introduces the speaker’s father as a man with a tremendous capacity for love. His father, Cummings makes clear, understood the complexities and dangers of loving. The repeated pattern “my father moved through this of that” may be understood to mean “my father experienced this before he achieved that” or “my father opened himself to the risk of this in order finally to achieve that.” The first stanza gives a picture of a man who realized the danger of being rejected (“dooms”), the risk of losing one’s identity in a love relationship (“sames”), and the potential of a lover to become possessive or possessed (“haves”). He faced these dangers squarely and finally emerged as a whole man, capable of loving and being loved. He used this great power to enrich the lives of those close to him. Those wondering “where” found that the answer was “here”; those weeping over “why” were comforted to sleep. No one, “no smallest voice,” called to him in vain.

The next section begins with a capital letter (one of only three in the poem), moves through stanzas 5 through 8, and concludes with a period. Here, Cummings celebrates his father’s movement through “griefs” into “joy.”

The third section, stanzas 9 through 12, again begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. This time, the father moves through “dooms of feel”; that is, he learns to accept and express the full range of human emotion. Stanza 13 speaks briefly of one more quality of Cummings’s father: He knew his place in the universe. That is, he knew that the relationship between humans and the natural world was not one of “they” but of “we.” The last four stanzas of the poem take a dramatic turn. After the affirmative tone of the description of his father, Cummings now shifts to a harsh description of the society in which his father lived. Now the language is not of joy and singing but of “mud” and “scheming,” “fear” and “hate.” Stanzas 14 through 16 list the many ways in which people can harm themselves and one another. The language here is simpler; evils exist right at the surface, while goodness may be harder to understand. The final stanza contains the moral: However great or small the evils of the world might be, the fact that one person—Cummings’s father—was able to embrace his humanity fully shows that the power of love is greater than the evils of the world. The love that exists as an active force in the world, exerted by individuals, is “more than all.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

Many of Cummings’s most famous poems, including “in Just-” and “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r,” rely on the poet’s play with typography and space on the page to convey his message. “My father moved through dooms of love” belongs to the body of Cummings’s work that uses more conventional imagery and stanzaic form. Although each of the sections describing his father is self-contained, Cummings unifies them and underscores their common theme of humanity’s connectedness to the natural world, by threading through them imagery of the passing of time and the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth.

The imagery in the first section is of awakening and birth, and here Cummings deals with different levels of time. The life cycle is played out with each sunset and sunrise. The father operates at the renewal phase of the cycle in line 3: “singing each morning out of each night.” The immediacy of the night-into-day cycle is important to the poem, because Cummings emphasizes the role of the individual within the universe. Stanza 4 reminds the reader that what is at stake is not only tiny roots but also mountains; Cummings is concerned not only with the passing of a day but also with the time it takes for a mountain to grow.

The most important example of the life cycle in this poem is the changing of the seasons. Stanza 3 describes his father’s love as an “April touch” that, like spring, awakens “sleeping selves.” Stanza 7 picks up the cycle of the year with a reference to midsummer, and the cycle continues in stanza 10 with the “septembering arms of year” and in stanza 11 with “octobering flame.” In most poems, the movement from spring through summer into autumn would also be a movement from happiness into sorrow, but in these stanzas the tone is still affirming. The imagery of the changing seasons reinforces the father’s role in the natural world, but Cummings is emphatic that the darker seasons are to be embraced, not feared or avoided. Thus, when the poem finally comes to an image of winter, in stanza 12, it is a positive image: “if every friend became his foe/ he’d laugh and build a world with snow.” Stanza 13, the last stanza dedicated to the father, is the most explicit, and shows the cycle completed. The imagery here is of spring come again.

There is no imagery of light or darkness, no mention of time, in the description of the evils men can bring. Stanzas 14 through 16 present a list of horrors, but there is no sense here of a cycle—no sense of relief (or re-leaf). There is only “dumb death,” with no regeneration to follow. The imagery of the life cycle belongs only to the father, for it is only he who has learned the paradox that in order to escape death one must first encounter and accept it.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 129

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Bloom, Harold, ed. E. E. Cummings: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Dumas, Bethany K. E. E. Cummings: A Remembrance of Miracles. London: Vision Press, 1974.

Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994.

Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Lane, Gary. I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ Poems. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976.

Norman, Charles. The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings. Rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E. E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2004.

Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

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