somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

by E. E. Cummings

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Student Question

What is the paradox in lines 13–18 of "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond"?

Quick answer:

The paradox in lines 13–18 of "somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond" lies in the speaker's reference to the power of his lover's intense fragility. This is a paradox because fragility is usually the exact opposite of what is powerful.

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In what is, generally speaking, an experimental poem, it's not surprising that Cummings should resort to paradox. He does this in lines 13–18 of "somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond," where he refers to "the power of your intense fragility."

Straight away, we notice the paradox. How can something that's fragile have power? Surely what is fragile and what has power are two completely different things?

What's more, we're informed that this fragility, this particular quality of the speaker's beloved, "compels [him] with the colour of its countries / rendering death and forever with each breath."

Again, how can something that's fragile compel anything? The very notion strikes us as odd, to say the least.

What the speaker seems to be driving at here is the idea that it is the very fragility of his lover, her aching vulnerability to life in this world, that gives her love a transcendent power that allows it to rise above our merely material existence.

This is what the speaker is getting at when he says,

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility.

Her love is otherworldly. This gives it a much greater power than any perception of this world can ever have. Perception deals with the objects of the world around us. But although the lover herself lives in this world, her love, somewhat paradoxically, does not. It occupies another realm of existence entirely, a higher realm to which the things of this world may be compared and found wanting.

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