(Poetry for Students)

Language and Meaning
At the heart of “i was sitting in mcsorley’s” is the question of language’s capacity to sufficiently name the world. Cummings’s associative imagery and unconventional syntax present not a literal picture of the world within McSorley’s saloon, as much as it does the speaker’s emotional and subjective response to that place. That response is depicted in a rush of concrete images that are not spatially ordered or tied to narrative. The effect of this kind of description is an impressionistic rendering of the saloon, where no clearly defined shapes come into focus. The blurry nature of the picture is illustrated in the first lines of the second stanza, when cummings writes “the slobbering walls filthily push witless creases of screaming warmth chuck pillows are noise funnily swallows.” Such an impressionistic representation of the physical world suggests that the role of language is not simply to name what is out there but also to question what is out there. By calling attention to language’s incapacity to provide an objective depiction of the world, cummings asks readers to think about their own relationship to words and the things they represent. Language is more a prism than a window, cummings’s poem suggests, and once readers acknowledge their part within that prism, they can participate in the poet’s vision of the world as he sees it.

Humanity and Human Nature
Cummings has long been...

(The entire section is 448 words.)