SOME LITERARY INFLUENCES IN THE SELECTED
Table of contents:
INTRODUCTION . . . . . Page 3
CHAPTER 1 :
CHAPTER 2 :
CHAPTER 3 :
CONCLUSION . . . . . Page 84
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . Page 88
Cummings1 remains virtually unknown to the Polish
reader. Both his figure and oeuvre deserve more attention than the critics, as well as
the editors and publishers, have devoted to them. Even the
recent edition of his poetry translated by Stanisl/aw Baran'czak has
not changed the situation2. This may be caused by the fact that the
trails allegedly blazed by him are regarded by some as having been trodden a long
time ago. Despite that, his poetry still finds many devoted admirers all over the
world while the originality of his style enchants even, or maybe especially, a
demanding reader. On the other hand, however, the Society of E. E. Cummings in the United States, rectifies this information as
false. Recently, on one of the internet pages (*)devoted to E. E. Cummings in the text written by Norman Friedman
the following information appears that seems to finally settle this question: Therefore, I have decided to use capital letters when spelling his name throughout my thesis. The exceptions to this
rule are the quotations from the books whose authors chose the lower case option.
2 e. e.cummings, 150 wierszy (Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krako'w 1994)
On the other hand, however, the Society of E. E. Cummings in the United States, rectifies this information as
false. Recently, on one of the internet pages (*)devoted to E. E. Cummings in the text written by Norman Friedman
the following information appears that seems to finally settle this question:
Therefore, I have decided to use capital letters when spelling his name throughout my thesis. The exceptions to this rule are the quotations from the books whose authors chose the lower case option.
2 e. e.cummings, 150 wierszy (Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krako'w 1994).
Edward Estlin Cummings was born in 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although he is primarily known for his poetry, he was also a fine artist, playwright and novelist. He also wrote tales for children, art criticism, and even a libretto for a ballet.
His father was a Harvard professor and a respected Unitarian minister, so E. E. Cummings was brought up in a family where culture, religion and traditional values played an important role. E. E. Cummings himself graduated from Harvard and it was in the Harvard Monthly that in 1912 he published his first poems. Thorough education he received at the university defies the common, though unjustified opinion, that his poetry is a mere violation of the traditional poetic rules, resulting from his ignorance of such rules. The poet himself admits in Nonlecture Three: "Officially, Harvard presented me with a smattering of languages and sciences; with a glimpse of Homer, a more than a glimpse of Aeschylus Sophocles Euripides and Aristophanes, and a deep glance at Dante and Shakespeare"3. He also took a course in poetic composition. The Harvard years were important also due to the friendships E. E. Cummings formed at that time. The names of his friends include great writers, as well as the people who influenced his artistic development by introducing him to the fields and aspects of art unknown to him before. In this context, the name of S. Foster Damon seems to be of special import. Charles Norman mentions that he heard E. E. Cummings say: "Practically everything I know about painting and poetry came to me through Damon"4.
It is also noteworthy that he chose modern trends in art as the subject of his Commencement Address, the aim of which was "to sketch briefly the
parallel developments of the New Art in the fields of painting and sculpture, music,
and literature"5. This interest in the overlapping of various forms of art was to remain
a characteristic feature of all his work. 3 Charles Norman, E. E. Cummings. A
Biography (E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1967), 31.
4 Ibid. , 38.
5 Ibid. , 41.
3 Charles Norman, E. E. Cummings. A Biography (E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1967), 31.
4 Ibid. , 38.
5 Ibid. , 41.
The time of his graduation coincided with the First World War and E. E. Cummings took part in it as a driver in the American Red Cross. This experience was to leave its stamp on the young poet, for it led to his imprisonment. The Enormous Room published in 1922 is an account of how it happened, and how it changed his worldview. The whole incident was crucial to his future development, not only as an artist. The main interest of the book revolves around the discovery and experience of freedom as opposed to life within society with its institutions, which serve to control man and make him subservient. He celebrates the victory of an individual in his clash with the society, which uses all its tools to manipulate him. E. E. Cummings concentrates on how the prison conditions led to his gradual discovery of the importance of an individual. This discovery remained of paramount importance to all his works. A special quality of the book lies in the fact that Cummings experiences freedom and happiness in prison, in spite of the tough conditions, and he finds the people there more respectable than those who are apparently free, which seems to defy the natural order and common expectations.
After the war he came back to France repeatedly and even lived there for some time. It was important inasmuch as Paris was the cradle of modern trends in world art, and E. E. Cummings' works show a strong link to the Avant-garde. Although he himself always denied having been influenced by the Avant-garde, in the sense that he had always insisted on all his poetic experiments being solely his own invention, in my opinion one does not contradict the other: E. E. Cummings could have created his own style independently yet at the same time simultaneously to other trends.
His artistic connections are much wider notwithstanding. His poems and drawings appeared in The Dial, the magazine reminiscent, in the origin and the content, of the 19th century periodical of the Transcendentalists, which is a very telling detail when considered in the context of E. E. Cummings' artistic credo.
The following years bring further publications of his works, poems as
well as other genres, along with awards acknowledging his firm position among
twentieth century American writers. At the moment of death in 1962 he was considered to
be one of the head figures among American avant-garde artists.
His output includes numerous volumes of poetry: Tulips and Chimneys (1923), & (1925), is 5 (1926), ViVa (1931), No Thanks (1935), New Poems (1938), 50 Poems (1940), 1x1 (1944), Xaipe (1950), 95 Poems (1958). He also wrote four plays: Him (1927), Anthropos: The Future of Art (1930), No Title (1930) and Santa Claus (1946); two books of prose: Eimi (1933), The Enormous Room (1922), a libretto for a ballet entitled Tom (1935). Additionally, the lectures he delivered at Harvard University as a Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry were published under the title i: six nonlectures (1953). His other works include essays, fairytales, letters and an introduction to a collection of Krazy Kat comic strips, as well as an album showing his paintings, entitled CIOPW (1931). He also displayed his pictures at several exhibitions in various American cities.
In spite of the numerous accusations E. E. Cummings had to face
throughout his life (the majority of which were unjustified), no one denies his merit of
being one of the most innovative of all American artists of this century. However, as
it has already been stated, his originality and novelty go hand in hand with his
respect for tradition as well as its thorough knowledge. Only a well-educated reader is
able to appreciate fully the poet's erudition. E. E. Cummings treated tradition as
a foundation, the starting point and a point of reference rather than an antithesis of his own works, hence the experimental form of his poems results from rather
than opposes literary conventions. E. E. Cummings tried not so much to fight
tradition as to develop it, so that not only words but also the form would be meaningful.
His innovative poetry constitutes protest against the language that no longer
performs its primary function of rendering the reality, which, according to him, is the
poet's task. Although his views are relatively uncomplicated, it does not mean that
they are simplistic. He was often accused of lack of sophistication and naivety,
but these accusations seem to be based merely on the general conviction that
reliance on feelings and
emotions, which E. E. Cummings advocates in his poetry,
As it has already been stated, E. E. Cummings' works show the traces of various influences. Both Stanisl/aw Baran'czak in his introduction to a collection of E. E. Cummings' poems 150 wierszy and Barry A. Marks in his book entitled E. E. Cummings take special note of the place that Realism and Formalism occupy in his poetry. Norman Friedman, on the other hand, discusses Romantic elements in his poems. At the same time, all the critics emphasise the influence modernism had on the form of his poems.
It is my aim in this thesis to trace down the above mentioned trends
and discuss their employment in the poetry of E. E. Cummings. I would also like
to demonstrate how their combined influence adds to the emergence of E.
E. Cummings' distinctive style.
The presence of the Romantic traits in the poetry of E. E. Cummings has already been pointed out by Norman Friedman, one of E. E. Cummings' admirers and an authority on the poet, who concluded a book on him in the following way: "There can be no doubt, then, that the development of E. E. Cummings as a writer reveals him here, at the apex of his career, as one of our most serious and distinguished representatives of the Romantic tradition"6. Charles Norman, the author of E. E. Cummings' biography, points to the same influence in the following passage:
Another critic, Eve Triem, in her study devoted to the poet, writes about E. E. Cummings in the following way:
6Norman Friedman, E. E. Cummings. The Growth of a Writer (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1964), 185.
7 Norman, 219.
Also according to Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska: "What Cummings' verse presented as its center was a revitalised image of the `romantic traditionalists' of American poetry; and theoretically his verse not far removed from the kind of verse his predecessors wrote.9"
Upon deeper analysis of his poetry we cannot but agree with this opinion. To prove the validity of this statement I shall try to examine closely the elements of the Romantic tradition present in his poetry.
The Romantic tradition flourished in the United States in the
19th century. The trend was very diversified and ranged from New England
Transcendental poetry through Edgar Allan Poe or Longfellow to writers such as Melville
or Hawthorne. Although it is very difficult to delineate its boundaries
rigorously, there are, nevertheless, certain of its characteristics that allow for
such categorisation or classification. The most representative include a rebellion
against authority, an apotheosis of individualism, a disapproval of social
conventions imposed on man who is therefore in conflict with the society. The most
obvious Romantic feature was a turn towards imagination, intuition and Nature,
the renascence of wonder and supernaturalism. At the same time reason, placed on
a pedestal during the Enlightenment, began to lose its prominent position. It did
not suffice to know the world any more; irrational factors like the
subconscious, imagination, feelings and inspiration were considered to be more
suitable instruments of cognition of both the world and the man than the rational
ones. People turned in the direction of the unknown, the mystical and the elusive,
thus opposing rationalism. Man and his concerns became the centre of attention.
The man of Romanticism saw his life as a
8Eve Triem, E. E. Cummings, in
Six American Poets, ed. Allen Tate (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis), 159.
9 Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska,
The Poet of Brattle Street, in E&TI: e e
c: E. E. Cummings and the Critics, ed. S. V. Baum (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing Michigan, 1962), p. 125.
8Eve Triem, E. E. Cummings, in Six American Poets, ed. Allen Tate (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis), 159.
9 Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska, The Poet of Brattle Street, in E&TI: e e c: E. E. Cummings and the Critics, ed. S. V. Baum (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing Michigan, 1962), p. 125.
constant progress towards the final
unification with Nature and the Absolute implemented in it. It was the spiritual and
the metaphysical in man, that determined his life. Art was given the title of the
most perfect form of cognition, characterised by a spontaneous expression of
feelings as well as the simplicity and naturalness of language. Moreover, it was a
reflection of Nature and its transcendence. Art, as a free and creative expression
of individualism, allowed for extreme subjectivity. Oriental and native elements
were frequently found among the literary devices used by Romantic poets. In
Europe Romantic tendencies were also connected with the political movements aiming
at independence and freedom.
The Romantic tradition in the United States, however, differed slightly from the one in Europe such as different were the factors that shaped American and European history, society and culture. Stanley T. Williams claims that "In general, American romanticism reflected the level of the country's culture during these early decades: it was less sophisticated, less learned, less philosophic, less esoteric than the romanticism of Europe."10
First of all, the political movements which played such an important role in the history and culture of the European continent, were less important in America. National epics of Europe, on the other hand, were replaced by the native stories of the Wild West, the Indians, the pioneers and the wilderness, which provided abundance of topics and satisfied the Romantic interest in the yet uncivilised, fresh and natural primitivism. This, obviously, required appealing to the imagination of the readers rather than their intellect or reason.
The poetry of early Romanticism in America reveals yet another
quality, which may be characterised as "moral" and which seems to reveal the traces
of the Puritan thought. These philosophical, religious and ethical elements were
to be partly preserved in the poetry of New England Transcendentalists.
10 Stanley T. Williams, The beginnings of American Poetry
(1620-1855) (Cooper Square Publishers Inc, New
York, 1970), 68-69.
10 Stanley T. Williams, The beginnings of American Poetry (1620-1855) (Cooper Square Publishers Inc, New York, 1970), 68-69.
It was in the work of Transcendentalists that American Romantic poetry reached its apex, while its philosophical, religious and moral character offered ground for the emergence of the new way of thinking and the new personality. Although it did not last long, its individual quality exerted a strong influence on the American way of thinking as well as literature. It was not only the heyday of Romantic poetry but also one of the most significant and influential periods in American literature as a whole. Many writers and poets admit having been influenced by it. Various elements of the Romantic tradition are visible in the works of different authors, although their appearance varies in frequency and character.
E. E. Cummings is undeniably one of those twentieth century authors whose works include Romantic elements. Norman Friedman, who in his book entitled e. e. cummings. The Growth of a Writer examines the development of E. E. Cummings' poetry, notices the appearance of transcendental elements as early as the second volume of his poems. He also traces their maturation process throughout the poet's work, as from the moment they appear they never cease to be present.
How do Transcendentalism and Romanticism show in E. E.
Cummings' poetry then? First, he manages to convey them through the ideas expressed in
his poems and his choice of topics. The majority of his poems are devoted to
describing love in its various aspects, most often transcendental or sentimental love; yet, it
is indispensable to mention in this place his "sensual" poems devoted to
the description of physical love. At the same time we cannot underestimate the
fact that according to E. E. Cummings sex should be a reflection of a perfect
relationship between a man and a woman, and not physical contact for its own sake. It is
not surprising, therefore, that in his works he appears to be longing for
`togetherness' coming from the reunion of souls. He sometimes despairs over unrequited
love. His love lyrics are often written in the convention of traditional
Romantic idealisation marked by overstatement. Many of them are impressionistic
images taking various people
or objects as their theme. Its bulk deals with the praise of
an individual, Nature and its elements such as the Moon, spring, stars, sunset,
dawn, flowers or trees. Among his poems are also such that deal with history, war
in particular, politics and social life. On the whole, however, regardless of what
he writes about, his topics always come from within himself and his poems are
either a reflection of his own inner life, manifest his worldview or constitute a
comment and a description of his keen observation of the world. This is one of the ways
in which his unshaken trust in an individual and the conviction that any "self"
is unique, is manifested. One of his most beautiful sonnets, beginning with the
words "love's function is to fabricate
unknowness"11, can serve as an exemplification
of the above.
love's function is to fabricate unknowness (known being wishless; but love, all of wishing) though live's lived wrongsideout, sameness chokes oneness truth is confused with fact, fish boast of fishing and men are caught by worms (love may not care if time totters, light droops, all measures bend nor marvel if a thought should weigh a star -dreads dying least; and less, that death should end) how lucky lovers are ( whose selves abide under whatever shall discovered be) whose ignorant each breathing dares to hide more than most fabulous wisdom fears to see
11 All poems quoted in my thesis are taken from the following collection of his poems: e. e. cummings, POEMS 1923 - 1954 (Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1954).
(who laugh and cry) who dream, create and kill while the whole moves; and every part stands still:
The poem takes love as its subject and conveys the idea of the growth and acquisition of wisdom through love, i. e. of self-transcendence through love. The construction of the poem is based on opposition between love and knowledge. The initial line seems puzzling, because we would rather expect that "love" should equal or at least lead to "knowing". The word "unknowness", coined by E. E. Cummings, has been granted by the poet its own special meaning or it has been created to denominate the multiplicity of phenomena which refer to and at the same time explicate his vision of the world. "Unknowness" in this context does not mean ignorance in its common meaning but rather designates reliance on intuition and emotions. The lines that follow clarify the meaning of "(known being wishless;" and "love, all of wishing)". Therefore, the idea of love as something desirable as well as leading to a constant quest for answers is established. "Love" which is "all of wishing)" should guide the lovers in the direction of constant growth while "known" identified with "wishlessness" symbolises the state of comfortable security, on the one hand, but inertia, passivity and stagnation, on the other hand.
Although ignorance usually has pejorative connotations, here it is presented as something beneficial, which sustains love. It does not stand for lack of knowledge in general, but rather designates the factor that drives us in the direction of constant development. "ignorant each breathing" contains more in itself than wisdom coming from the mind. The power to grasp the nature of things and thus the meaning of life cannot be attained by futile reasoning but by experiencing life in all its aspects. As Eve Triem points out:
In one of his plays entitled
Santa Claus E. E. Cummings puts it straightforwardly:
"Knowledge has taken love out of the world/ and all the
world is empty empty ... joyless joyless
joyless."13 Only those, who "laugh and
cry) who dream, create and kill", that is those who follow emotions, are capable
of love. On the other hand, the poem defines love as a phenomenon which cannot
be comprehended, as something that thrives on mystery, and that strives to
sustain itself by replacing mental knowledge with intuitive knowledge. By referring
to "lucky lovers...whose selves abide /under whatever shall discovered
be)/whose ignorant each breathing dares to hide/more than most fabulous wisdom fears
to see" E. E. Cummings advocates the primacy of feeling over intellect. Love
seems to be self-subsisting, transcendental, and independent of external
circumstances as well as of principles, it "hasn't a why or because or although: it exists for
no reason, and for that reason it cannot be doubted. It is self-creating, and
altogether apart from cause and
effect"14. As such, it is presented as a remedy for the
life lived "wrongsideout". The chaos and absurdity of the world are rendered by
the image of fish that boast of fishing. Life, as E. E. Cummings views it, is full
of superficiality and lies. Man cannot tell good from evil and cherishes values
of passing validity: "truth is confused with
fact", because "facts" are only a
barren reflection of the Reality conceived intellectually. According to the poet, the
world cannot be perceived only by intellect, because deprived of the emotional sphere
it would be impoverished, hence not true. The Truth, which for E. E.
Cummings equals Love, is, conversely transcendental; it simply exists.
12 Triem, 192.
Friedman quotes one of E. E. Cummings' epigrams from "Jottings", published in
Wake magazine in1951: "knowledge is a polite word for dead but not buried imagination". (Friedman,
The Growth, 183).
13 Ibid., 181.
14 Norman Friedman, (Re)Valuing Cummings: further essays on the poet,
1962-1993 (University Press of Florida, Gainsville, 1996), 5.
12 Triem, 192.
Friedman quotes one of E. E. Cummings' epigrams from "Jottings", published in Wake magazine in1951: "knowledge is a polite word for dead but not buried imagination". (Friedman, The Growth, 183).
13 Ibid., 181.
14 Norman Friedman, (Re)Valuing Cummings: further essays on the poet, 1962-1993 (University Press of Florida, Gainsville, 1996), 5.
"Lucky lovers" may evoke associations with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, before they have tasted the fruit from the tree of the knowledge, when they are still in the state of Innocence. Their "unknowness" gives them happiness and power since it is Love not knowledge that "dreads dying least;" and that does not care "if time totters, light droops, all measures bend". It also gives them happiness because questions are more meaningful than answers since they lead us ceaselessly through the process of self-discovery infinitely more important than any dogmas we may think we have discovered, as well as to the reciprocal discovery between lovers.
Transcendence in E. E. Cummings suggests not so much comprehension as a process leading to the state of self-awareness as described above. "Know thyself" - an inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi - seems to be E. E. Cummings' motto15. He himself expressed it even in a more pithy way in his introduction to New Poems:
Norman Friedman thus comments on the above passage:
15 Cummings' insistence on the gravity of the gradual process of self-discovery evokes associations with Emersonian appeal "Trust thyself" expressed in his most famous essay "Self-Reliance".
16 E. E. Cummings, POEMS 1923-1954 (Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1954), 332.
Therefore, a desire to get to know the truth intellectually is an attempt at stripping the world of its reality. Rational truth is an utterance, while Reality is an experience, in which the one who experiences becomes one with the substance of his experience. The Truth has its "existence". The Reality has its "life" because it is fluid, not static or unchangeable. That is why Reality is different from what we call "truth" or "fact", and that is why intellect, which exploits facts, falsifies the reception of the world.
These ideas bear a striking resemblance to the beliefs of Emerson, who wrote, "The true meaning of spiritual is-Real"18, as well as to the beliefs of Brownson, who defined Transcendentalism in the following way: "Transcendentalism . . . builds upon an order of facts proceeding from an origin which transcends the senses and the operations of the understanding"19.
The form of "love's function is to fabricate unknowness" is that of a sonnet, although compared to its classical version, it has been considerably modified. It has fourteen lines, yet their arrangement differs from the typical grouping of two quatrains followed by two terzinas. In the traditional sonnet, the quatrains are either descriptive or narrative in character, while the terzinas (especially the second one) conclude the poem and contain a general formulation of the main message of the piece. Instead of concluding the poem in the last six lines the poet does it in the first single line separated from the rest, while the terzina, the two quatrains and a distich that follow are its expatiation. The rhyme pattern a bab cdcd efef gg differs considerably from the one in the traditional Italian sonnet, which is abba abba cdc dcd or abba abba cde cde.
Another vital element of the Romantic vision of the world, Nature, has
been paid tribute to in a beautiful poem, which begins with the words
"O sweet spontaneous/ earth".
17 Friedman, E. E. Cummings. The Growth of a Writer,
18 Darrel Abel, American
Literature (Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 1963), 3.
19 Ibid. , 4.
17 Friedman, E. E. Cummings. The Growth of a Writer, 89-90.
18 Darrel Abel, American Literature (Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 1963), 3.
19 Ibid. , 4.
O sweet spontaneous earth how often have he doting fingers of prurient philosophers pinched and poked thee , has the naughty thumb of science prodded thy beauty . how often have religions taken thee upon their scraggy knees squeezing and buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive gods (but true to the incomparable couch of death thy rhythmic lover
thou answerest them only with spring)
As in many of his poems, also in this one sexual intercourse appears as the main element, the fact for which E. E. Cummings has often been criticised. The Earth is personified and appears in the poem as a woman. As Barry Marks writes: "Cummings presents philosophy, science and theology as dirty old men disgustingly attempting to recapture their lost youth"20. It would be unfair though not to mention that sexual overtones serve as a symbol here rather than appear for their own sake. Their metaphorical and symbolic character has often been either misunderstood or ignored by the critics who reproached Cummings for their appearance. The meaning of sex seems to be that of "elan vital", of the primal and spontaneous force of life, of life in its most immaculate form, free from the influence of civilisation.
According to Barry Marks:
It seems to me though that this relationship has been clarified by the
author although not in a straightforward way. Death is an essential element of
20 Barry A Marks, E. E.
Cummings (College and University Press, New Heaven, Conn., 1964), 70.
21 Ibid., 70-71.
20 Barry A Marks, E. E. Cummings (College and University Press, New Heaven, Conn., 1964), 70.
21 Ibid., 70-71.
sex understood as a symbol of life. The word
"rhythmic" implies Nature's
cyclic character, i. e. the natural succession of life and death. The choice of the Earth as
a symbol is a reference to Nature of which death is part and parcel. Death
understood as such is not the end of life but its integral part followed by a revival. It is
also noteworthy that such a concept is characteristic of many philosophical or religious systems, for instance Taoism and its conception of Yin and Yang.
(Incidentally, Romanticism derived many elements from the Orient).
Death as lack of life, on the other hand, is embodied in the figures of "prurient philosophers, science and religions", the last-mentioned understood as the dogmatic systems imposing rules conceived by men. It is also important that for E. E. Cummings lack of life was equals inability to love. True vitality results from accepting the regularity of cycles and the natural rules of life, that is rules coming from nature as opposed to those invented by men. The attempts at creating a new life in the form of science, religion or philosophy have come to nought, because the created systems do not respect the natural principles. Therefore, it is obvious that for E. E. Cummings natural laws are supreme to human laws and according to him, those who do not realise that do not comprehend life. Nature remains outside of the area of human manipulation, i. e. man can break its rules or make it subservient, yet with disastrous results for himself.
As in the other poems, also in this one its form plays an important role
in conveying the ideas presented in it. Triem observes that: "A poet's function is
to embody in a poem the dynamics of nature . . . which is primarily a
mystery. Heightened awareness leads to a new dimension that leads into
transcendentalism supported by specific
detail"22. Through the usage of old forms of address,
which can be found, for instance, in the Bible like
"thou, thee, mightest" E. E.
Cummings emphasises the ritual and the divine element in Nature, thus accentuating
its timelessness. Moreover, according to Barry Marks:
22 Triem, 192.
22 Triem, 192.
For instance, the enjambment in the second line produces a dramatic pause before the word "earth", which serves to emphasise its significance. The words "thee" and "thy" are isolated from the surrounding words by being placed in separate lines. This produces the effect of the words becoming more important, and together with the stylisation makes them stand out. "(but" separates the lines that follow from the preceding line, which emphasises the contrast between the images of the earth presented in the two parts: the "scientific" and the "transcendental" ones. The placement of the word "spring)", also separated from the rest and closed by the parenthesis completes the whole poem and strengthens the impression of the spring being the integral and ultimate answer. Moreover, it is noteworthy that spring is most often associated with feelings and life, while winter with intellect and death. The examples of alliteration used by E. E. Cummings, such as "thee, that, thou" and "prurient philosophers pinched/ and/ poked") add to creating a unique rhythm and accentuation. Moreover, as Barry Marks notices:
Such a vision of Nature (which may be treated as a representation of
the whole Universe) is very close to the Romantic view, where Cosmos is seen as
a live and dynamic organism undergoing the process of constant becoming
23 Marks, 70.
24 Ibid. , 70.
23 Marks, 70.
24 Ibid. , 70.
development. In E. E. Cummings' poem, it is reflected in the very fact that
Earth has been personified. Man and Nature are in a spiritual communion with
each other, which serves to highlight their common roots. Nature, being a diverse,
but nonetheless, integral and complete entity also forms a part of a bigger entirety.
Transcendentalists accorded Nature a similar place in their doctrine. It is enough to mention that the book written by Emerson, which immediately after its publication became "the bible of American Transcendentalism", was entitled "Nature". It viewed Nature as a manifestation of the spiritual world, and instinct as the proper tool of perceiving affinity between the two. In Emerson's "American Scholar" Nature is listed as one of the three things that can teach man. Amos Bronson Alcott wrote about Nature: "Yet nature is not separate from me; she is mine alike with my body; and in moments of true life, I feel my identity with her; I breath, pulsate, feel, think, will through her members, and know of no duality of being."25
There is, yet, another essential characteristic of the Romantic attitude,
which is granted by E. E. Cummings a special, if not the highest, position in his
hierarchy of values, i. e. individualism as well as widely understood freedom. In his
book entitled The Enormous Room, which is a record of his stay in prison during
the First World War, E. E. Cummings not only defines the meaning of freedom
and stresses the importance of the individual but also touches upon the
philosophical question of the sense of human life. The mystery of individualism is a
recurrent topic of both this book and his other works. It is no coincidence then that it
appeared in his first published volume, for it was, paradoxically, in the French prison that
E. E. Cummings unravelled the mystery, and The Enormous
Room is devoted to the description of "the experience through which he first became confirmed in
his transcendental vision"26. In each of his works that follow, the direction he chose
is affirmed. As Eve Triem observes: "Beginning with
The Enormous Room and Tulips and
25 Abel, 75.
26 Friedman, E. E. Cummings. The Growth of a Writer,
25 Abel, 75.
26 Friedman, E. E. Cummings. The Growth of a Writer, 28.
celebrated individuals, perceiving the
transcendental under the ephemeral
disguise"27. An individual, a person able to love and live
truly, has remained the ideal he propagated.
To illustrate the point I have chosen a famous poem that conveys this message:
anyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn't he danced his did Women and men (both little and small) cared for anyone not at all they sowed their isn't they reaped their same sun moon stars rain children guessed (but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew autumn winter spring summer) that noone loved him more by more when by now and tree by leaf she laughed his joy she cried his grief bird by snow and stir by still anyone's any was all to her someones married their everyones laughed their cryings and did their dance (sleep wake hope and then) they
27 Triem, 180.
said their nevers they slept their dream stars rain sun moon (and only the snow can begin to explain how children are apt to forget to remember with up so floating many bells down) one day anyone died i guess (and noone stooped to kiss his face) busy folk buried them side by side little by little and was by was all by all and deep by deep and more by more they dream they sleep noone and anyone earth by april wish by spirit and if by yes Women and men (both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun moon stairs rain
Unlike the poems discussed earlier, this one is narrative in character but
the narration consists of events which are symbolic in themselves. At first sight
the poem may seem incomprehensible, but it becomes understandable as soon as
we realise, that the pronouns anyone and
noone are used here as the proper names of people whose story constitutes the plot of the poem. The account of their life is
set against and contrasted with the description of the life of the
"busy folk". anyone and
noone are a couple who lives a different life than those around them. First, it
is their personalities and the love they give each other that
distinguish them and at
the same time isolate from the society they live in. When
anyone "sang his didn't he danced his
did", the other people "sowed their isn't"
and "reaped their same". Thus
anyone reacts in a similar way both to good and bad things that life
brings him. In other words, he is happy regardless of external circumstances, because
the source of his happiness, i. e. his love for
noone, lies within him. Therefore, he can accept life as it is. His antagonists, on the other hand, experience neither
happiness nor despair, because they are spiritually numb and cannot sense
anything. Significantly enough they also "cared for anyone not at
all". The intended ambiguity of this line suggests that they are unable to love at all.
Similarly, when noone loved anyone "more and more . . . laughed his joy . . . cried his grief", "someones married their everyones/ laughed their cryings and did their dance". Hence, noone and anyone share the same feelings, because they form a unity, they care for each other, which everyones, and someones are incapable of. The latter lack not only the ability to love and its spiritual dimension, but also creativity and, as has already been mentioned, the acceptance of all aspects of life. As Marks observes in his discussion of the poem:
They only "said their nevers they slept their dream"; when anyone "danced his did" they "did their dance". Thus, anyone's spontaneous joy of life is opposed to their world of routine and spiritual death.
Finally, anyone dies and
"noone stooped to kiss his face". Again, the
double meaning adds a new meaning to the poem:
noone is the only person who
28 Marks, 40.
28 Marks, 40.
anyone's death, while the rest of the inhabitants of the town are too busy with
their own affairs to pay attention to someone else than their own selves. Their
spiritual meanness is emphasised by the words
"Women and men (both little and
small)", which suggests there are no magnanimous and warm-hearted people among
them. When noone dies too, she is buried by her lover's side. According to Marks:
"because anyone and noone glide with the current, even death is a creative event . . .
They have lived fully when alive; in death they become `was by was', and the
ultimate sleep is, for them, ultimate
fulfilment."29 This is demonstrated by a sudden
switch to the present tense when referring to
anyone and noone after their death, while
the past tense is used throughout the whole poem. Their love makes them
transcend death and time, the passage of which is marked in the poem by the enumeration
of the seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn,
winter) or by references to the sun, the moon, stars and rain, which mark the passing days and nights. Unlike the townsfolk, who do not die only because they are already spiritually dead,
anyone and noone are buried in body but stay alive in spirit. As Eve Triem has it:
"True lovers will be reborn into perfect
The poem is divided into three parts, each consisting of three stanzas. In
the first two parts, one stanza is devoted to
anyone and noone, one to the
townsfolk and one to children. In the last part two stanzas deal with
anyone and noone, while the final stanza describes children, who in the meantime grew up and became
like their parents. It is for a good reason that the children appear in the poem. At
the very beginning, before they grow up they are like
anyone and noone, they are able to feel, they
"guessed . . . that noone loved"
anyone "more and more".
However, as they gradually begin to resemble their parents they too become spiritually
dead: "and down they forgot as up they
grew". What happened to them is the opposite
of what happens to anyone and noone. When the children lose their chance, the
couple wins. Although the former lose their
29 Ibid. , 41.
30 Triem, 192.
29 Ibid. , 41.
30 Triem, 192.
sensitivity, the message of the poem seems
to be that the capacity to live a full life, to love, to develop is characteristic of each
of us, i. e. anybody can be like anyone and
The abundance of the Romantic elements in the poem gives it a distinctive character. The poem, as Barry A. Marks remarks, "presents Cummings' whole metaphysics" 31. In the first place, it praises individualism. Anyone, and noone are distinct personalities; the contrast between the indefiniteness of their names and their exceptionality serves to emphasise the latter as compared to the anonymity and indifference of the crowd. The stylistic device employed by E. E. Cummings to emphasise the above statement is the use of the plural whenever the Women and men are mentioned and the usage of anyone and noone only in the singular. anyone and noone are different from the other inhabitants of the how town; they live by different principles, and, as in the case of typical Romantic heroes, their stance meets with incomprehension or at best with indifference. Let me refer to Barry A. Marks once again:
The heroes are also different, because love, another indispensable element of the Romantic attitude, is the essence of their lives ("anyone's any was all to her"). This is the factor which allows them to stay alive, hence to transcend time, and which makes their lives fruitful. Alys Rho Jablon in her discussion of this aspect of E. E. Cummings' poetry suggests that,
31 Marks, 38.
32 Ibid. , 40.
Therefore, a life can be characterised as profound and spiritually rich, when we not only try to become individuals and perfect ourselves, but when we share these experiences with another person as well. Paradoxically, it is only in forming a unity with someone we love that our uniqueness can be manifested; at the same time, a meaningful relationship with another person is a condition sine qua non of attaining happiness. The ability to love shows one's humanity. This is an instance of what has been called "algebra of the heart"35. Namely, in E. E. Cummings' poems one plus one equals one.36 This transcendental mathematics finds application when two separate entities, each of whom is a fully developed individual, form a unity which is as exceptional, as the persons who form it with love at the core of that unity.
Moreover, those who win owe their triumph to the feelings rather
than intellect. It is affection, not reason that saves them. It is love that allows them to attain the goal of their lives, which is spiritual development and the discovery
of the identity of their selves and souls. Reliance on feelings makes them
respond spontaneously and freely to what life brings them. Theirs is the world of
constant joy, tenderness and inner growth. In contrast to the townsfolk, they enjoy life
truly. Thus, E. E. Cummings' poem is an affirmation of life in all its various aspects.
33 Patricia Buchanan Tal-Mason Cline,
The Whole E. E. Cummings, in E. E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical
Essays, ed. Norman Friedman (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NY, 1972) 60-70.
34 Alys Rho Jablon, myself is sculptor of/ your body's idiom:", e. e. cummings and Modernist Representation of
Women, unpublished undergraduate honours essay, (McGill University, 1997)
35 Lloyd Frankenberg, Cummings times
one, in E&TI: e e c: E. E. Cummings and the
Critics, ed. S. V. Baum (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan, 1962)
36 Compare the title of a volume of his poetry
"1x1 (One Times One)" and the last line of the last poem in it:
33 Patricia Buchanan Tal-Mason Cline, The Whole E. E. Cummings, in E. E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Norman Friedman (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NY, 1972) 60-70.
34 Alys Rho Jablon, myself is sculptor of/ your body's idiom:", e. e. cummings and Modernist Representation of Women, unpublished undergraduate honours essay, (McGill University, 1997)
35 Lloyd Frankenberg, Cummings times one, in E&TI: e e c: E. E. Cummings and the Critics, ed. S. V. Baum (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan, 1962)
36 Compare the title of a volume of his poetry
"1x1 (One Times One)" and the last line of the last poem in it:
E. E. Cummings' affinity with Transcendentalists is confirmed in
another aspect i. e., in the position they allowed God in their doctrine. They believed
that God reveals himself everywhere and at all times, here and now and that Nature
is the revelation of God. They maintained that material reality was just a reflection
of a deeper actuality, the origin of which is spiritual and divine. In
Orphic Sayings Amos Bronson Alcott wrote: "The sensible world is spirit in magnitude,
outspread before the senses for their analysis, but whose synthesis is the soul herself,
whose prothesis is God. Matter is but the confine of spirit limning her to sense ...
God, man, nature, are a divine synthesis, whose parts it is impiety to
E. E. Cummings rarely took up religious topics; one of his poems, however, testifies to the fundamental correspondence of his poetry to the equivalent question in Transcendentalism (even if it was seldom expressed in his poems).
i thank You God for most this amazing day : for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any-lifted from the no of all nothing-human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
37Abel, 74, 75.
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)This sonnet is indeed a thankful and laudatory prayer. "You", used whenever the poet addresses God directly (a very rare thing in his poetry) is the only words in the whole poem, apart from the word "God", which is capitalised38. In this context the pronoun "i" spelt with a small letter, stands for his recognition of his own insignificance in relation to God and his divinity. He perceives God as spiritus movens of the whole universe. The poet writes about the "spirits of trees", which emphasises the fact that all retained its divine character, because the spirit of God has been inherent to his creation; also "the spirits of trees" are leaping as if they had hearts. Thus, nature is presented as a living creature and is personified. The poet perceives the touch of divine infinity in the whole natural world created by God. The mystery of divine presence sanctifies the world's existence and gives it spiritual dimension. Nature reflects God and as Docherty observes: "(it) is taken as proof of the existence of God"39, that is why everything can be characterised as "natural" and "infinite". The lines "i who have died am alive again today/ and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth/ day of life and of love", and especially the intended ambiguity of the word "sun" which is a homophone of "son", evoke associations with the resurrection of Christ. The death and the sacrifice of Christ, His death and resurrection allowed for the rebirth of life and love, and saved the Earth and the people. This is why the Earth is "happening illimitably", that is reviving with each new moment day and year, and so are the people.
Docherty even suggests that the imagery of the poem "alludes to the
death and rebirth myth of Osiris, of which the Christ story is a version in
38 Although in English the word God is always spelt with a capital letter, in this poem it should be discussed within
the context of Cummings' idiosyncratic typography. He often rejects capital letters in places where we would
commonly expect them, as is the case with the pronoun "I", which allows him to dispose stresses according to his artistic vision.
39Brian Docherty, e. e.
cummings, in American Poetry: The Modernist
38 Although in English the word God is always spelt with a capital letter, in this poem it should be discussed within the context of Cummings' idiosyncratic typography. He often rejects capital letters in places where we would commonly expect them, as is the case with the pronoun "I", which allows him to dispose stresses according to his artistic vision.
39Brian Docherty, e. e. cummings, in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, 127.
anthropological terms"40. Guy Rachet in his
Dictionary of the Egyptian Civilisation remarks
that the figure of Osiris was especially close to the mentality of peoples whose
religions secured salvation, and were founded by a man-god who was tortured to death
by people and not by Gods. According to the myth, Osiris, who ruled together
with his wife Isis and his sister, was attacked by his brother Seth and killed. His
sister and Isis set out to find his body and when they found it, Osiris was brought back
to life by gods. He was considered the king of the whole of Egypt, and was
associated with agriculture, religious practices and the kingdom of the dead, as well as
with the waters of the river Nile. His body gave it fertility and progenitive
power41. He was a god of vegetation, who died with all the plants during the flow of the
Nile only to revive in spring after his stay underground. In this context, the reference
to Osiris may be related to the natural cycle of day and night or the cycle of
the seasons of the year.
The poet expresses his surprise that there are people who doubt God's existence in spite of the fact that all human senses provide the proofs of not only His existence but also power. Everything we can experience by "tasting, touching, hearing, seeing" was brought into being by God, and as such bears a divine seal, and testifies to his preeminence. It is in nature that God manifests His presence most completely.
In his attempt to demonstrate the contrast between human
insignificance and God's authority the poet writes about
"lifted from the no of all nothing human merely
beings" and about
"unimaginable" God. Yet, in spite of the fact that
he alludes to human meaninglessness, we do not get the impression that people
are inferior or worthless. They are a part of nature which mirrors God's
40 Ibid., 127.
41 In another version of the myth Seth (jealous of his brother's successful reign) seized Osiris and closed him in a
wooden box which he then threw into the Nile. The box with his body was carried by the waves into the banks of
Phoenician Byblos, where heather grew on it. The local ruler ordered to cut out a column from the heather. When Isis arrived
in Byblos she demanded both the box and the column. She took the box into Chemnis near Buto. Having learned about
that, in her absence, Seth captured the box and cut Osiris' body into fourteen pieces which he scattered all over Egypt.
Isis found the pieces and buried them. In another version she collected the pieces and made Osiris immortal by
mummifying him. Yet another story has it that his corpse was thrown into the river directly (and not placed in the box).
40 Ibid., 127.
41 In another version of the myth Seth (jealous of his brother's successful reign) seized Osiris and closed him in a wooden box which he then threw into the Nile. The box with his body was carried by the waves into the banks of Phoenician Byblos, where heather grew on it. The local ruler ordered to cut out a column from the heather. When Isis arrived in Byblos she demanded both the box and the column. She took the box into Chemnis near Buto. Having learned about that, in her absence, Seth captured the box and cut Osiris' body into fourteen pieces which he scattered all over Egypt. Isis found the pieces and buried them. In another version she collected the pieces and made Osiris immortal by mummifying him. Yet another story has it that his corpse was thrown into the river directly (and not placed in the box).
essential qualities. The impression one gets from the first stanza is that of joy beauty
and happiness. The accent is on the human potential rather than sinfulness. It
stems from the fact that God's spark is present in every individual.
The final distich seems to be a reference to the Bible. In the Book of Isaiah we read: "(God) will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped"42. In the eyes of the poet, the divine quality of the natural world can be fully perceived only when a man opens himself to its abundance and splendour. Such an opening leads to spiritual growth and harmony, and consequently to spiritual salvation. At the same time, his humble attitude contributes to his deliverance. Paradoxically, such humbleness allows availing oneself fully of this plenitude.
E. E. Cummings' transcendental vision presented in the poems discussed above is very coherent and complete. The world of spirit transcends the world of matter, which is only a reflection of the deeper reality. The organising principle behind this inner reality is God, whose fundamental qualities have been preserved in his creation. The poet never renounces the conviction that the world of feelings, in which love occupies the central position, is supreme to the world of intellect that can neither grasp the depths of life's mysteries nor help man in their comprehension. Only intuition, imagination and, first of all, love are proper tools to complete this task. Love is additionally a factor which determines the value of human life. The deeper one's self-awareness, the more complete the experience of one's self as well as the world around him; the fuller the discovery of the essence of one's own nature, the closer the attainment of the ideal and the goal of one's existence. This is also why love is the major subject area covered by E. E. Cummings in his output.
Although his individualism is so precious, it remains the source of
inevitable conflict of man and the society he lives in. An individual, in order to remain
oneself, i. e. to preserve his uniqueness, must rebel against the fossilised
42The Holy Bible, Oxford University Press. (Isaiah 35.5)
42The Holy Bible, Oxford University Press. (Isaiah 35.5)
social rules which are the tools used by the society to destroy him. He must, at the same time, be
able to share his love with others.
What determines man's maturity is also the extent to which he realises that nature is not separate from him, and that it is a living, feeling unity, while man is rooted in the Cosmos as its part. They both undergo a continuous dynamic process of becoming and developing, in which death must be accepted on the same terms as life. It is not viewed as the final destructive element but rather as something that, like time, can be transcended through love.
Let me conclude this chapter by quoting Brian Docherty:
Continue to Chapter 2 :