OF E. E. CUMMINGS
In contradistinction to romanticism, the critics have not devoted much attention to the elements of realism in the poetry of E. E. Cummings. Barry A. Marks is the only one who discusses their role in E. E. Cummings' artistic works, while Stanislaw Baran'czak mentions the fact briefly in his introduction to the Polish selection of Cummings' poems. Although these elements are less conspicuous than the romantic ones, they form an important aspect of his poetry.
On the one hand, realism seems to be an obvious element of the poetry of E. E. Cummings, precisely because, like the representatives of realism, he aimed at as accurate a portrayal of reality as possible in accordance with the definition of the trend in the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms: "realism is a copy of nature and reveals us to the literature of truth, . . . the realist . . . should concern himself with here and now, with everyday events, with his own environment and with the movements (political, social, etc.) of his time."1 Therefore, the area of interest of the representatives of realism included the topics taken from everyday life, from the fields such as psychology or social science. The value of a work of art was determined by the accuracy with which it reflected the truth about the world2. Realism was born out of a desire to break away from the conventions that misrepresented the reality, and such was also the goal of E. E. Cummings. On the other hand, if we remember that realism arose as a critical response to romantic idealisation, its presence in Cummings' poetry may seem puzzling. However, he tries to reconcile the two trends both in the form and the content of his poetry as seems to be suggested by Baran'czak:
1 J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. (Penguin Books, 1991), 775.
2 Barry A. Marks in his already quoted book remarks that, "This realistic impulse, the desire to break through the conventional perspectives to reveal life as it really is, has been a central motive for art in the twentieth century . . Even the pictorial distortion that continues to distress many people reflects a realistic impulse"(94). This refers for instance to impressionism in painting. The numerous version of the "Rouen Cathedral" by Claude Monet were born precisely out of the same desire.
He comments further:
However, the poet's objective, most of all, was to grasp in poetry the dynamic quality of the reality. In his introduction to is 5 he wrote:
3 e. e. cummings, 150 wierszy, poems, (introduction), 9.
4 Ibid., 10.
Norman Friedman sees this experimental technique as "the means whereby the poet tries to reproduce in the reader's mind the vital flux of becoming which he (the poet) sees in life"6. Marks, commenting on the above quotation, points out that: "The meaning of realism is, in part, then a sense of the world as motion. Motion is both an aesthetic principle and a central theme in Cummings' art."7
The poet's passion for life (therefore reality), evident in all his works, is a consequence of his conviction that reality, unlike the creation of human mind, is objective and hence is the essence of life. That is why each aspect of it is noteworthy and important. His poetry is an expression of his interest in life, in all its aspects and forms. Nobody and nothing is so insignificant as not to be worthy of attention. A good example of how he used the elements of realism in his poetry is the following poem:
it really must be Nice, never to have no imagination)or never never to wonder abut guys you used to(and them slim hot queens with damn next to nothing on)tangoing (while a feller tries to hold down the fifty bucks per job with one foot and rock a
5 E. E. Cummings, 163.
6 Friedman, 49.
7 Marks, 103.
cradle with the other)it Must be nice never to have no doubts about why you put the ring on(and watching her face grow old and tired to which you're married and hands get red washing things and dishes)and to never, never really wonder i mean the smell of babies and how you know the dam rent's going to and everything and never, never Never to stand at no window because i can't sleep(smoking sawdust cigarettes in the middle of the night
The poem is an inner monologue of a very poor family man who feels
so overwhelmed by the problems and despondency of everyday life that he
"can't sleep. . . in the/ middle of the
night". Although he works hard, he does not earn much
("a feller tries to hold down the fifty bucks per job with one
foot"), so he smokes cheap
"sawdust cigarettes" and wonders how he is going to pay the rent. What causes his frustration
is the contrast between the life he lives and the life he would like to live, or the life that
other fellows lead. In the world of the speaker's dreams the women are beautiful, the men,
who "have no doubts about why you/ put the
ring/on", are successful and admirable
because they have no worries. On the other hand, real life is precisely the life of a
"feller" who "tries/ to hold down the fifty bucks per/ job with one foot and rock a/cradle wit
the other", the life of women whose faces
"grow old and tired . . . and hands get
red washing things and dishes", the life in which they wonder
"about the smell of babies", and
where to take the money for the rent from. Seemingly, it is a poem about a man unhappy in
his marriage, who envies the "guys" and their
"slim hot queens". The hero of the poem has
a sense of having lost the momentum of life, which he cannot recapture. He is
frustrated and desperate. He yearns for a different, more fulfilling life. His dreams seem to
heighten his frustration, because he knows he cannot make them come true.
However, it is only when we find the deeper meaning hidden behind the irony that the true message of the poem comes into view. E. E. Cummings glorifies the trouble-free life of "guys" only on the surface. By contrasting it with the life of the speaker, he shows that although such a life is easier, in fact it is empty and worthless, for it lacks the spiritual dimension: it is no life at all. The people who " have no imagination" and "no doubts" live carefree lives but their lives are never full. "The guys" never see the hands of their wives getting "red washing things and dishes" because, unlike the hero, they do not stay with them long enough to see that. The fact that the hero's wife does all the housework is a sign of her daily care for her family. Similarly, the hero's concern about the rent and money is a proof of his devotion to his wife and children and testifies to his ability to love in general. He realises that the virtue of love as well as the value of life are revealed in the ability to love someone in both his or her beauty and ugliness, in both happy moments and the moments of grief. Similarly, the ironic words "it really must/ be Nice, never to/ wonder" imply that he is the one who wonders, which means that he is both a keen observer and a man who notices something more than the sheer reality around him. He is a man for whom marriage is more than just "putting the ring on". The doubts he has in fact only enrich his personality. Love, a theme reappearing in almost all of E. E. Cummings' poems, also here plays an important role. Although the word "love" is not used by the poet even once, we immediately sense that this is the determinant of the poem's hidden message.
The realism of this poem gives evidence to E. E. Cummings' conviction
that real life is never ideal. In a life lived fully romanticism merges with everyday life and one complements the other. The seemingly ideal life of
"guys" and the realistic life of the
hero are two sides of one coin. What looks like romantic love is contrasted with
difficult "daily" love. The former is never full, precisely because it lacks the authentic touch
of everyday reality. Consequently, it is falsified. The latter, on the other hand, would
be dominated by hopelessness and despair without the sense of responsibility for the
loved ones, which helps to cope with the tough moments of daily drudgery. One exists
by contrast with the other. True love accepts diverse aspects of life, including grief,
poverty and despondency. This is reflected in the form by the use of brackets which
separate interweaving parts of the poem, one represented by
"her" growing old and tired
stands for reality, while the other represented by
"slim hot queens" stands for the creation of
the hero's mind. All the capitalised words in the poem actually refer to one sentence: "it
Must be Nice never to ..." which is an idealistic presentation of love and life which
are nevertheless far from the reality. Therefore, the capital letters would signify
importance the hero gives to these concepts, false as they are.
The poem is relatively simple to understand and it is a good exemplification
of how realism is manifested in the poetry of E. E. Cummings. Typically of
traditional realistic pieces, the topic of the poem gives us a slice of everyday life. The figure of
an ordinary worker pondering on the sense of his married life is not far from the
experiences of everyday existence. The speaker in the poem is a simple man, a man like many
others. This is emphasised by the fact that he remains anonymous throughout the whole
poem: we never learn his name, age or occupation. Therefore, we may assume he is
a representative of majority of society. His worries are mundane, daily worries of a
husband and a father how to make ends meet, those of an average character. As in a realistic
piece of writing, we are presented with familiar, daily situations and activities, like rocking
a cradle, washing dishes, changing the baby and smoking cigarettes. E. E. Cummings
does not shrink away from unpleasant, realistic
details. Informal or colloquial vocabulary like guys, hot queens, feller, bucks, dam serves to enhance the realistic aspect of the poem, also in emphasising the hero's lack of sophistication.
In his realistic poems, E. E. Cummings very often resorts to using colloquialisms in his poems. The most illustrious, and at the same time, extreme examples, however, are the poems in which he simply transcribes slang. This is especially conspicuous in the following poem:
ygUDuh ydoan yunnuhstan ydoan o yunnuhstan dem yguduh ged yunnuhstan dem doidee yguduh ged riduh ydoan o nudn LISN bud LISN dem gud am lidl yelluh bas tuds weer goin
E. E. Cummings had no love for politicians, or the hypocrisy of
government rhetoric and politics. According to Kennedy in
Dreams in the Mirror9, Cummings
blamed the international policies of Roosevelt administration more than the Japanese for
the attack on Pearl Harbour. This poem, published in 1944, satirises the expression of
the bigotry towards the Japanese, which became part of American culture during that time.
8 For the sake of clarity, I also include an ordinary transcription.
9 Richard S. Kennedy, Dreams in the Mirror:
A biography of E. E. Cummings (Liveright, New York, 1980).
8 For the sake of clarity, I also include an ordinary transcription.
9 Richard S. Kennedy, Dreams in the Mirror: A biography of E. E. Cummings (Liveright, New York, 1980).
The poem tells a simple story, and yet carries a deeper meaning. It is a fragment of a telephone conversation, written phonetically in slang to a point of being nearly incomprehensible. As in a truly realistic piece of writing, the focus of the poem is on a seemingly insignificant episode instead of a momentous event. Actually, the major part of the conversation remains a mystery to us: we know neither its topic nor much about the speaker. But, paradoxically, it is precisely his lack of identity and individuality that characterises him as an average member of society. Nonetheless, the concluding lines: "lidl yelluh bas/ tuds weer goin/ duhSIVILEYEzum" reveal the real meaning behind the words' facade. Thus, we learn that the character is a racist and is talking about the Asiatic race. The contemptuous tone he assumes indicates that he considers himself superior.
It is predominantly the way in which E. E. Cummings chose to apply his language that portrays the hero's mentality. The slang he uses tells us he is poorly educated even primitive, ignorant and intolerant. Again, there is a contrast between the high opinion he holds of himself and his true mentality. This contrast is paralleled by another one - between the apparent insignificance of the casual slang words he uses and the deeper, psychological and social meaning they convey. The message of the poem is disguised in irony, one of the poet's favourite literary devices. In his speech, the hero reveals more about himself than he realises. Both these inconsistencies stress his narrow-mindedness, foolishness and spiritual emptiness. At the same time, this type of language together with the hero's anonymity, in terms of his national identity give the impression that the poet aimed at a broad generalisation or a general comment on social attitudes. It is this anonymity that holds the strongest implications for the readers, who are therefore challenged to consider their views upon society.
Another "realistic" device employed in the poem is not to include the other end
of the telephone conversation, for the simple reason that the two are never
heard simultaneously. This forces the readers to make it up. E. E.
Cummings suggests they are capable of doing so for themselves by resorting to their own experience of racial prejudice within their own society This is precisely how E. E. Cummings exposes and denounces the moral and intellectual values of a much larger community than might appear from the conversation at first sight.
Realism in this poem is thus visible not only in the use of colloquial language but also in the fact that the poet decided to raise a social issue. Although never engaged in politics directly, E. E. Cummings often commented on the social, cultural, sometimes political question in his poems10.
Such comments belong to another group of realistic poems, namely, his poems about war. As has already been mentioned, although E. E. Cummings did not take a direct part in the First World War but experienced, in a French prison, all the evil that it entailed. As a keen and sharp-witted observer, he created a series of ironic war pictures in which he approaches the topic from an anti-heroic viewpoint. He usually presents war from the position of an ordinary soldier and instead of praising heroic deeds, he exposes the reality of war with all its tragic consequences. The war in his poems is a mechanism that either corrupts people or, at best, reveals their spiritual meanness. Thus, it is neither idealised nor glorified.
In this context, an important poem to be mentioned is the poem number V from the second part of the volume is 5, beginning with the words look at this). In this poem, E. E. Cummings gives voice to his ardent pacifism.
look at this) a 75 done this nobody would have believed
10The short humorous distich about politicians, I quote below, is included in 1x1 (One Times One)
a politician is an arse upon
would they no kidding this was my particular pal funny aint it we was buddies i used to know him lift the poor cuss tenderly this side up handle with care fragile and send him home to his old mother in a new nice pine box (collect
As in the previous poem, the form is that of a conversation, yet we hear only
one part. The person speaking is a soldier who is preparing the coffin with the body of
his friend killed in action to be sent back home. The seriousness of the topic is
contrasted with the fact that the coffin with his dead companion is treated as a mere parcel
("handle/ with care/ fragile"). The poem is split into two parts, in the first one the soldier
constantly speaks about his late "particular
pal" as if the latter was his best friend
("we was buddies") and a close person. The other part consists of the last seven lines in which there is
a sudden shift
from the speaker's tenderness for his dead companion to indifference seen
in treating the corpse as a parcel. The compassion the soldier feels is a superficial
one, which indicates that either friendship has lost its meaning under the war conditions and a friend is simply someone you see or talk to from time to time, or the soldier does not
feel anything any more.
We should be aware, however, that the criticism is not aimed at the soldier but at war which causes confusion of values and feelings, and at those who are responsible for its outbreak. The bitter and ironic ending of the poem indicates that although the hero mourns his companion's death, he apparently does not understand what the war has done to his mentality. The poem suggests that army's unconcerned attitude about deaths is brought about by the war raging around and the omnipresence of death. The attitude of indifference seems to be the only way of enduring the horrors of war. According to E. E. Cummings, war deprives people of their feelings and destroys the system of moral values. It is desensitising and reduces people to nothing more than just machines. On a spiritual level war is a process of dehumanisation which destroys man's identity and his soul. It brings nothing but moral chaos and emptiness. Death becomes merely one of many instances treated serially. The heroism of war and its glory is reduced to a "new nice" coffin; mourning is to be replaced with "collecting". The "nice new" coffin hides human tragedy and the sordid aspect of war.
The meaning included of first line, separated from the rest of the poem by a parenthesis, may also be related to the whole message of the poem. E. E. Cummings seems to be saying: "look at this, look at what the war has done to the people". Similarly, the last line preceded by a parenthesis constitutes an ironic closure of the poem which summarises its message. We may view it also as a reminder that it is the society which finally bears the costs of the war. From this point of view, there are no winners or losers, because everyone loses something precious, be it life, a close person, or finally sensitivity to tragedies.
The hero is characterised as a simple unrefined person, by what he says
and how he speaks. His language is ungrammatical
("we was buddies") and simple. The words
he uses used are colloquial (no kidding, pal, aint,
cuss). The broken, unfinished and fractured lines of the poem serve to render the chaos of the war, or convey the image of a
human body fragmented by a bullet, to create the atmosphere of anxiety.
The fact that E. E. Cummings raises such topics as war runs against the superficial opinion that the reality of his poems is confined to the idealised world of romantic love. This poem is a proof that the poet holds a sober view of reality. The poem constitutes a protest against the reality which E. E. Cummings experienced as a soldier and a prisoner.
A similar attitude and a similar passion may be found in the poem "lis/ ten" also devoted to war and the reactions it triggers off in the society.
lis -ten you know what i mean when the first guy drops you know everybody feels sick or when they throw in a few gas and the oh baby shrapnel or my feet getting dim freezing or up to your you know what in water or with the bugs crawling right all up all everywhere over you all me everyone that's been there knows what i mean a god damned lot of people don't and never never will know,
they don't want to no
Analogously to the poem discussed above, it is a monologue. Throughout the poem we never hear the second party speaking or answering. According to Eve Triem: "In these lines ... Cummings conveys ... his deep-felt indignation against the senseless destruction of individuals. And the poet's skill transforms the ephemeral statistic of a newspaper battle account into transcendental man."11 It describes war as its average participant sees it. We know it is an experience of an ordinary soldier because, as in many poems, the hero remains anonymous, hence we may assume he is no exceptional figure. Both in this poem and the one discussed before the soldiers are presented as ordinary men rather than heroes. The character in the poem tells the reader about all the things that he hates war for. In the first place, he mentions the death of his companions. But it is not an indeterminate death, it is the first death witnessed in a battlefield, which immediately makes us think about the shock it must bring with itself as next the speaker mentions that "everybody feels sick". Consequently, we are made to realise that a war is not only a physical experience of a fight, but fundamentally, it is an inner experience of all the suffering and all the feelings that man usually would like to be spared. The hero mentions also physical discomfort: "feet getting dim freezing", "the bugs crawling right all up all everywhere over you". When he describes how they "throw in a few gas/ and the oh baby shrapnel", the reader is left to guess the message hidden behind these words, i. e. the experience of fear, as well as imminent and omnipresent death, the stress and the pressure of uncertainty whether one will survive or not. Both the war and its victims are debunked.
But, similarly as in The Enormous Room, the mere description (in this case, of
the war) is not the aim of the piece. It is only in the last line, that we
11 Triem, 180-181.
11 Triem, 180-181.
realise the poem is an attack on those who make decisions about wars and especially those who refuse to accept the truth about their cruelty and their dire consequences. The words
"a god damned lot of/ people don't and never/ never/ will know,/ they don't want/ to/ no" sound like an accusation. He accuses
"god damned lot of people" of conscious indifference and
avoiding this touchy topic for the sake of their own mental comfort. What the poet seems to
be suggesting is that the opportunistic part of the society owes their mental comfort to
the sacrifice of those who fought in the war. Their refusal is emphasised by the double
negation achieved by the use of the word "no" which is a homophone of the word "know".
The effect is that in the reader's mind the last line doubles and what we get is " no, they
don't want to know". The poem reflects the sense of injustice in those who are left alone
with their painful memories, their sense of isolation brought about by the divergent
attitudes towards war. War was a deeply traumatic experience for them but lack of concern of
the society seems to be even worse. It exposes the society's spiritual meanness and
desolation. As Brian Docherty observes: "cummings confronts his readers with the follies,
abuses and evils of the modern world, and most people's willingness to close their eyes,
turn their back, or cross the
street"12. It is these
"mostpeople" whom E. E. Cummings refers
to in his introduction to New Poems
13. In this poem, the poet appears as a moralist and
an idealist confronted with the world of absurdity and injustice.
12 Docherty, p. 122
13 "The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople - it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike ... You and I are human beings; most poeple are snobs ... you and I are not snobs ... We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery; the mystery of growing ... Life, for mostpeople, simply isn't ... What do mostpeople mean by "living"? They don't mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science, in its infinite but unbounded wisdom, has succeeded in selling their wives", (Poems 1924 - 1954, 331). As Alys Rho Jablon argues,
"The `you and i' versus `mostpeople' dichotomy in cummings is a source of major critical ambivalence: on the one hand it promotes elitism, on the other hand it suggests a broad acceptance of those people willing to imagine and feel ... Yet within this category of `you and i' exist women, lay people, even prostitutes and social castaways, and those included in his `elitist' society are people who live their lives grounded in emotion and perception more than in intellect ... For cummings, to know another person means to know oneself, for if one is to be included in the category of `you and i' and excluded from `mostpeople', one must have the fundamental qualities of a true creative soul akin to the artist".
Another group of E. E. Cummings' "realistic" poems are his portraits of prostitutes, in which the poet tries to understand rather than condemn them. These poems are full of sympathy for human suffering and constitute his voice against the objectification or categorisation. One of them which I would like to discuss begins with the words "raise the shade".
raise the shade will youse dearie? rain wouldn't that get yer goat but we don't care do we dearie we should worry about the rain huh dearie? yknow i'm sorry for awl the poor girs that gets up god knows when every day of their lives aint you, oo-oo. dearie
not so hard dear you're killing me
This poem gives us an image of a prostitute at work, talking to her client. She apparently wants him to think she enjoys the life she lives. Outwardly, she seems to be contented with her life. But the poet, like a "magic-maker"14 wants us to look again for hidden depths of his work. As Marks observes, the " portrait is a dramatic monologue. It might well be entitled, `Portrait of a Dead Whore', for the prostitute speaking to her client, apparently pleased with herself and her world, reveals more about the quality of her life than she realises"15.
But for her remark concerning the rain we could take her words at face value and believe that she is satisfied with her life. However, her reactions throughout the whole poem are mostly mechanically repeated words that carry no emotional depth or content. She merely tries to act like a professional and entertain her client by putting on an air of insouciance. The only moments her reactions indeed reflect her true feelings or thoughts, are when she is disappointed at the sight of the rain, and when she voices her ironic sympathy towards "awl the poor girls that gets up god knows when every day of their lives". Yet, these moments are very short and she immediately puts on the mask again. Her real self is revealed to the reader only when he realises that there is a dissonance between what she really feels, and what she demonstrates to the world. Marks' reading of the poem is very similar as he writes:
14 This is how Charles Norman entitled the biography of E. E. Cummings.
15 Marks, 78.
This contrast is made even more conspicuous by the continuous use of "dearie", by which the prostitute tries to pretend that there is an emotional bond, or even closeness between her and her client. Yet, she is obviously unaware of the fact that the effect gained is just the opposite, for her complete lack of involvement stands out. This interpretation is also recognised by Marks, who writes:
When she asks him all the questions, she does not get answers, but she
obviously does not expect to get them. Alys Rho Jablon points out that the prostitute talks not to
him but at him18. This gives an impression of the two being strangers who have nothing
in common, with her being totally ignored by the male. This is a meaningless meeting
of two people exchanging sex for money. The ironic closure of the poem,
"you're killing me" can be interpreted in several ways. In Marks' opinion: "Sociologically speaking,
the male in this poem may be killing his bedmate in the sense that his desire sustains
the business of prostitution"19. It may also refer to her spiritual barrenness. Marks
16 Ibid. , 79.
17 Ibid., 79.
18 Jablon, 25.
19 Marks, 79.
16 Ibid. , 79.
17 Ibid., 79.
18 Jablon, 25.
19 Marks, 79.
Yet, the fact that she consciously adopts the professional air contradicts such
reading of the poem. She is aware of her pretence and accepts it as a part of her
profession. Therefore, I see her depravity not in the fact that she is unaware of her chains (for
my interpretation would suggest that she is) but in the fact that in spite of her awareness,
she chooses the life of spiritual death for the sake of financial comfort. Marks also
argues that: "A symbolic reading of the poem would emphasise the whore's sense
of disappointment in the rain, a traditional symbol of death and
fertility.21" As I would agree with the critic's accentuation of the rain appearing in the poem as a symbol, I
would, however, argue against his interpretation of it. Wl/adysl/aw Kopalin'ski in his
Dictionary of Symbols gives the readers, among others, the following meanings of this symbol:
life, fertility, revival, catharsis and purgation, truth and disease. Never throughout the
whole entry does he mention rain as the symbol of death. If we adopt his version, the
prostitute's opening to the rain may symbolise her opening to her real situation and a chance of
her beginning a new life. On the other hand, her disappointment at the rain may indicate
her refusal to be purified and changed. However, the rain, together with the risen shade
may also symbolise a gradual process of her becoming aware that there is more to life
than what her profession offers. In this context, the referral to the
"poor girls" is ironic,
because in the light of the above interpretation she would be the one to be sorry for.
20 Ibid., 79-80.
21 Ibid., 79.
20 Ibid., 79-80.
21 Ibid., 79.
The realism of the poem consists in the poet taking up a topic of social importance, i. e. prostitution. Nevertheless, he does not judge or analyse the phenomenon of prostitution from the social point of view, but confines himself to sketching a portrait of a prostitute. The linguistic level reflects and, at the same time, harmonises with the topic of the poem. It is full of colloquialisms such as "dearie", "wouldn't that get yer goat", "aint you", "yknow". Both this, as well as the grammatical incorrectness ("girls that gets up") serve to highlight the fact that the heroine of the poem is a simple, unsophisticated person. The poet renders her lack of refinement by transcribing the words phonetically rather than orthographically: "yer", "awl", "yknow", "dearie".
This poem can also be viewed as the poet's protest against the objectification of a human being in general, as well as against society which, by ignoring prostitution, encourages it in fact. The client's lack of response to the prostitute can be seen as a manifestation of the society's indifference to the problem and the plight of prostitutes.
Some of the critics view E. E. Cummings as an "eternal child". They accuse him
of immaturity. According to Philip Horton and Sherry Mangan: "True enough, spring,
love and death are large and universal subjects; but to make them a complete universe
of discourse begins to suggest . . . a certain lack of sensibility, imagination and
courage."22 However, the poems discussed above defy such an opinion. They demonstrate that E.
E. Cummings' life, and consequently his poetry and choice of topics, do not revolve
solely around his own, individual, inner experience. His study of the society is based
on penetrating observation and supported by adequate knowledge. His poetry constitutes
a response to the multiplicity of phenomena he witnessed around. He was not as
withdrawn and isolated from everyday life as some critics would like to see him. Marks remarks
that: "Not only did Cummings aim to be more effectively realistic than earlier realists, not
only did he wish to be more faithful
22Philip Horton and Sherry Mangan, Two views of Cummings, 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. 87.
22Philip Horton and Sherry Mangan, Two views of Cummings, 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. 87.
to nature than earlier generations; he wanted also to
render a reality which had itself
changed"23. The speakers of his poems are usually
common people presented in the specific social contexts, while the topics are often provided
by casual daily episodes or dialogues taken from everyday life. Fragments of
common dialogues or scenes constitute the body of his poems. The language he employs
abounds in colloquialisms and it may sometimes be stylised on a non-literary statement. He
even resorts to vulgarisms if he considers their presence to be justified by the content
and context or the message of the poem. He does not shriek away from ugliness
and ordinariness, as a part of that reality; just the opposite, they play an important role in
his poetry, as they are reflections of a certain aspect of that reality. As such, they cannot
be disregarded and excluded, because the vision of the world stripped of them would not
be complete, hence it would lack authenticity. The same is true about social
phenomena, such as prostitution or racial prejudice, and other problems that find their place into
the works of E. E. Cummings. The poet does not hesitate to speak about thorny
matters openly and honestly; death, sex or social issues are frequent topics of his
poetry24. He voices a protest against the ethical, spiritual and political chaos of the surrounding world.
The artist believes that art should be a reflection of reality and therefore treats
this reality as an element of art. An artist becomes the one who fights falsity and artifice.
His is the attitude of a person who remains faithful to the truth about the contemporary
world, even, or maybe especially, when this means
23 Marks, p.101.
24One of his most controversial poems raises the question of anti-Semitism.
Generally, there are two ways of reading the poem. One group of the critics reads this poem as a confirmation of
the poet's anti-Semitic attitude. The other rejects its face value and, guided by the irony of the words, perceives it as
his strong protest against anti-Semitism. The characteristic of the meaning depends on the recognition of the satirical mode.
23 Marks, p.101.
24One of his most controversial poems raises the question of anti-Semitism.
Generally, there are two ways of reading the poem. One group of the critics reads this poem as a confirmation of the poet's anti-Semitic attitude. The other rejects its face value and, guided by the irony of the words, perceives it as his strong protest against anti-Semitism. The characteristic of the meaning depends on the recognition of the satirical mode.
uncovering the conventions and appearances which obliterate the truth. Eve Triem observes that:
This conviction is supported by Docherty who maintains:
Therefore, paradoxically, staying close to tangible and substantial reality means staying close to the spiritual actuality, since they are both counterparts that reflect each other. "Cummings strips the sheath from the ordinary, and the extraordinary is revealed."27 Maybe the deepest understanding and, at the same time, summary of E. E. Cummings' reality comes from Marks, who notes:
25 Triem, p. 170-171.
26 Docherty, 121.
28 Marks, 122.