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The poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) PowerPoint Presentation
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The poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

The poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

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The poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

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  1. The poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) • "Among the most innovative of twentieth-century poets," Jenny Penberthy in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. • "No one else, has ever made avant-garde, experimental poems so attractive to the general and the special reader."Randall Jarrell, The Third Book of Criticism, • “One of the greatest lyric poets in our language.” John Logan in Modern American Poetry: Essays in Criticism

  2. Biographical Details (1894-1962) • E(dward) E(stlin) Cummings decided to become a poet when he was still a child. Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, he wrote a poem a day. • By the time he was in Harvard in 1916, modern poetry had caught his interest. He began to write avant-garde poems in which conventional punctuation and syntax were ignored in favour of a dynamic use of language. (Founded the Harvard Poets Society) • After Harvard, Cummings went to New York. In this city he held his first and only job, three months with P. F. Collier Son, Inc., mail-order booksellers • In April of 1917 volunteered for Ambulance Service in France, a popular choice of work for pacifists. • September of 1917 held on suspicion of treason and sent to an internment camp in Normandy for questioning after inserting provocative comments in letters he was censoring. • Cummings' first collection of poems, Tulips and Chimneys, appeared in 1923. "The chief effect of Cummings' jugglery with syntax, grammar, and diction was to blow open otherwise trite and bathetic motifs through a dynamic rediscovery of the energies sealed up in conventional usage.... He succeeded masterfully in splitting the atom of the cute commonplace." M. L. Rosenthal

  3. Cumming’s concerns • Cummings' work drew both praise and criticism. His attacks on the mass mind, conventional patterns of thought, and society's restrictions on free expression, were born of his strong commitment to the individual. • In the "nonlectures" he delivered at Harvard University Cummings explained his position: "So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality." • As Penberthy noted, Cummings' consistent attitude in all of his work was "condemning mankind while idealizing the individual." "Cummings' lifelong belief," Bernard Dekle stated in Profiles of Modern American Authors, "was a simple faith in the miracle of man's individuality. • Much of his writing was directed against what he considered the principal enemies of this individuality--mass thought, group conformity, and commercialism." For this reason, Cummings satirized what he called "mostpeople," that is, the herd mentality found in modern society. • Cummings had a strong belief in individuality, “his poems are constantly exhorting us [the reader] to be original, independent, self-reliant. And he is scornful of everyone who takes refuge in received ideas and conventional standards” (Kirsch, Adam).

  4. Modernism • Modernism as a literary movement is seen, in large part, as a reaction to the emergence of city life as a central force in society and its accompanying commercialism, consumerism and rejection of the individual. • Breakdown of social norms and despair of individuals amongst an uncertain and unmanageable future • Sense of spiritual loneliness, alienation, frustration and disillusionment • Cummings had a strong belief in individuality, “his poems are constantly exhorting us [the reader] to be original, independent, self-reliant. And he is scornful of everyone who takes refuge in received ideas and conventional standards” (Kirsch, Adam). • This is a shift from an epistemological way of exploring the world to an ontological approach or, in simpler terms, a shift from a knowledge-based exploration to being-based. • For those freaking out (always a concern when adults try to act all “I’m hip and cool with the kids”) by verbosity, the meaning of Cummings' poems is generally the same as the meaning of sunsets and rainbows. They don't mean, they just are! • Hamsun, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mansfield, Woolf, Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hemingway • “A poem should not mean / But be." Archibald MacLeish

  5. In his own words… • “My theory of technique, if I have one, is very far from original; nor is it complicated. I can express it in fifteen words, by quoting The Eternal Question And Immortal Answer of burlesk, viz. "Would you hit a woman with a child?-- No, I'd hit her with a brick." Like the burlesk comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement. (1933) • Viz – “that is to say”

  6. l(a • “The most delicately beautiful literary construct that Cummings ever created” (Kennedy, Dreams 463) • Opening poem in 95 Poems (1958) appeared alongside blank page. • 2 phrases, 2 images, 4 words, 22 characters (including the title) and multiple possibilities! • 1. Think of all the ways that Cummings makes the image of the leaf falling look like, well - a leaf falling. (consider: - the pace you are forced to read, - arrangement of vowels and consonants, - arrangement of numbers (i = 1 in Cummings’ poetry) and letters, - word play - parentheses, - blank space) • 2. Falling is a concrete act, loneliness is an abstract act, what relationship, if any, can you suggest between the two? • 3. Obviously the whole point of modernism is that the image simply is rather than representing something else, but can you think of any possible symbolic or metaphorical meanings?

  7. l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness • 13ead’s response • seems to be an exploration of human feeling using both natural and abstract image • 1-3-1-3-1 – emphasises stanza with one line emphasises the ‘oneness’ and accompanying ideas of loneliness and vulnerability • Emphasises of oneness as loneliness and emphasis of an individual’s experience within that loneliness • Connection with loneliness and the image of falling • Gentle way of sinking into one’s self, loneliness not portrayed as despair, in fact it seems gentle, calm and peaceful • Pattern of words shows the pattern of the leaf falling: staggering of words – leaf caught on the wind is a a calm within a fall • Alternating of consonants and vowels in stanza 2 is like a leaf flipping as it falls • Loneliness seems outside the leaf • Uncertainty between the number and letter l – imperfect descent of the leaf • Blank page – loneliness and isolation – negative space overwhelmes the text – insignificance • Pace of the poem determined by broken words • Magnitude of the fall suggested by space it takes for “falls” to be written

  8. l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness

  9. Metaphoric meanings? • Falling as a human experience possibly error • Hence perhaps the fall itself is natural, likening the fall of a leaf to the fall of psychological experience • Falling into isolation. • The fall = religious connotation • Fall – autumn • Elderly life

  10. Some possibilities • The single leaf falling is a metaphor for both physical and spiritual isolation ~ Rushworth Kidder • Reader’s progress is slowed down by the shattered syntax forcing reader’s eye in a similar movement as when watching a descending leaf • Alternating vowels and consonants – twisting of leaf? • Metaphorically – vastness of space, smallness of human endeavour amongst that space, isolation, loneliness, • One and lonely

  11. Since feeling is first • Explain what Cummings’ love poem has to say about the relationship between thought and feeling? • What do the symbols of flowers, Spring and blood contribute? • b. syntax, paragraph and parenthesis? • What is added to the meaning of the poem by considering the capitalisation, space, dash and joining of words? • I know it just is and that you’re not supposed to be searching for D&Ms but suggest what might be added to the poem by the final line since feeling is firstwho pays any attentionto the syntax of thingswill never wholly kiss you;wholly to be a foolwhile Spring is in the worldmy blood approves,and kisses are a better fatethan wisdomlady i swear by all flowers.  Don't cry—the best gesture of my brain is less thanyour eyelids' flutter which sayswe are for each other:thenlaugh,leaning back in my armsfor life's not a paragraphAnd death i think is no parenthesis

  12. In Just- • List the ways that a sense of the wonder and delight of childhood is captured by Cummings • What do you notice about his capitalisation, spacings and layout in this poem? • Does the inclusion of goat-footed and balloonman becoming balloonMan change your reading? • Are you satisfied with the end? • How might the contents of this poem be linked to some of the larger concerns of modernism?

  13. “next to of course god america i • The word ‘pastiche’ refers to the piecing together of fragments to form a text or picture. What different styles of language have been pieced together to form this poem? • Can you identify any allusions in this poem. What is being alluded to? Why? • Can you suggest a reason for the lack of punctuation in the first 13 lines of this poem? • Why do you think the first 13 lines are in speech marks? • Would you call this a patriotic poem? Give reasons • Put forward an argument for one or more of the following as being satirical targets for this poem” ~ war ~ impressionable young men ~ patriotic jingoism ~ the sonnet form itself