e.e. cummings Edward Estlin Cummings 1894-1962 “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting. “ Source: http://www.nascitur.com/cummings/cummings.html
Cummings Biography • “In 1917, after working briefly for a mail-order publishing company, the only regular employment in his career, Cummings volunteered to serve in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance group in France. Here he and a friend were imprisoned (on false grounds) for three months in a French detention camp. The Enormous Room (1922), his witty and absorbing account of the experience, was also the first of his literary attacks on authoritarianism. Eimi (1933), a later travel journal, focused with much less successful results on the collectivized Soviet Union.” • “At the end of the First World War Cummings went to Paris to study art. On his return to New York in 1924 he found himself a celebrity, both for The Enormous Room and for Tulips and Chimneys (1923), his first collection of poetry (for which his old classmate John Dos Passos had finally found a publisher). Clearly influenced by Gertrude Stein's syntactical and Amy Lowell's imagistic experiments, Cummings's early poems had nevertheless discovered an original way of describing the chaotic immediacy of sensuous experience. The games they play with language (adverbs functioning as nouns, for instance) and lyric form combine with their deliberately simplistic view of the world (the individual and spontaneity versus collectivism and rational thought) to give them the gleeful and precocious tone which became, a hallmark of his work. Love poems, satirical squibs, and descriptive nature poems would always be his favoured forms.” Source: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/cummings_life.htm
Critical Analysis of “next to of course god america i” Sources: http://www.foothilltech.org/rgeib/amex/wwi/ http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/nexttoofcourse.htm
THE WAR TO END ALL WARS"The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them."Woodrow Wilson's War MessageApril 2, 1917
Richard S. Kennedy (1994) [The poem contains] a new satirical device...namely the use of allusive quotations or fragments of quotations, a technique that he learned from T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But unlike Eliot or Pound he does not employ this technique for general cultural criticism, rather, he aims to produce real laughter by ridiculing his subjects. In [this poem], carefully worked out in sonnet form, he pillories a Fourth-of-July speechmaker by choosing patriotic and religious cliches common to platform oratory and compressing fragments of them together in order to demonstrate by this jumble the meaningless emptiness that these appeals have.... from Richard S. Kennedy, E. E. Cummings Revisited (New York: Twayne, 1994): 71. William V. Davis (1970) [Davis comments on the inverted syntax of the final line] ...Here the adverb "rapidly" occurs in a most unlikely position in this sentence (which is a sentence even though the end punctuation is lacking)....Why...would cummings have inverted the syntax...? If we eliminate the necessity for rhyming the final word of the poem with the final word of line eleven ("slaughter"), since clearly the necessary rhyme could have been achieved without inverting the syntax ("And rapidly drank a glass of water"), then cummings must have had some other reason for the inverted syntax. And what better reason than that in a sonnet in which he has combined two forms [the Italian and English], and in a poem which expresses a theme of "inverted" or confused philosophy, cummings, as persona, inverts his apparently objective commentary on the situation and the words in which he reports his commentary? In short then, this syntactical inversion here at the end of the poem serves to indicate the similar tranformation [sic] of the sonnet form which cummings has effected in terms of form and further serves to point to the "inverted" philosophy of the speaker of lines one through thirteen. from William V. Davis, "Cummings' 'next to of course god america i.'" ConcerningPoetry 3 (1970): 15.
“next to of course god america i”Continued… Brian Docherty ‘next to of course god america i’is a satire on both the cliché-spouting patriot and the gullibility of his audience. cummings includes most of the clichés politicians mouth at election time, and his point is that while anyone who dared to criticise any of these concepts would be labelled un-American and a commie subversive, itis politicians like this who have muted the voice of liberty. His general attitude to politicians is expressed succinctly in ‘a politician is an arse upon’, a two-line epigram m the best classical tradition. From Docherty, Brian, "e.e. cummings." In American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal. Ed. Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Ó 1995 The Editorial Board Lumiere (Cooperative Press) Ltd.
Critical Analysis of “my sweet old etcetera” Source: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/etcetera.htm
Rushworth M. Kidder (1979) ...it contrasts the reality of a soldier's life on the front with the fictions entertained by his family at home. His "aunt lucy" is the newsmonger; his sister knits socks, shirts, and "fleaproof earwarmers"; his parents tout such abstractions as courage and loyalty; and all the while the soldier himself lies "in the deep mud" dreaming of "Your smile / eyes knees and of your Etcetera." The repeated "etcetera" changes its grammatical role significantly as the poem progresses. First used to amplify adjectives ("sweet old"), it next amplifies the nouns in the list of things his sister knits. It then modifies a verb ("my / mother hoped that / I would die etcetera / bravely"). This gradual shift stresses its use in the last line as a noun in its own right, where "your Etcetera" stands for some noun or nouns which, if printed, would call down the wrath of Sumner [secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice] and his Vice Society.... from Rushworth M Kidder, E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry (New York: Columbia UP, 1979): 72 and 73.
Critical Analysis of “i sing of olaf glad and big” Source: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/olaf.htm
Gary Lane (1976) "Arma virumque" sang Vergil, beginning an epic distinguished for its civility; Cummings, adopting and adapting that classical form, sings the man alone. The difference is implicative of both the spirit and the art of Cummings' poem. Olaf embraces an integrity of private rather than public convictions; acknowledging only his personal sense of truth rather than merging his will with the gods', he is a veritable anti-Aeneas, a new kind of hero. His poem...neatly reverses classical expectation by a series of ironic twists. It is a small new epic.... From the outset, the poem's force resides primarily in its play upon heroic tradition. We learn not "the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus/ and its destruction" ...but the gentleness of Olaf, "whose warmest heart recoiled at war"; big and blond, our hero may be the physical image of the Germanic warrior, but his temperament is otherwise. The form does not undercut heroism--we do not deal here with mock epic--it instead offers alternative heroic values. In the Iliad, Achilles is a hero of physical strength, sulking like a child when Briseis is taken from him, but at last achieving immortality by slaughtering Trojans. Olaf's strength is moral. Scarcely annoyed as his self-righteous and sadistic torturers attempt to strip him of human dignity, he achieves epic stature by refusing to kill. The shift has important implications. Heroic epic... is based on communal values; a hero's greatness is a measure of the degree to which he exemplifies the qualities his society most prizes. With Olaf it is different. He must give up not merely his life but also the good name that valiance customarily wins, the hero's renown and reputation.... He can do so lightly, however, defying both the military force of his nation and its massively conformed opinions, because he answers to an individual rather than a collective truth, to personal vision rather than social regard. Cummings' instrument of truth here is irony.... As the irony gathers, Cummings unmasks the modern bankruptcy of collective values. In a society so perverted that torture has become socially correct--it is administered by the "wellbeloved colonel(trig/ westpointer most succinctly bred) "--sometimes only profanity can express the sacred heart. Refusing to "kiss your fucking flag,"' Olaf avoids the polite Latin that in our century has time and again been used to justify atrocity. His taut Anglo-Saxon, direct as his behavior, is comment enough on his suave persecutors. from Gary Lane I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings' Poems (Lawrence, Kansas: UP of Kansas, 1976): 39, 40 and 41.
Brian Docherty Another poem which contrasts institutional thinking with the plight of the individual is ‘i sing of Olaf glad and big’. Again there is a strong rhythm and deftly placed rhyme, employed to make the message clear. Olaf is a principled individual, probably a second-generation Swedish American from the Mid-West farm belt, brought up in the Lutheran church. He is a heroic figure who dies for his beliefs after enduring barbaric treatment, including the ultimate obscenity with red-hot bayonets. American democracy and freedom suffer grievously at the hand of their supposed defendants, ironically described as ‘(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)’, while the pacifist traitor is lauded as ‘more brave than me: more blond than you’. cummings is impartial in his attitude to regimes where correct attitudes are instilled and maintained by force. America and Russia are two faces of the same coin as far as he is concerned. From Docherty, Brian, "e.e. cummings." In American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal. Ed. Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Ó 1995 The Editorial Board Lumiere (Cooperative Press) Ltd.
Hints for Reading Cummings • Read the poem (at least initially) at its natural pace: let your eyes follow along the words wherever they lie. Do not stop and analyze or try to figure out what things mean or why words are misspelled/broken. • Pay special attention as you read to how YOU feel. When a word is broken do you slow down? Speed up? Get confused? Surprised? Cummings is creating these emotions in you simply by organization and word choice...they are intentional. • When you finish any poem the first time through, you may not understand it, but you are often left with a general feeling of what it was about. Think about that at the end of the Cummings poem: it is often the main point. Keep that fact in mind as you read back through it. • As you mull back through the poem trying to understand each part, be sure to read as you read the first time: at the poem's pace. Each phrase may not make sense, but does it create an emotion in you? Does the phrase give you some unquantifiable impression of what its talking about? Do not be afraid to accept that impression as correct. • Often words are broken up over long parts of the poem, perhaps with an entire phrase or even verse in the middle of the word. Figure out what the words are, then read again knowing what word is being interrupted or reorganized. • If you still don't understand anything about the poem, pick up a few other Cummings poems and read them to get a feel for what he does, then come back. • Of course, the other basic ways to read poetry also apply. Just remember that often Cummings poems are expressing a single emotion. If you are trying to analyze such a poem, it is probably most interesting to focus on how he goes about extracting this feeling from you with only ink and paper. Source: http://www.nascitur.com/cummings/hints.html
4 Poems read aloud by Cummings • “a man who had fallen among thieves” • “next to of course god america i” • “my sweet old etcetera” • “since feeling is first” <click in icon below to listen, if problem exists, right click on hyperlink listed below and select open hyperlink> Source: http://media.salon.com/mp3s/cummings011402.mp3