Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday Poet: e. e. cummings

i like my body when it is with your

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric furr, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh....And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

anyone lived in a pretty how town

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
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 their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with 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 stars rain

now does our world descend

now does our world descend
the path to nothingness
(cruel now cancels kind;
friends turn to enemies)
therefore lament,my dream
and don a doer's doom

create is now contrive;
imagined,merely know
(freedom:what makes a slave)
therefore,my life,lie down
and more by most endure
all that you never were

hide,poor dishonoured mind
who thought yourself so wise;
and much could understand
concerning no and yes:
if they've become the same
it's time you unbecame

where climbing was and bright
is darkness and to fall
(now wrong's the only right
since brave are cowards all)
therefore despair,my heart
and die into the dirt

but from this endless end
of briefer each our bliss--
where seeing eyes go blind
(where lips forget to kiss)
where everything's nothing
--arise,my soul;and sing

The first three poets I ever studied in-depth were Robinson Jeffers (in a class), William Carlos Williams, and e. e. cummings, the later two on my own. In fact, I read Cummings' Collected Poems and Williams' Selected Poems at the same time. They shaped (warped?) my sense of how poems can operate in serious ways.

One of the mistakes many people make with Cummings is assuming that he was totally innovating new forms. On the contrary, cummings wrote a good percentage of poems using traditional metrical forms and rhyme. His innovation was in changing how the words appear on the page. The result, for the reader, is the absence of expectations. If we do not see quatrains neatly laid out on the page with end rhymes, we do not expect a traditional form, such as a sonnet, a form he used quite often.

Cummings greatest innovation, however, was his ability to play with syntax and typography. This very well-known poem is a good example:




Such a simple poem, but the beauty of hiding its truth reflects the meaning in some very interesting ways. We all try to hide our loneliness, and Cummings hides it in the poem, while at the same time accentuating certain elements of feeling lonely (one, the lone "l" looking isolated like a lonely I, and the simple image of a falling leaf).

Some Biography:

E. E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Edward and Rebecca Haswell Clarke Cummings. Cummings' father was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University and later a Unitarian minister. Raised in a liberal family, Cummings was writing poetry as early as 1904 (age 10). His only sibling, a sister, Elizabeth, was born six years after he was.

In his youth Cummings attended Cambridge Latin High School. Early stories and poems were published in the Cambridge Review, the school newspaper.

In 1926, Cummings' father, whom he was close to, and who was one of Cummings' most ardent supporters, was killed suddenly and tragically in a car accident. Though
severely injured, Cummings' mother survived, and lived for more than twenty years until her death in 1947. Cummings detailed the accident in the following quote, from Richard S. Kennedy's biography of Cummings, Dreams in the Mirror:

"... a locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing – dazed but erect – beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head. One of her hands
(the younger added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to discover why it was wet. These men took my sixty-six year old mother by the arms and tried to lead her toward a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father's body, and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then) she let them lead her away."
His father's death had a profound impact on Cummings, who entered a new period in his artistic life. Cummings began to focus on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He began this new period by paying homage to his father's memory in the poem "my father moved through dooms of love."

Cummings died in 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire, after having a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 69. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.
So here is one more poem, in honor of Mother's Day:

if there are any heavens my mother... (XLIII)

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)
Cummings on the web:
Modern American Poetry: Criticism, poems, essays.
Poem Hunter: Lots of poems under e.e. cummings.
Poem Hunter: Many of the same poems under ee cummings.
Academy of American Poets: Good stuff here, too.

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