Home - Friends
Themis Music

ee cummings

American poet and painter who first attracted attention for his eccentric punctuation, but the commonly held belief that Cummings had his name legally changed to lowercase letters is erroneous. Despite typographical eccentricity and devotion to the avant-garde, Cummings's themes are in many respect quite traditional. He often dealt with the antagonism between an individual and masses, butThe Rose his style brought into his poems lightness and satirical tones. As an artist Cummings painted still-life pictures and landscapes to a professional level.

Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink.

(from 'Humanity i love you', 1925)

Edward E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a Harvard teacher and later a Unitarian minister. Cummings was educated at Cambridge High and Latin School, and from 1911 to 1916 he attended Harvard, where he met John Dos Passos. Cummings became an aesthete, he began to dress unconventionally, and dedicated himself to painting and literature. He graduated in 1915 with a major in classics.

With Dos Passos and others he published in 1917 Eight Harvard Poets. During the last years of World War I, he drove an ambulance in France. Indiscreet comments in the letters of a friend led to Cummings's arrest and incarceration in a French concentration camp at La FertÚ-MacÚ. Later, he found out he had been accused of treason, but the charges were never proved. This experience gave basis for Cummings's only novel, The Enormous Room (1922), in which he drew acidly funny sketches of the jailers and sympathetic portraits of prisoners. It was followed by collections of verse, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), which contrasted the evils of war to the 'sweet spontaneous earth' and XLI Poems (1925). In the 1920s and1930s Cummings divided his time between Paris, where he studied art, and New York, where he had a child with a friend's wife.

In Paris Cummings met the poets Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, and Archibald MacLeish. His friends also included the philosopher A.J. Ayer, who had a short affair with his wife, Marion Morehouse. She was twelve years Cummings's junior, a former Ziegfield showgirl and one of the leading models of the age. Cummings's friendship with Ayer lasted over twenty-five years. Once Cummings took Ayer to see the legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. "You walk on tightropes as if they lay on the ground," Cummings wrote in a birthday poem to Ayer, "and always, bird eyed, notice more than we notice you notice".

Cummings supported himself by painting portraits and writing for Vanity Fair. Throughout the 1920s, he contributed to The Dial, perhaps America's greatest literary journal. & (1925) and is 5 (1925), inspired by Apollinaire, were written in the poet's new style. The books presented his radical experiments with punctuation and typography, and he used lower letter cases in his own name. Grammatical anarchism, a modern extension of romanticism, was a both result of the poet's hostility to mass society and his attempt to find a new way to write on old subjects: "Since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you". (from 'since feling is first', 1926) In the line "mOOn Over tOwns mOOn" (1935), which showed the movement of the full moon, the letters became pictorial signs.

Cummings believed that modern mass society was a threat to individuals. "Progress is a comfortable disease," Cummings once wrote. He was interersted in cubism, and jazz, which had not became mass entertainment, and contemporary slang, an unorthodox form of language. In his poems Cummings often expressed his rebellious attitude towards religion, politics, and conformity. "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls / are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds / (also,with the church's protestant blessings / daughters,unscented shapeless spirited) they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead". (from 'the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls', 1923) But Cummings also celebrated the joy of life and the beauty of natural world, of which people have unluckily estranged themselves. "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." (from 'anyone lived in a pretty how town', 1940)

In 1927 his play him was produced by the Provincetown Players in New York City. During these years he exhibited his paintings and drawings, but they failed to attract as much critical interest as his writings. In 1931 Cummings travelled in the Soviet Union and recorded later his impressions in Eimi (1933), a version of Dante's descent into Hell, in which he saw the Russians as "undead." However, on leaving Russia he also translated Louis Aragon's Le Front Rouge, a poem influenced by Mayakovsky.

When Cummings did not find a publisher for No Thanks, a collection of poetry, he published it himself. From 1952 to 1953 Cummings was a professor at Harvard. His series of lectures were appeared under the title i: six nonlectures. In 1957 he received a special citation from the National Book Award Committee for Poems, 1923-1954, and in 1957 he won the Bollinger Prize. Cummings was married three times. He died on September 3, 1962, in North Conway.

For further reading: The Magic-Maker by Charles Norman (1958); E.E. Cummings, the Art of His Poetry by N. Friedman (1960); E.E. Cummings and the Growth of a Writer by N. Friedman (1964); E.E. Cummings by B.A. Marks (1965); E.E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by N. Friedman (1972); E.E. Cummings, a Remembrance of Miracles by B.K. Dumas (1974); Dreams in a Mirror by Richard S. Kennedy (1979); Critical Essays on E.E. Cummings, ed. by G.H. Rotella (1984)

Selected works:


i have found what you are like
        i have found what you are like
        the rain,

                (Who feathers frightened fields
        with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields

        easily the pale club of the wind
        and swirled justly souls of flower strike

        the air in utterable coolness

        deeds of green thrilling light
                                      with thinned

        newfragile yellows

                          lurch and.press

        -in the woods
                     which
                          stutter
                                 and

                                    sing

        And the coolness of your smile is
        stirringofbirds between my arms;but
        i should rather than anything
        have(almost when hugeness will shut
        quietly)almost,
                       your kiss

i like my body when it is with your
   i like my body when it is with your
   body. It is so quite a new 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 fur, and what-is-it comes
   over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big Love-crumbs,

   and possibly i like the thrill

   of under me you quite so new

if i love You
if i love You
(thickness means
worlds inhabited by roamingly
stern bright faeries

if you love
me) distance is mind carefully
luminous with innumerable gnomes
Of complete dream

if we love each (shyly)
other, what clouds do or Silently
Flowers resembles beauty
less than our breathing

it is at moments after i have dreamed
        it is at moments after i have dreamed
        of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
        when (being fool to fancy) i have deemed

        with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
        at moments when the glassy darkness holds

        the genuine apparition of your smile
        (it was through tears always)and silence moulds
        such strangeness as was mine a little while;

        moments when my once more illustrious arms
        are filled with fascination, when my breast
        wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:

        one pierced moment whiter than the rest

        -turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
        i watch the roses of the day grow deep.

i love you much(most beautiful darling)
i love you much(most beautiful darling)

more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky

-sunlight and singing welcome your coming

although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
noone can quite begin to guess

(except my life)the true time of year-

and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing(or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each

nearness)everyone certainly would(my
most beautiful darling)believe in nothing but love

may i feel said he
   may i feel said he
   (i'll squeal said she
   just once said he)
   it's fun said she


   (may i touch said he
   how much said she
   a lot said he)
   why not said she


   (let's go said he
   not too far said she
   what's too far said he
   where you are said she)


   may i stay said he
   (which way said she
   like this said he
   if you kiss said she


   may i move said he
   is it love said she)
   if you're willing said he
   (but you're killing said she


   but it's life said he
   but your wife said she
   now said he)
   ow said she


   (tiptop said he
   don't stop said she
   oh no said he)
   go slow said she


   (cccome?said he
   ummm said she)
   you're divine!said he
   (you are Mine said she)

since feeling is first
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

you said Is
you said Is
there anything which
is dead or alive more beautiful
than my body,to have in your fingers
(trembling ever so little)?
                           Looking into
your eyes Nothing,i said,except the
air of spring smelling of never and forever.

....and through the lattice which moved as
if a hand is touched by a
hand(which
moved as though
fingers touch a girl's
breast,
lightly)
        Do you believe in always,the wind
said to the rain
I am too busy with
my flowers to believe,the rain answered

you shall above all things be glad and young
   you shall above all things be glad and young
   For if you're young,whatever life you wear


   it will become you;and if you are glad
   whatever's living will yourself become.
   Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
   i can entirely her only love


   whose any mystery makes every man's
   flesh put space on;and his mind take off time


   that you should ever think,may god forbid
   and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
   for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
   called progress,and negation's dead undoom.


   I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
   than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

if strangers meet
if strangers meet
life begins-
not poor not rich
(only aware)
kind neither
nor cruel
(only complete)
i not not you
not possible;
only truthful
-truthfully,once
if strangers(who
deep our most are
selves)touch:
forever

(and so to dark)

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                    i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

she being Brand
she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg.  ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

                  (it

was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on

the
internalexpanding
&
externalcontracting
brakes Bothatonce and

brought allofher tremB
-ling
to a:dead.

stand-
;Still)

the boys i mean are not refined
   the boys i mean are not refined
   they go with girls who buck and bite
   they do not give a fuck for luck
   they hump them thirteen times a night

   one hangs a hat upon her tit
   one carves a cross on her behind
   they do not give a shit for wit
   the boys i mean are not refined

   they come with girls who bite and buck
   who cannot read and cannot write
   who laugh like they would fall apart
   and masturbate with dynamite

   the boys i mean are not refined
   they cannot chat of that and this
   they do not give a fart for art
   they kill like you would take a piss

   they speak whatever's on their mind
   they do whatever's in their pants
   the boys i mean are not refined
   they shake the mountains when they dance

it may not always be so; and i say
it may not always be so;and i say
that if your lips,which i have loved,should touch
another's,and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart,as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know,or such
great writhing words as,uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
   
if this should be,i say if this should be-
you of my heart,send me a little word;
that i may go unto him,and take his hands,
saying,Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.
[somewhere i have never travelled]

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain, has such small hands