Among my favorite poets, E. E. Cummings (or e. e. cummings, or e e cummings – depending on his mood, or his editors) ranks in the top five. He is, however, one of those artists whose poetry is for the most part either loved or hated. The number of people who can “take him or leave him” is small in comparison. I base that statement upon my own informal research over the years. I am not sharing that statement as fact, but I will share with you a few of the interesting facts about this very – whether you like his poetry or not – interesting American poet.
The following facts were gleaned and condensed from Wikipedia. The entire article can be found here.
E. E. Cummings was born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and died of a stroke at the age of 67 on September 3, 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire.
His first collection of poetry, “Tulips and Chimneys,” was published in 1923, following his service as an ambulance driver in World War I and subsequent military service. Many of the poems reflected his experiences during the war (part of which was spent incarcerated by the French, being suspected of espionage). Among Cummings’ first published works was a novel entitled “The Enormous Room,” in 1922. The novel was very well received by some critics, and was highly praised by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In addition to being a poet, author and playwright (he wrote three plays and one ballet), he was a visual artist as well, and was employed by Vanity Fair as an essayist and portrait artist for three years in the 1920’s. This is a self-portrait sketch done in 1920:
Cummings was the son of a prominent Unitarian Minister. His upbringing deeply affected his work, and many of his poems are reflective of his own deep faith.
Cummings was married twice – neither union lasted more a few months. His third relationship, with model and photographer Marion Morehouse, continued from their meeting in 1932 until his death in 1962. The union was likely a common-law marriage; whether they ever officially married is not known.
Some of his poetry was considered very offensive, because of derogatory language, by different ethnic and racial groups. His was mystified by the controversy because he told his detractors he had written about prejudice to shed light on its ugliness, not to promote it. Some accepted the explanation (among them William Carlos Williams), and others did not.
His political views varied widely – from far-left radicalism, all the way to being a supporter of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, having been disillusioned by Soviet Communism after a visit to Moscow after World War II.
Edward Estlin Cummings was a complex man and a unique poet. His work was considered avant garde, yet much of it fit within the boundaries of traditional forms and styles. He was not generally popular for the larger part of his career, but came to be held in high esteem in many quarters, including his alma mater, Harvard University, where he served as a guest lecturer in the last decade of his life.
Most readers recognize a poem by Cummings through his punctuation and unusual syntax, purposely misspelled words, and creatively combined words. He is known primarily for his creative orthography. Some believe that his occasional use of all lower case letters, most particularly in his name, was intended as an act of humility, and not because it was his preferred orthography.
E. E. Cummings had one child, a daughter, Nancy, by his first wife. Shortly after the end of their marriage, his ex-wife fled to Europe, where she lived the rest of her life. Despite custody orders that gave Cummings custody for three months of each year, she failed to comply. Consequently, Cummings had no contact with his daughter until she became an adult.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about one of the United States’ unique poets of the 20th century. He was a fascinating man, and wrote many poems that are high on my list of read-aloud pleasures. I will close this post by presenting one of my very favorites. I would love to know what you think about this poem, or about any of his work. Are you a fan or not?
anyone lived in a pretty how town
© E. E. Cummings – 1940
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many balls 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
wish by spirit and if by yes
Women and men(both dong and ding)
autumn summer winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
I wish you all the abundance of enough. . .