e.e. cummings

e.e. cummings.

In his poetry, Cummings stressed the theme of individuality over modern conformist living. He innovated and experimented boldly in style, form, and even punctuation and grammar, signing his work “e.e. cummings."*

Cummings is best known for his peculiar approach to both capitalization and punctuation, which are seemingly placed at random, slicing up individual words as well as sentences. Many of his poems are better understood when taken as a whole on the written page.

His poetry, idiosyncratic as it might first appear, grapples with something his father said in a sermon — echoing the insights of Emerson, Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson — “The Kingdom of Heaven is no spiritual roofgarden: It’s inside you."

Cummings` poetry is influenced by his Transcendentalist leanings, focusing on love and love of nature, as well as satire, and how the individual copes with the masses and the world around him.

The early years

Cummings was born Edward Estlin Cummings in October 1894, just outside of Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a Unitarian minister and one-time Harvard professor whose support of his son (and daughter) was assiduous. Greek and Latin came to Cummings as naturally as English, and they are given their due in some of his works: Xaipe: (“Rejoice!") Seventy-one Poems, in Greek; Anthropos ("Mankind"), a play in Greek; and Puella Mea ("My Girl"), in Latin).

Cummings graduated from Harvard with a BA in 1915 and an MA in 1916, after being published in the Harvard Monthly and the Harvard Advocate. He was counted among the "Harvard Aesthetes" that included the likes of John Dos Passos (the trilogy U.S.A., comprising The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money) and S. Foster Damon.

The war and beyond

Much to Cummings’ chagrin, he and friend William Slater Brown, better known as the character “B" in Cummings’ novel/memoir The Enormous Room, were unceremoniously dumped into a French detention camp in a small Normandy town during World War I. The book relates the experiences Cummings and Brown endured during the three-and-a-half month-long nightmare, all due to an administrative snafu following his attempt to volunteer for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in France. Cummings and Brown were arrested on suspicion of espionage, even after they openly avowed their pacifist ideology.

About the book, F. Scott Fitzgerald lamented, "Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives — The Enormous Room, by E.E. Cummings . . . Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality."

Significant literary works

In addition to The Enormous Room, Cummings achieved notoriety for:

  • Tulips and Chimneys (1923) (he wanted “&" in the title; his publisher ignored his plea);

  • is 5 (1926), a collection of 88 poems;

  • Eimi (1933), a novel recounting his trip to the Soviet Union in 1931, and his disillusionment with that society’s lack of intellectual and artistic freedom;

  • No Thanks (1935), self-published and bound at the top like a steno pad, meant as a snub to the 14 publishing houses that refused his work;
    and

  • Fairy Tales (1965), containing four short stories published posthumously: "The Old Man Who Said `Why`," "The Elephant and The Butterfly," "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie," and "The Little Girl Named I."

  • Cummings, the painter

    Cummings was not just a one-trick pony of the avant garde. Not only did he see himself as a poet, essayist, and playwright, but as a painter, as well. His early influences began during his Harvard years with the artistic movements of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism. In particular, he admired the work of Pablo Picasso. His drawings and caricatures were published in the philosophical literary magazine, The Dial, during the 1920s.


    * About the lower case signature

    Cummings signed his works (after the first few) with no capital letters (e.e. cummings), which led some to believe there were no upper case letters in his collection. That is not the case. He used capitals frequently, albeit not always conventionally. The same goes for spacing, word and line breaks, parentheses, and punctuation, not to mention grammar and syntax.

    The lower case signature was a kind of talisman for Cummings, a manifestation of his individuality in the world of literature. Debate went on for years as to the upper-lower case conundrum. The widow Cummings, his second wife, insists that, other than his signed work, the upper case is preferred.

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    The Academy of American Poets - E. E. Cummings
    NOT "e. e. cummings"By Norman Friedman for SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society. The Paintings of E. E. CummingsCourtesy of Ken Lopez, Bookseller. Voices From the ArchivesListen to recordings from the BBC archives. Adopt a e. e. cummings"By Norman Friedman for SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society. The Paintings of E. E. CummingsCourtesy of Ken Lopez, Bookseller. Voices From the ArchivesListen to recordings from the BBC archives. Adopt a E. E. Cummings Society. The Paintings of E. E. CummingsCourtesy of Ken Lopez, Bookseller. Voices From the ArchivesListen to recordings from the BBC archives. Adopt a Poet | Add ...
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    E.E.Cummings
    Cummings in the 1950s. Courtesy of Nancy T. Andrews E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) E. E. Cummings' Life | General Commentary by Cummings | Reviews of Selected Poetry Collections | On “Thy fingers make early flowers of" | On “in Just--" | OnE.E. Cummings (1894-1962) E. E. Cummings' Life | General Commentary by Cummings | Reviews of Selected Poetry Collections | On “Thy fingers make early flowers of" | On “in Just--" | OE. E. Cummings' Life | General Commentary by Cummings | Reviews of Selected Poetry Collections | On “Thy fingers make early flowers of" | On “in Just--" | On “o sweet ...
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