The Poetry of E. E. Cummings



E. E. Cummings, who was born in 1894 and died in 1962, wrote many

poems with unconventional punctuation and capitalization, and unusual

line, word, and even letter placements - namely, ideograms. Cummings'

most difficult form of prose is probably the ideogram; it is extremely

terse and it combines both visual and auditory elements. There may be

sounds or characters on the page that cannot be verbalized or cannot

convey the same message if pronounced and not read. Four of Cummings'

poems - l(a, mortals), !blac, and swi( - illustrate the ideogram form

quite well. Cummings utilizes unique syntax in these poems in order to

convey messages visually as well as verbally.



Although one may think of l(a as a poem of sadness and

loneliness, Cummings probably did not intend that. This poem is about

individuality - oneness (Kid 200-1). The theme of oneness can be

derived from the numerous inezces and forms of the number '1'

throughout the poem. First, 'l(a' contains both the number 1 and the

singular indefinite article, 'a'; the second line contains the French

singular definite article, 'le'; 'll' on the fifth line represents two

ones; 'one' on the 7th line spells the number out; the 8th line, 'l',

isolates the number; and 'iness', the last line, can mean "the state

of being I" - that is, individuality - or "oneness", deriving the

"one" from the lowercase roman numeral 'i' (200). Cummings could have

simplified this poem drastically ("a leaf falls:/loneliness"), and

still conveyed the same verbal message, but he has altered the normal

syntax in order that each line should show a 'one' and highlight the

theme of oneness. In fact, the whole poem is shaped like a '1' (200).

The shape of the poem can also be seen as the path of a falling leaf;

the poem drifts down, flipping and altering pairs of letters like a

falling leaf gliding, back and forth, down to the ground. The

beginning 'l(a' changes to 'le', and 'af' flips to 'fa'. 'll'

indicates a quick drop of the leaf, which has slowed by a longer line,

'one'. Finally, the leaf falls into the pile of fallen leaves on the

ground, represented by 'iness'. Cummings has written this poem so

perfectly that every part of it conveys the message of oneness and

individuality (200).



In mortals), Cummings vitalizes a trapeze act on paper. Oddly

enough, this poem, too, stresses the idea of individualism, or

'eachness', as it is stated on line four. Lines 2 and 4, 'climbi' and

'begi', both end leaving the letter 'i' exposed. This is a sign that

Cummings is trying to emphasize the concept of self-importance (Tri

36). This poem is an amusing one, as it shows the effects of a trapeze

act within the arrangement of the words. On line 10, the space in the

word 'open ing' indicates the act beginning, and the empty, static

moment before it has fully begun. 'of speeds of' and '&meet&', lines 8

and 12 respectively, show a sort of back-and-forth motion, much like

that of the motion of a trapeze swinging. Lines 12 through 15 show the

final jump off the trapeze, and 'a/n/d' on lines 17 through 19,

represent the deserted trapeze, after the acrobats have dismounted.

Finally, '(im' on the last line should bring the reader's eyes back to

the top of the poem, where he finds 'mortals)'. Placing '(im' at the

end of the poem shows that the performers attain a special type of

immortality for risking their lives to create a show of beauty, they

attain a special type of immortality (36-7). The circularity of the

poem causes a feeling of wholeness or completeness, and may represent

the Circle of Life, eternal motion (Fri 26).



Cummings first tightly written ideogram was !blac, a very

interesting poem. It starts with '!', which seems to be saying that

something deserving that exclamation point occurred anterior to the

poem, and the poem is trying objectively to describe certain feelings

resulting from '!'. "black against white" is an example of such a

description in the poem; the clashing colors create a feeling in sync

with '!'. Also, why "(whi)" suggests amusement and wonder, another

feeling resulting from '!' (Weg 145). Cummings had written a letter

concerning !blac to Robert Wenger, author of The Poetry and Prose of

E. E.