E. E. Cummings

Dafato Team | Sep 22, 2023

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Edward Estlin Cummings, better known as e.e. cummings (Cambridge, Oct. 14, 1894 - North Conway, Sept. 3, 1962), was an American poet, painter, illustrator, playwright, author and essayist.

After completing his studies at Harvard, he served as an ambulance driver on the French front during World War I. Unjustly accused of espionage, he was interned at La Ferté-Macé; from this experience he drew inspiration for The Enormous Room (English: Enormous Room, 1922), a book that is both polemical and pathetically funny.

Cummings is famous for his unorthodox use of capitalization and punctuation rules, and for using syntactic conventions in avant-garde and innovative ways. Unexpected and seemingly misplaced punctuation marks can be found in his writings, interrupting whole sentences or even single words. Many of his poems, because of the careful graphic arrangement of the lines, are more easily understood on the written page than when read aloud.

Among his major works: Tulips and Chimneys (1923), XLI Poems (1925), Poems 1923-1954 (1954).

Edward Estlin Cummings (also e. e. cummings, according to his habit of signing his name in lower case) was born on October 14, 1894, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Edward and Rebecca Haswell Clarke Cummings. His father, Edward, was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University. Father and son had such a close relationship that the parent always warmly encouraged him to write. Estlin's first poetic proof would be when he was only three years old; it was a poem entitled "Oh little birdie oh oh, With your toe toe." When he was six years old, his sister Elizabeth was born.

He attended Cambridge Latin High School. His early short stories and poems found their way into the school newspaper, Cambridge Review. From 1911 to 1916 he was a student at Harvard University. There he received the B. A. in 1915 and in 1916 he received the M. A. cum laude, that is, the degree, (literally, Magister Artium) in English and Classical Studies, discussing a thesis entitled The New Art. Several poems by E. E. Cummings were published beginning in 1912 in the Harvard Monthly. Cummings himself was editor of the university journal along with fellow Harvard scholars Aesthetes, John Dos Passos, Foster Damon.

From a young age E. E. Cummings devoted himself to the study of Latin and Greek. His devotion to ancient languages is attested by the titles of several of his works. During his senior year at Harvard he was influenced by the writing of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. His first published poems were collected in a work published in 1920, titled Eight Harvard poets, co-written with John Dos Passos.

In 1917, because of World War I, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. However, an administrative error prevented him from taking service for five weeks during which he stayed in Paris. A deep love for the city was born on this occasion that would drive him to return several times throughout his life. Just five weeks later, on September 21, 1917, he and his friend William Slater Brown were arrested on suspicion of espionage. The charge was based on views deemed to be anti-war that the two had openly expressed and on letters, referred to as "very bad letters," that William had written that had been intercepted by an overzealous censor. They were thus sent to the detention camp at La Ferté-Macé, in Orne, Normandy, where they remained for about three months. His friend left the camp for Précigne Prison around November, after the arrival of the commission that was set up every three months to judge the prisoners, while Cummings had to wait until December 21, when he received permission to repatriate to the United States. This solution was arrived at after several interventions and solicitations by his father also addressed to the institutions. Cummings father, in a touching letter of great humanity, also addressed Woodrow Wilson to make the presidency aware of his son's case and of how many American citizens were then involved in similar unfortunate situations. However, the response was very late, and this, together with the concern that the letter had gone astray, increased the tension in the two parents waiting for news of their son. We quote a passage from Cummings father's heartfelt appeal that gives an account of the attrition and anxiety felt by parents who had sons in the war: "The mothers of our boys in France have rights as much as our own boys. My boy's mom had the right to be protected from the horrible weeks of anxiety and uncertainty caused by the unexplained arrest and imprisonment of her son. My boy's mom and all American mothers have the right to be protected against all unnecessary anxiety and pain." E. E. Cummings returned to the United States on New Year's Day 1918. Later he was recalled to the U.S. Army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918.

He returned to Paris in 1921 where he stayed for two years until returning to New York. Between 1920 and 1930 he traveled in Europe, meeting Pablo Picasso, among others. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, recounting his experience in his second novel, Eimi (1933). During these same years he also traveled to North Africa and Mexico and worked as a writer and portraitist for Vanity Fair (1924-1927).

E. E. Cummings' manuscripts are preserved at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Austin in Texas.

The accident and the turning point

In the poem my father moved through dooms of love, he pays tribute to the memory of his father who was killed in 1925 in a car accident, which his mother, though seriously injured, managed to survive instead. In his Harvard non-lectures (1952-1953) Estlin Cummings gave the following account of the incident:

"A locomotive cut the car in two. When the two train drivers jumped from the stationary train, they saw a woman - stunned but upright - standing behind a mutilated car; with blood pouring (as the older man reported to me) from her head. One of her hands (the younger man added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to figure out why it was damp. These men took my elderly sixty-six-year-old mother by the arms and tried to guide her to a nearby farm; but she wriggled out of them, walked straight to my father's body, and ordered a group of frightened onlookers to cover him. When this was done (and only then) she let them take her away."

The death of his father had a profound impact on Estlin, and his work experienced a new creative phase. Indeed, Cummings began to focus in his poetry on the most important aspects of living. This artistic turning point was inaugurated precisely with the text, which we mentioned above, which is a kind of portrait-memorial of a father who had also been a guide in knowledge and a teacher of life.

Despite Cummings' proximity to avant-garde styles, much of his work falls within the tradition. In fact, many of his poems are sonnets. Cummings' poetry often develops themes of love and nature, as well as the relationship between the individual and the masses. An abundant dose of irony and satire is also encountered in his compositions.

While formally and in terms of thematic choices his poetry fits into the Romantic tradition, Cummings' work universally demonstrates a particular idiosyncrasy with regard to syntactic structure.

E. C. was influenced by both the Modernists and Amy Lowell's "imagist experiments." Later, his visits to Paris exposed him to Dadaism and Surrealism, which in turn entered his work.

While some of his compositions are based on free verse, many others have a fourteen-line structure traceable to the sonnet, with an intricate rhyme scheme. Like Ezra Pound, Cummings also considers written composition a pictographic tool, so much so that in his case the use of capitalization, punctuation marks, and frequent verse breaks, where the use of enjambement is forced to the utmost, constitute to the reader's eye as many rhythmic markings, through which the text can be immediately interpreted and understood visually. Because of this high degree of visualization Cummings' poetry is also called poem-picture.

The syntactic break and originality in word combination came to him from reading at the turn of the century Gertrude Stein, Robert Walser and Franz Kafka.

There is also in E. C. a continuous striving for linguistic innovation expressed through wordplay and the invention of neologisms, generally formed through the fusion of different grammatical elements: adverbs, prepositions, nouns, proper names.

Also interesting is the interweaving of everyday life and myth, a feature that also refers back to Poundian poetics. Although E. C.'s work does not know the achievements of eclecticism and conceptual mixing proper to E. P.'s poetry there is in any case a constant reference to the atmospheres of Greek myth and paganism, experienced and interpreted as symbols of innocence and pristine sensibility. One thinks of the Balloonman, the protagonist of In-Just's Spring Spell, who overlaps with the figure of Pan.

From the introduction to Is 5, 1926: "If a poet is anyone, he is someone who cares cordially little about things done-he is someone obsessed with the idea of Doing. Like all obsessions, that of Doing has its drawbacks; for example, my only interest in making money would be to make it. Fortunately, however, I would rather make anything else, including locomotives and roses. My 'poems' are measured by roses and locomotives (not to mention acrobats Spring electricity Coney Island the Fourth of July the eyes of mice and Niagara Falls)."

Cummings' talents extend to books, short stories and drawings for children. An interesting example of his versatility is an introduction written for the comic strip Krazy Kat by cartoonist George Herriman.

Living language and experimentalism

Cummings conceives the need for dynamism in art, according to which poetry is a body in motion, whose metrical and stylistic themes and figures are endowed with a life of their own, and form and content fused as if they were a single creature. E. C., in the course of its elaboration, tends to achieve an ever-increasing semantic density, forcing the word to reveal itself in a plurality of meanings, eliciting the highest number of nexuses and language games. Cummings also speaks of a life cycle of language according to which it is born in poetry and dies in its use to express aspects of a culture deemed dead i.e., patriotic, political, commercial (e.g., political buzzwords, advertising slogans, platitudes). This is a formulation shared at the same time and in rather similar terms by Wittgenstein and taken up by W. H. Auden in 1967.

The Letters, Ezra Pound and Mary de Rachewiltz

When Cummings began the Harvard non-lectures, he quoted a passage from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet in which he speaks of the infinite solitude in which works of art are born and expressed and the consequent need, in order to approach them, for an act of love. The poet works in silence and solitude, something that is increasingly difficult in an age of sound that overpowers the individual and "excludes the present moment," the only one in which the poet lives. Difficult then, Cummings points out, to be oneself, what is maximally required of the poet, in a historical period marked by interchangeable personalities. What gives birth to art is intensity. Living one's feelings fully and the act of sharing them with those who are able to experience them just as intensely constitutes for E. C. the optimum in which the poet's creativity manifests itself. The letters addressed by Cummings to friends (Sibley Watson, Hildegarde Watson, William Carlos Williams, Charleen Swanzey, William Slater Brown, Ezra Pound, Mary de Rachewiltz) bear witness to a literary fellowship in constant ferment, stimulated by frequentation and an intense exchange of ideas. These are dry and ironic accounts, which on the whole could constitute an epistolary novel, in which the Cummingsian style played on verbal and thematic accumulations describes the poet's daily intimacy, while also creating the occasion for the recovery of memories. The correspondence with Ezra Pound in particular and his daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, documents a long and deep friendship expressed in the sharing of writing projects, travels and impressions of the world. Ezra Pound is a close companion of inspiration with whom the understanding never failed. As for Mary, it is interesting to note the confidential tone with which E. C. comments on the work of translating her works and how this spontaneous affection extends to the evocation of life stories and anecdotes of the poet's youth spent in Boston (letter of Feb. 19, 1962).

The Huge Room is an autobiographical novel about the author's experience of three months of detention at La Ferté-Macé. Divided into thirteen chapters, mostly devoted to portraying the men and women with whom he found himself living this situation, the work is outlined as an irreverent and disenchanted denunciation of the excesses that enforcement of rules and bureaucratic rigor can produce. The result is an expressive gallery of sketches that preserve memories of behaviors and facts that we would otherwise never have heard about. This work therefore, in addition to being a work of literary creativity, also stands as an extremely interesting historical and anthropological document. It is an account of life in the prison camps in World War I, a subject that to contemporary readers appears even more dense with reminders in light of the drama that came to be consummated in the labor and torture camps (lagers) of World War II. E. C. conducts an acute psychological investigation of the characters and the environments in which they find themselves. The emphasis on individualism is aimed at exploring the humanity of people, showing how prejudice and the aggression it produces often result in a distorted view of those we encounter and thus of reality. Forced coexistence in the prison reveals a varied and poignant picture of how, in a condition of hardship and deprivation, human relationships can be sincere and strengthen.

An imaginary dialogue

E. E. Cummings thus comments on The Huge Room and his second novel Eimi (from Greek, first person singular of the present tense of the verb to be "I am"): "When The Huge Room was published, some expected a war book; they were disappointed. When Eimi was published, some wanted another Huge Room; they were disappointed." "The Huge Room is not really about war?" "It uses war to explore an inconceivable immensity that is so incredibly far away as to appear microscopic." "When he wrote this book, did he observe something very large and very far away through war?" "This book wrote itself, I observed a negligible part of something incredibly farther than any sun; something more inconceivably huge than the most prodigious of all universes." "Meaning?" "The individual." ........ "Eimi is again the individual; a more complex individual, a more enormous room."

During his lifetime, Cummings published four plays: HIM (1927), Anthropos: or, the Future of Art (1930), Tom: a Ballet (1935) and Santa Claus: a Morality (1946).

HIM, a play in three acts, was produced in 1928 by the Provincetown Players in New York and directed by James Light. The main characters are Him, a comedy writer, and Me, his girlfriend. Thus Cummings commented on his work, "don't try to understand him, let him understand you."

Anthropos, from the Greek word for "man," in the sense of "humankind," is a one-act work through which Cummings helped develop reflections in the field of anthropology. The play consists of a dialogue between a Man and three so-called "subhumans," that is, creatures deemed inferior.

Tom, A Ballet is a ballet based on Uncle Tom's Cabin. The ballet is developed into four episodes that were published by Cummings in 1935. It has never been performed.

Santa Claus was probably Cummings' most successful play. It is an allegory of capitalism performed in a single act of five scenes. The play was inspired by his daughter Nancy, with whom the poet was reunited in 1946 after a long period of separation. It was first published in the Harvard College magazine, the Wake. The main characters are Santa Claus, his family (a woman and a child), Death and the Crowd. At the beginning of the play, Santa Claus's family turns out to be disjointed because of their desire for knowledge (scientific knowledge declined in the materialism to which Cummings's criticism is directed). After a series of events, however, Santa Claus's faith in love and his rejection of a materialistic world and the disappointment that comes with it are reaffirmed, and the family is finally reunited.

Cummings and physics

Among other themes, in the poem Space being (don't forget to remember) curved, E.C. notes the contrast between science's purpose of understanding the universe and its technological applications, which tend to be destructive, confined to the narrowness of the human world and its conflicts. The poet's keen interest in physics is attested in it. Published in the collection ViVa in 1931, when only a few specialists were familiar with Einstein's theories, this is an almost visionary text in terms of the perception of dimensions and the cooperation of space-time. In the four-dimensional model of space-time, the space that constitutes the universe is curved or distorted by the force exerted by the mass of objects in it. In the four Einstenian dimensions where distance is also measured in light-years, light passing through the universe is, albeit slightly, tilted by the gravitational pull of stars and black holes. E. C.'s composition is a kind of palìntonos armonìa (harmony of opposing tensions) and is meant to suggest, through the introduction of contrasting points of view, a kind of curvature of the space of ideas. These fields of opposing forces are measured from the very beginning of the composition (cf. the two parenthetical engravings). The second, so to speak, digression is a paraphrase of the beginning of Robert Frost's poem (Mending Wall, 1914). This poetic allusion corroborates Cummings' initial scientific reference. In Frost's poem, the forces of gravity and entropy (described through the second principle of thermodynamics that the end of all things is decay, or to use an expression from W. B. Yeats, "things fall apart") undermine the stability of a stone wall, a straight line, if you will, drawn through the subtle curvature of the world: the rocks keep falling. We also know from Cummings' first stanza that space is curved and that the universe to which his poem gives life is terribly complex, in tension with itself, composed as much of science as of art, serious and equally steeped in satire. Positions slip. Voices intrude and teach at the same time.

The second law of thermodynamics is also referred to by a Johns Hopkins University chemistry professor, Donald Hatch Andrews, author of a review of the volume XAIPE (1950). The latter argues that in the future our century will not be remembered for nuclear fission so much as for giving the first exact formulation of communication principles. In mathematical terms, the communication exchange between humans, machines and atoms is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics and the concepts of entropy. In the area of language, Cummings' work stands as an innovation in the art of communication and therefore, in Andrews' opinion, not only has poetic value but as a contribution to the definition of a model for improving the communication possibilities of human beings.

Of interest for Cummings' considerations of science is the letter of 1

E. C. lived from September 1924 until his death in Greenwich Village with his third companion, Marion Morehouse, a photographer and model, whom he met in 1932.

In 1952 his alma mater, Harvard, awarded Cummings a position as honorary professor. The Readings on Charles Eliot Norton that he gave between 1952 and 1955 were later collected in i: six nonlectures. Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, taking on reading assignments, and spending time at his summer residence at Joy Farm on Silver Lake in New Hampshire.

He died on September 3, 1962 at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire, of cardiac arrest. His cremated remains rest in Lot 748 Althaea Path, Section 6, in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.

During his lifetime Cummings received numerous awards in recognition of his creative work, including:

Cummings in mass culture

E. Cummings' lyrics have inspired several artists and have been taken up in both music and film. Songs by the famous artist Björk are based on his poems: from I Will Wade Out is taken Sun in my Mouth contained in the album Vespertine (2001), from the poem of the same name Sonnets

Bob James also wrote a piece based on up in the silence the green silence voice of Hilary James. The CD is "Flesh and Blood," which represents daughter Hilary's debut as a singer. Cummings' poem I carry your heart was set to music by Michael Hedges. U.S. composer Eric Whitacre has written several choral works to Cummings' texts, which have been highly performed. Three poems by e. e. cummings also constitute the poetic material explored in Circles (for voice, harp and two percussionists, 1960) by Luciano Berio.

John Cage wrote a piece for solo voice, Experience No. 2, to the lyrics of It Is At Moments After I Have Dreamed. Singer-songwriter Debora Petrina did a reinterpretation of it for prepared voice and piano, entitled Roses of the Day, which Peters Editions published as a piece co-written by Petrina, Cage and Cummings.

Another of her famous poems Your Heart I Carry It With Me is recited in the film In Her Shoes by Cameron Diaz,who dedicated it to her sister on her wedding day. The same text is also quoted by Abbie Lockart, the doctor in E.R. during her wedding vows to Dr. Kovac, and by Heath Ledger in the film Heaven + Hell. The poem "Somewhere" is partially read in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1985).

I Don't Want Clara also quotes the poem "Somewhere" in the song "Cary Grant," contained on the album of the same name. This song also quotes Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious.

In the 2010 film "Charlie St. Cloud - Follow Your Heart" starring Zac Efron two phrases from the poem "Dive for Dreams" are recited twice during the film: trust your heart


  1. E. E. Cummings
  2. Edward Estlin Cummings
  3. ^ Profilo di e.e. cummings, su allpoetry.com. URL consultato il 25 febbraio 2020.
  4. ^ Dal romanzo The Enormous Room. L'opera, comprese le lettere del padre di E. Cummings, è visibile e scaricabile da internet nell'archivio creato dal Progetto Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/etext/8446
  5. ^ "Buffalo Bill's" available at the Poetry Foundation
  6. ^ "my father moved through dooms of love", via —Berkeley[19]
  7. ^ See: Selected works (1994)[23]: 167
  8. ^ For example, "why must itself up every of a park"
  9. ^ For example, "[anyone lived in a pretty how town]"
  10. 1,0 1,1 1,2 The Fine Art Archive. cs.isabart.org/person/26452. Ανακτήθηκε στις 1  Απριλίου 2021.
  11. 3,0 3,1 3,2 «E. E. Cummings: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center». Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. Αρχειοθετήθηκε από το πρωτότυπο στις 15 Μαρτίου 2012. Ανακτήθηκε στις 9 Μαΐου 2010.
  12. Friedman, Norman "Cummings, E[dward] E[stlin]" στην The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature του Steven Serafin, 2003, Continuum, σελ. 244.
  13. Bloom, σελ. 1814.
  14. Kennedy, σελ. 186.
  15. Harvard Freshman Pamphlet, 1996.
  16. Friedman 2003, p.244
  17. Bloom, p. 1814

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