Poet in Mind: E.E. Cummings

For National Poetry Month, I wanted to spotlight a poet that I enjoy reading. There are plenty of them that I like…for different reasons.

One of the poets I enjoy reading is E.E. Cummings…Edward Estlin Cummings.

He was born in 1894 and actually wanted to be a poet at an early age. Between the ages of 8 and 22, he wrote a poem a day. He explored many of the traditional forms and by the time he was finished at Harvard in 1916, found a voice in dynamic use of language. His subject matter focused on traditional themes: love, childhood, flowers…all somewhat old-fashioned by “modern” standards of the day. Yet, he succeeded through experimentation with language and syntax, lack of punctuation or overuse of it, and was an innovator in concrete poetry, or shape poetry. Very much a romantic, he was able to inject life into a lyrical voice with such ingenuity.

A wonderful example of his use of language, and how the tone of his words shaped the poem (even though they make no sense grammatically) is in [anyone lived in a pretty how town].


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.

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
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
published in Poetry (August 1940)

Other poems are far more obscure and yet, architecturally interesting. The sound of the words together with the flow of the line makes a sing-song quality to much of his poetry. You can read some of them here. Cummings was raised in a Unitarian family and was a pacifist in his younger years. During the 1st World War he enlisted in the ambulance corps, and was actually detained and imprisoned for 3 months by the French on suspicion of espionage. He and a friend were apparently bored with their jobs and inserted veiled and provocative comments into their letters home, just to baffle the French censors.

O sweet spontaneous by E. E. Cummings
O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the doting

fingers of
prurient philosophies pinched
and poked

has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy
knees squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


Apparently, the man was also a philanderer. He wrote a trove of love poetry, some quite racy. He had an affair with one of his best friend’s wives, fathered a child with her, while they were still married. His friend continued to work on his behalf as a publisher after that. Cummings had a way with words…

supposing i dreamed this)… (IX) by E. E. Cummings
supposing i dreamed this)
only imagine,when day has thrilled
you are a house around which
i am a wind-

your walls will not reckon how
strangely my life is curved
since the best he can do
is to peer through windows,unobserved

-listen,for(out of all
things)dream is noone's fool;
if this wind who i am prowls
carefully around this house of you

love being such,or such,
the normal corners of your heart
will never guess how much
my wonderful jealousy is dark

if light should flower:
or laughing sparkle from
the shut house(around and around
which a poor wind will roam

2 thoughts on “Poet in Mind: E.E. Cummings

  1. Angela

    Hi John,
    Thought I’d stop by for a visit. This post is wonderful — and I love the cummings poems you chose here. I don’t know much about him — my writing partner adores him — so thank you for giving me a leg up. Your prose pieces are great — you have a gift there, as well. All the best to you. Keep writing.


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