Tag Archives: Poet in Mind

Poet in Mind: Something about Blue Mountain

It has been over a year since I wrote something in this series. I had been thinking recently about poets and their writing process, and I was looking for writing that focused on southern ideals and influences- from an out-of-the limelight source. I decided to focus on post-civil war era writers in the south. Researching that idea lead me to an interesting story that isn’t necessarily just about poetry, but I can’t help but think it influenced poetry a great deal.

Mark Perrin Lowrey (1828-1885) served in the confederate army during the civil war, reaching the rank of Brigadier General. He was often referred to as the “preacher general” because of his background as a baptist preacher. Originally from Tennessee, he and his wife Sarah Holmes had settled in rural northeast Mississippi before the war. He returned after the war was over, and recognized the need for educational opportunities for women in the South. In 1873, he established the Blue Mountain Female Institute, later called Blue Mountain College, in Blue Mountain, Mississippi (near Tupelo).

Mark and Sarah Lowrey had eleven children. Among them, born April 2, 1860, named Mark Booth Lowrey (1860-1930) and his twin brother Perrin Holmes Lowrey. Both of the boys grew to have distinguished public careers. Perrin became a lawyer and judge in Mississippi and Booth became a well-known public speaker/essayist/satirist/humorist in his day. Both at times were faculty members at the Blue Mountain school.

Mark Booth Lowrey’s writing was well-regarded and he was a sought lecturer/speaker and professor of “expression” at the Blue Mountain Institute. Among Booth Lowrey’s canon of poetry is a collection of folk poetry, written in “Negro dialect” in the vein of Uncle Remus or Mark Twain, which was a popular form around the the turn of the century. It is an interesting style and raises thoughtful questions. It is worthy of its own discussion, but not here. Instead, I chose the following poem, a delightful song of admiration.

The Red-Haired Girl
by Mark Booth Lowrey

You may sing your song to the queenly grace
Of the raven-haired brunette,
To the faithful soul of the blue-eyed blonde
With her pose of a statuette;
You may pine and die over hazel eyes,
You may rave o’er the chestnut curl,
But for all the charms of the world combined,

Just give me a red-haired girl.

The eyes of jet and the raven locks
Are a source of rare delight,
And the moonbeam curls of the meek-eyed blonde
Are a soul-bewitching sight;
But the peach-like cheeks and the rosy lips
And the teeth of chiseled pearl,
Are the outward sparks of an inward light,

The soul of the red-haired girl.

Her cheeks are fresh as the blushing rose
That blooms in the joyous spring;
Her eyes are bright as the summer’s beams
That dance on the blue-bird’s wing;
Her hair is like to the autumn leaves
That glisten, and dance, and whirl;
And the seasons, all but the winter’s chill,

Are found in the red-haired girl.

The blush of spring, and the summer’s calm,
And the autumn’s sober truth,
The placid candor of sweet old age
And the fire of ardent youth,
O, Nature’s casket of rarest gems,
Of rubies and gold and pearl,
Of diamonds, onyx and evening stars,

O, royal, red-haired girl!
*******************************
Booth’s grandson, also named Perrin Holmes Lowrey (P.H. Lowrey)(1923-1965), also became a poet. He frequently published short stories and poems in his earlier years, but later shunned the life of a writer. Some of his poems reflect his time serving in the Navy during WWII. In Song of the Flag, P.H. Lowrey conveys a strong patriotism with imagery and word choices.

Song of the Flag
by Perrin Holmes Lowrey

OH, sing we the song of the flag,

Of the banner that billows and beats
As it rips through the wind on the roofs of the towns
And whips at the top of the fleets.
It tears through the rage of the blast,

In a fury it tugs to be free,
As it swings in the teeth of the storms of the land
And sings in the gales of the sea.

It runs in the winds of the plains,
It steadies and stiffens and thrills,
It streams in the smoke of the scattering clouds,
And gleams on the bayonet hills.

Oh, sing we a song of the flag,

As it bellies and flutters and flings,
As it leaps to a home in the arms of the air,
And laughs at the lusts of the kings.

It flames with the red of the dawn,
And the white of the breakers that race;
It burns with a beacon of wonderful stars
On a banner of infinite space
******************************

Another member of the faculty of Blue Mountain College, David E. Guyton (1880-1964), was a professor of history…and a poet. He was blind since the age of 11.

Triolets
by David E. Guyton

WHILE thou art near,
As now thou art,
I feel no fear,
While thou art near,
That others, Dear,
May win thy heart,
While thou art near,
As now thou art.

When thou art far,
As thou shalt be,
No jealous jar,
When thou art far,
Shall ever mar
My faith in thee,
When thou art far,
As thou shalt be.

Till saints deceive
And truth is trite,
Sweet Genevieve,
Till saints deceive,
I shall believe
And trust thee quite,
Till saints deceive
And truth is trite.

***********************
Muna Lee (1895-1965) was born in Mississippi, but moved to Oklahoma at an early age. She returned to study at Blue Mountain College in 1909, and was encouraged to write by David Guyton. After one year, she returned to Oklahoma and studied at the University of Oklahoma, followed by a return to Mississippi, ultimately graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1913. Early in her career, she was a school teacher, and wrote poems. As she felt the need to contribute more, she taught herself spanish and applied and was hired to be a translator for the US Secret Service during WWI. It was during this time that she became enamoured with latin american culture, and translated a large number spanish language poems. She had a long brilliant career in civil service, as a writer of fiction and poetry, and held an interest in Pan-american affairs in Puerto Rico, where she made her home in 1920. Much of her personal poetry seemed to focus on personal heartbreak-love lost-but was infused with imagery of beauty that filled the void.

The Unforgotten
By Muna Lee

I can forget so much at will:
That first walk in the snow,
The violet bed by the April rill,
The song we both loved so;

Even the rapture of Love’s perfect hour.
Even the anguish of Love’s disdain —
But never, but never, the little white flower
We found one day in the rain.

A Song of Happiness
By Muna Lee

From “Songs of Many Moods”

SO many folk are happy folk—
The feathered folk and furred!
And many a kindly glance I’ve had
And many a brisk bright word
From squirrel and from gray fieldmouse,
From cardinal and blackbird.

It’s only folk within the wood
Can know my happiness.
I did not tell my secret, but
I heard the robins guess;
The golden minnow knows it
Beneath the water-cress.

**********************************
Poetry often originates in quietest of places and is capable of reaching the farthest points. Each of these poets passed through a sleepy town with a small college in rural Mississippi. There are many such places I’m sure. Much of their poetry was published in small periodicals, something that is done much less these days.

And finding those gems, unknown before, is like finding “the little white flower in the rain.”

**********************************

1. The Mississippi Poets, Ernestine Clayton Deavours, 1922, E. H. Clarke & Brothers, Memphis, TN.
2. The Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, James B. LLoyd, ed. 1981, University Press of Mississippi.
3. A Pan-American Life: Selected Poetry and Prose of Muna Lee, Edited and with biography by Jonathan Cohen, Foreword by Aurora Levins Morales, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004

Poet in Mind: Lily Peter

What makes a Poet Laureate?

Is it a lifetime of service, enthusiasm for your craft? A prolific output of quality work?

A willingness to be a part of something beyond yourself?

Lily Peter (1891-1991) was the Poet Laureate of Arkansas from 1971 until her death in 1991. She was born in rural eastern Arkansas to a farming family, descendents of German/Austrian immigrants who had traveled the length of the American landscape to eventually settle in the harsh Mississippi River delta. Lily was the oldest of nine children of whom only five survived into adulthood. As the eldest, she had responsibility put on her. It is likely that Lily developed a strong sense of herself through schooling and a desire to learn. She was educated at home until her mother and father could no longer keep up with her eagerness to learn; they sent her to area schools. Eventually, she was sent to live with relatives in Ohio in order to receive a proper education. There was recognition by her parents that education was the way to a solid future and it was evident during this time that there were a shortage of qualified teachers in rural Arkansas. While Lily was away in Ohio, her father died in a farming accident. Lily was told not to return for the funeral because she was still in school and wouldn’t be able to return in time to finish the year. It is no surprise that after graduation, Lily chose to enter the teaching profession and returned home to help support the family. She helped educate her siblings, took care of her frail mother, helped run the farm…she took on the leadership role of the family.

Flight of Birds**blackbirds
Blackbirds
banking into the wind against a lilac winter sky
fill me with wonder and a sense of doom.
How little time have they and I
here to enoy the swirling wintry bloom
of the thin petaled air!

Wild words
crowd to my lips and are not spoken.
Consciousness, the shared treasure we may not
keep,
we spend our breath in destroying, and when it is
broken
and lost in the last sleep,
who will there be to care?

Her imaginative nature was evident in her childhood. In her biography*, it states that when she turned 5, she was convinced that she would be grown up and wanted to clean the barn by herself. When she woke that day and discovered she had not grown, she was inconsolable. She cried all day. It was this emotional attachment to her desires/imagination that shaped Lily’s future. It was clear that as an adult, Lily became very self-reliant. She continued to seek educational opportunities and ways to experience the world. She never married, though she had several suitors and was even engaged at one point.

Lily Peter began writing as a child, as playing with words seemed to satisfy her need for inventiveness. Most of her early writings consisted of journal entries, observations about community life in rural Arkansas, bits of light verse, and correspondence, all of which is contained in the archives at the University of Central Arkansas. Later in life, her poetry held a more somber tone. For example, “The Green Linen of Summer,” shown below is about protection of yourself against difficulties that are inevitable in life; I think it reflects her practical view of the world, based on her experiences with loss (death of her father and mother) and struggles to maintain her family’s farm during floods, epidemics, etc.

The Green Linen of Summer**

image courtesy of etsy.com

image courtesy of etsy.com

I wrap my thoughts in the green linen of summer
Against the terror of the dragon wind,
And pray that the linen may not too soon be thread-
bare,
Its texture thinned.

For by and by I know will come November
With its wintry blast;
And what is there to keep body and soul from
freezing,
If the linen do not last?

She only published four volumes of poetry*** in her lifetime. Yet, this didn’t seem to define her. She was much more to the state of Arkansas than a published poet. She was a teacher for 40 years, a successful cotton farmer, an environmental advocate, an accomplished violinist (studied at Columbia and Julliard), a writer, and a philanthropist. She had supported musical causes throughout her adult life, mostly on behalf of the Moravian Church. One of her ancestors was the composer John Frederick Peter, who was influencial in early American music. She underwrote the cost of bringing the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1969 by putting a mortgage on her plantation. She did this because she wanted “the people of Arkansas to be exposed to good music, to have a chance I didn’t have.”

Aftersong Instead of a Coda**Common_hawthorn_flowers

To leave this music,
to lie forever in the moonless
dark, where is no peach blossom, cloud or willow,
will be hard for me, who have loved this swampland always.

But in the dark I shall somewhere find Persephone,
and she will take my hand and I will say, “Please
show me the way of the journey back to the sunlight!”
Persephone has made it countless times and would
know!

And some spring morning you will see us running
up the slope
of the thickety bayou with violets in our hands.

And suddenly
I shall be translated to music: a prelude
of April grass; the improvisation of the bacchanal
muscadine; a transposition of chlorophyll,
the plangent chord that evokes the wild elder and
hawthorne
from the numbered bass of the atoms, the rhythm
of light.

Lily Peter lived to see 100 years. One of her more well-known poems is “Note Left on a Doorstep,” which gives us her view of the beauty of life and how it overcomes death.

**************
* A Nude Singularity, Lily Peter of Arkansas, AnnieLaura M. Jaggers, UCA Press, 1993. The title is derived from the astronomer’s terminology of an unexplainable phenomenon. This phenomenon being how Lily Peter became all the things she did, in spite of all the odds against her.

**Lily Peter,
from “The Green Linen of Summer and other Poems”
copyright 1964 by Robert Moore Allen
(out of print)

***Her published works consist of a collection of published poems entitled “The Green Linen of Summer and other poems,” copyright 1964 Robert Moore Allen ; “The Sea Dream of the Mississippi” (another collection of poems), “In the Beginning, Myths of The Western World retold in poetry and prose,” The University of Arkansas Press, 1983; “The Great Riding, The Story of Desoto in America,” originally published in 1966 by Robert Moore Allen (republished by the University of Arkansas Press in 1983).

Poet in Mind: Charles Bukowski’s Birthday

Today would have been Charles Bukowski’s 93rd birthday*. Ever since I started writing poetry, I’ve had a fascination with Bukowski: His writing style, his curmudgeonly persona. He had a very rough childhood, with a strict upbringing, and episodes of bullying. Some say he suffered from dyslexia, which contributed to depression and his subsequent alcoholism. He suffered early rejection in his writing career and even gave it up for a time. Eventually, he returned to writing with a distinct style. He’s not the kind of writer that appeals to everyone…you either love or hate him. His poetry can be very blunt and crass, but at the same time, insightful to the plights and depravity of everyday urban living. I don’t want to glorify the lifestyle**, yet, his ability to condense his own issues into compelling poetry can’t be denied. He rarely made use of metaphor and subtlety, but relied solidly on direct language, anecdotes, and his own experiences.

I don’t want to run the risk of violating someone’s copywrite, so I won’t share any of his poems here. But, I’ll direct you to the Poetry Foundation website as a start if you are interested. And these really only scratch the surface. The man was an incredibly prolific author/poet***.

Because I consider Bukowski influential, I’ve been known to “attempt” mimicking his style (for better or for worse) or at least channel him. I think most poets/writers have an influential style that they sometimes attempt.

A Hand to Bukowski

Short Poems

What Matters Most

***************************
*Bukowski died in 1994 from leukemia.
**Among other things, Bukowski wrote of his numerous affairs, sex with prostitutes, violence, drinking, and gambling.
***Bukowski wrote more than forty books of poetry, prose and novels while living. There have been nine compilations of “new” poetry published since his death.

Poet in Mind: Charlotte Turner Smith

A major novelist of the romantic period as well as a poet, Charlotte Smith’s important collection of poems of sensibility, the Elegiac Sonnets, was first published in 1784. She had an affective perception of nature and her strong sensibility influenced Coleridge, Keats and Wordsworth. She is also considered a strong influence on Gothic writers.

Charlotte Turner was born on 4 May 1749 in London into a wealthy family. She was the eldest child with two younger siblings and received a typical education for a woman during the late 18th century. Her mother died early in her life, likely during childbirth of her youngest sister Catherine Ann. The children were raised by their maternal aunt, as their father traveled on business. Her father’s reckless spending forced her to marry early. At age 15 she was given by her father to the violent and profligate Benjamin Smith, a director of the East India Company. Their marriage was deeply unhappy (she later described it as “legal prostitution”), although they had twelve children together. Only six of their children survived. She fought with her in-laws, whom she believed were unrefined and uneducated. Her father-in-law Richard Smith, did encourage her writing, if only to serve his own business interests (the rest of the family apparently mocked her for her literary interests).

Ultimately worried about Charlotte and his grandchildren’s future, Richard Smith willed the majority of his property to Charlotte’s children. However, the will was tied up in Chancery court, since he had drawn up the will himself. Charlotte’s husband illegally spent a third of the money, which landed him in debtor’s prison. Charlotte moved in with Benjamin at King’s Bench Prison in December 1783. Here she wrote and published her first book of poetry, Elegaic Sonnets (1784), from which the following is taken.

SONNET I.
THE partial Muse, has from my earliest hours,
Smil’d on the rugged path I’m doom’d to tread,
And still with sportive hand has snatch’d wild flowers,
To weave fantastic garlands for my head:
But far, far happier is the lot of those
Who never learn’d her dear delusive art;
Which, while it decks the head with many a rose,
Reserves the thorn, to fester in the heart.
For still she bids soft Pity’s melting eye
Stream o’er the ills she knows not to remove,
Points every pang, and deepens every sigh
Of mourning friendship or unhappy love.
Ah! then, how dear the Muse’s favours cost,
If those paint sorrow best–who feel it most!

Here you see her voice in Gothic tones. There is a sadness in her poetry that could only originate from her personal experiences. It is interesting that she chose the Sonnet as her primary form. The Shakespearean Sonnet had fallen out of favor at this time, but it seems to fit her style very well.

She writes of melancholy and disappointment. Yet, being a student of the Romantic Style, she accomplishes it with form and structure. It gives a beauty to the dismay that she must have felt.

SONNET XXXV.
TO FORTITUDE.
NYMPH of the rock! whose dauntless spirit braves
The beating storm, and bitter winds that howl
Round thy cold breast; and hear’st the bursting waves
And the deep thunder with unshaken soul;
Oh come!–and show how vain the cares that press
On my weak bosom–and how little worth
Is the false fleeting meteor, Happiness,
That still misleads the wanderers of the earth!
Strengthen’d by thee, this heart shall cease to melt
O’er ills that poor humanity must bear;
Nor friends estranged, or ties dissolved be felt
To leave regret, and fruitless anguish there:
And when at length it heaves its latest sigh,
Thou and mild Hope shall teach me how to die

She obtained a legal separation from her husband in 1787. Her writing career continued as a means to support her children. She turned to writing novels as it provided more income than writing poetry. She is said to have stated that she preferred poetry to prose. During these years Smith helped to establish her children in marriages and careers, struggled with her many creditors, and begged publishers for advances on her books. For more on her writing career, see Charlotte Turner Smith.

She never achieved the financial stability to allow her a comfortable retirement. Her literary career lasted for 22 years and her father-in-law’s estate was not settled until after her death in 1806.

Apostrophe
TO AN OLD TREE.

WHERE thy broad branches brave the bitter North,
Like rugged, indigent, unheeded, worth,
Lo! Vegetation’s guardian hands emboss
Each giant limb with fronds of studded moss,
That clothes the bark in many a fringed fold
Begemm’d with scarlet shields, and cups of gold,
Which, to the wildest winds their webs oppose,
And mock the arrowy sleet, or weltering snows.
–But to the warmer West the woodbine fair
With tassels that perfumed the summer air,
The mantling clematis, whose feathery bowers
Waved in festoons with nightshade’s purple flowers,
The silver weed, whose corded fillets wove
Round thy pale rind, even as deceitful love
Of mercenary beauty would engage
The dotard fondness of decrepit age;
All these, that during summer’s halcyon days
With their green canopies conceal’d thy sprays,
Are gone for ever; or disfigured, trail
Their sallow relicts in the autumnal gale;
Or o’er thy roots, in faded fragments toss’d,
But tell of happier hours, and sweetness lost!
–Thus in Fate’s trying hour, when furious storms
Strip social life of Pleasure’s fragile forms,
And awful Justice , as his rightful prey
Tears Luxury’s silk, and jewel’d robe, away,
While reads Adversity her lesson stern,
And Fortune’s minions tremble as they learn;
The crowds around her gilded car that hung,
Bent the lithe knee, and troul’d the honey’d tongue,
Desponding fall, or fly in pale despair;
And Scorn alone remembers that they were.
Not so Integrity ; unchanged he lives
In the rude armour conscious Honour gives,
And dares with hardy front the troubled sky,
In Honesty’s uninjured panoply.
Ne’er on Prosperity’s enfeebling bed
Or rosy pillows, he reposed his head,

But given to useful arts, his ardent mind
Has sought the general welfare of mankind;
To mitigate their ills his greatest bliss,
While studying them , has taught him what he is ;
He , when the human tempest rages worst,
And the earth shudders as the thunders burst,
Firm, as thy northern branch, is rooted fast,
And if he can’t avert , endures the blast.

Poet in Mind: John Clare

John Clare*, the Northamptonshire peasant poet was born on July 13, 1793. This is remarkable, because last Friday (July 13th), I was considering a Poet in Mind post, and thought of John Clare, whom I had discovered quite by accident several years ago. I was perusing the stacks of my library’s poetry section, something I enjoy because I discover new things, and I saw a collection of John Clare poetry. Out of curiosity, I checked it out and was not sorry for it.

John Clare was born into an illiterate farming family. He did receive some formal schooling, probably enough to function in a class-oriented society. He worked as a farm labourer to earn money. The fact that much of his poetry focuses on the natural world leads me to think he probably wrote much of his poetry in his head while watching nature in the fields he worked. He was also of the Romantic style.

Summer
By John Clare

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover’s breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover’s breast;
I’ll lean upon her breast and I’ll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o’sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

The Romantic style can be summed up as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”**, with the additional work and “pain” of using strict meter and form. It’s not easy expressing your emotions in such structural forms, and the Romantic Movement recognized that as a means to develop “good” poetry.

Trial by fire, as it were.

John Clare was always a lesser known poet, perhaps because of his humble background. He actually did publish during his lifetime, though he could not make a living as a poet. He had to continue with a variety of manual labor jobs to support his wife and family. It was a struggle that contributed to poor health, heavy drinking and bouts of depression. However, he wrote rather prolifically. About love and nature, Rural life, his passions***, animals, birds, insects.

First Love
By John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

His depression and declining mental health eventually led him to admitting himself to an asylum where he primarily lived the last 27 years of his life. After his death in 1864, his poetry languished for the remainder of the 19th century, but Clare’s poetry was rediscovered in the late 20th century, and he was recognized for his keen descriptions of nature, the rural English countryside, and his dedicated practice of the Romantic style.

There is a John Clare Society
Several of his collections are posted online at John Clare Info.

To close, I selected two poems that juxtapose different views of hope. Both demonstrate the power of poetry, the struggles that we face, and how we can meet the challenges.

TO HOPE.
By John Clare

AH, smiling cherub! cheating Hope, adieu!

No more I’ll listen to your pleasing themes;

No more your flattering scenes with joy renew,

For ah, I’ve found them all delusive dreams:

Yes, mere delusions all; therefore, adieu!

No more shall you this aching heart beguile;

No more your fleeting joys will I pursue,

That mock’d my sorrows when they seem’d to smile,

And flatter’d tales that never will be true:

Tales, only told to aggravate distress

And make me at my fate the more repine,

By whispering joys I never can possess,

And painting scenes that never can be mine.

THE INSTINCT OF HOPE
By John Clare
Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
‘Tis nature’s prophesy that such will be,
And everything seems struggling to explain
The close sealed volume of its mystery.
Time wandering onward keeps its usual pace
As seeming anxious of eternity,
To meet that calm and find a resting place.
E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?

*John Clare image by Edward Scriven, after William Hilton
stipple engraving, published 1821
NPG D5221
© National Portrait Gallery, London

**William Wordsworth. He knew a thing or two about Romantic poetry.

***He had a lifelong crush on his first love, Mary Joyce. She is a frequent subject of his love poetry, and obviously his muse. He was never allowed to court her formally, because they were of different classes in society. He continued to write about her throughout his life, and was apparently devastated to learn of her death in 1838. This is supposed to have contributed to his depression and eventual self-imposed admission to an asylum.

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

thee
has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

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

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

thou answerest

them only with

spring

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