Arts & Culture

E. E. Cummings: Conjuring Spring

It’s March, and thoughts are turning towards spring and new beginnings! E. E. Cummings’ wonderfully odd poems are perfect for the season, as they are both idiosyncratic and expressive of childlike wonder. His poems are emblematic of the contemporary, or modern, genre of poetry, often free-verse and utilizing unusual structures to provide layers of meaning.

Read to the end for some important announcements about this column, following the poetry analysis!

[in Just-]
by e. e. cummings
in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddie and bill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloon man whistles
far and wee
and betty and isbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

Cummings utilizes structure to suggest how the above poem should be read. Upon encountering a long space or a paragraph break, readers instinctually pause briefly. For phrases like “far and wee,” the breaks or pauses make the words sound long and thin, like a whistle. In fact, the design and wording lend a long and thin feel to the entire poem, conjuring a clear spring morning suffused with the optimistic magic of the plants sprouting, birds returning from South American vacations, and mud puddles.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
e. e. cummings
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
wish 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

The above poem, despite making little sense on a first read, has a beautiful rhythm. The poem traces the life of “anyone.” His life is described so generally that it could be the life of any man. Of course, the poem isn’t just about anyone’s life; it invokes imagery of cycles and bells, repeats many phrases almost randomly, and describes the lives of various women, men, and children who live in the “pretty how town,” as well as another female character named “noone.” Cummings reflects on how one life is interconnected to a web of others, and comprises part of a long cycle of births, marriages, and deaths, evoking the continuous circle of life that begins anew in the spring.

coonwhale
sailing through the sea
massive white oars paw the blue
textured pebbles || corrosive ocean
whale tale highlighted || by the sun
back curling || like an inverted smile
frowning || on the ebbing tide

After reading Cummings’ nontraditional and abstract poetry, I decided to write the above poem. It was inspired by my corgi, nicknamed Coon, as he lay on the blue carpet. The way he was positioned gave him a humpback, and the poem outlines my imagined picture of him as a whale. Unlike Cummings’ poems, I chose to add the stylistic details of an Anglo-Saxon epic, such as caesuras, which are the vertical lines (they represent pauses), and kennings (rephrasing of a word as a two-word phrase).

Now it’s your turn! Write a poem in an abstract, free-verse style, and post it in the comments below.

I also have two exciting announcements to share for this column!

Would you be interested in attending a poetry recital? I will be holding one on Saturday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day at 8 PM EST in Study Room 1 of GP6. If you plan on participating, please fill out this form or comment below with your name and the names (and authors) of the poems you plan to recite.

I also intend to feature the opinions of clay readers in an upcoming article! If you would like your thoughts on poetry shared in my May column, please fill out this form before April 1st.  Wishing everyone a wonderful spring filled with new beginnings!

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