What is the utter nonsense in the picture above? Nothing but one of the most famous, most clever poems of the 20th century poet E. E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings. Or should it be spelled e. e. cummings? This poet is best known for his playful manipulation of syntax, grammar, punctuation, and even spacing to place familiar words and topics in new settings where they can say something wonderful. His focus on the “process” of poetry rather than the “product”– an idea echoed in an art movement of the time, abstract expressionism– places him without a doubt among the modern poets, over which he can claim some of the greatest influence.
From a young age, Cummings wanted to be a poet, and experimented with many styles before hitting upon his modern version of poetry in 1916. His career was halted by World War I, in which he worked as an ambulance driver, but his irreverent antics placed him in a French internment camp. Once released, he published a fictionalized account of the experience, The Enormous Room, and its surprisingly positive psychological effect on him. Tulips and Chimneys, his first book of poetry, was published in 1923, and further works solidified his reputation as an avant-garde poet. Other writers both praised and criticized his works, especially his love poems, which were originally more erotic– related to an affair after the war– but increasingly celebrated the more pure and transcendent aspects of love in a fresh yet timeless way. Cummings also wrote a play, Him, and a diary of his travels in the communist Soviet Union, which he equated to Dante’s descent into hell in the Inferno.
One of Cummings’ most innocent, but most beautiful, poems applauds the life and liberation of the individual experience as opposed to the book-based learning of modern education– at least according to this reader. Cummings’ poems are always up for interpretation.
If everything happens that can’t be done
(and anything’s righter
the stupidest teacher will almost guess
(with a run
around we go yes)
there’s nothing as something as one
one hasn’t a why or because or although
(and buds know better
one’s anything old being everything new
(with a what
around we come who)
one’s everyanything so
so world is a leaf so tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
around again fly)
forever was never till now
now i love you and you love me
(and books are shutter
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall
(with a shout
around we go all)
there’s somebody calling who’s we
we’re anything brighter than even the sun
(we’re everything greater
we’re everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
alive we’re alive)
we’re wonderful one times one
E. Cummings made modern poetry available and desirable to the public by retelling old topics such as love, childhood, and life using a new style to create whimsy, wonder, and mystery. Although his sometimes inscrutable wordplay may be the bane of literature students everywhere, his contributions to poetry and the English language as a whole will not quickly be forgotten. You can read more of his poems at the websites below.
Photo Credit: https://wordsmusicandstories.wordpress.com/2017/09/03/e-e-cummings/
Cummings, E. E. “(‘If Everything Happens That Can’t…”) by E. E….” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?volume=62&issue=4&page=6
“E. E. Cummings.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/e-e-cummings.