For many dabblers of the pen, poetry is a thing of strict forms and concentrated effort—a literary form of limitation that presses the writer to bear his or her most beautiful words to light through the overcoming of that struggle. Many of these forms, in turn, have been given differentiating names over the centuries–your sonnets, triolets, cinquains, etc. etc. Yet for every poet that adheres to such formulaic ventures, there is another that seems to exist to break the forms, to go their own path on the road to literature. While both are valid methods, the two sides have infuriated one another plenty over their long years together.
Few have provided more exasperation from fellow poets and the community at large than e.e. cummings. Though the man had his forms–truly, many of his poems are sonnets in fact–he also dabbled in the realms of freeverse, though it was his design and craft of his works-at-large that set brows furrowing. Words bounced about, periods interrupting sentences, commas and parentheses oh my oh my…he knew how to make the mind work for his pieces, in methods we now refer to often enough as “avant-garde.” Unconventional is about the best summary–anything more or anything less wouldn’t quite do the poet justice. He was a modernist, and often ruminated on topics of nature and death in his work. He also had something of a knack for “controversial” subject matter.
Remembered today as one of the foremost voices of the 20th century, cummings wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays before his death in 1962.
Today, we examine “i have found what you are like,” a piece that certainly showcases a bit of cummings unique style…
i have found what you are like
i have found what you are like
(Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields
easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike
the air in utterable coolness
deeds of green thrilling light
-in the woods
And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
stu mcp (hate & hope) said:
Great article Chris- I actually stumbled upon this writer over the last few days whilst reading #poetics- someone had made a comparison- I’m totally intrigued by his form (or lack of)- methinks I’ll have to get hold if some books…..
The interest I find in ee cummings’ work is frequently the challenge of trying to solve a mystery. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. My personal preference is for poetry that I can understand, poetry with rhythm and interesting wordplay, so I am still sitting on the fence – but I am old, and could hardly be called a modernist! Modernist? A strange classification for a poet born in 1895! Thank you for your thoughtful and stimulating article.
James Rainsford said:
One of my favourite all time poets. Here is one of my favourite ee cummings poems:
One winter afternoon
( at the magical hour
when is becomes if )
a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.
Nobody, it’s safe
to say, observed him but
myself; and why? because
without any doubt he was
whatever ( first and last )
most people fear most:
a mystery for which i’ve
no word except alive
— that is, completely alert
and miraculously whole ;
with not merely a mind and a heart
but unquestionably a soul –
by no means funereally hilarious
( or otherwise democratic )
but essentially poetic
or etherally serious :
a fine not a coarse clown
( no mob, but a person )
and while never saying a word
who was anything but dumb ;
since the silence of him
self sang like a bird.
Most people have been heard
screaming for international
measures that render hell rational
— i thank heaven somebody’s crazy
enough to give me a daisy
oh nice chris…i like cummings quite a bit….very unique style…the unusual punctuation makes one get a different feel of the verse, throws a different light on it..i like…
… & he was quite an artist, too, with a steady output of paintings before he became acknowledged as the wonderful poet he is. I have everything he has ever had published here in front of me on my bookshelves … & he is definitely in my personal top three poets of all time.
Victoria C. Slotto said:
Describing him as a modernist clairifies a lot for me. I enjoy the challenge of his writing and when I don’t “get it” usually savor a twist of wordplay, a line. I enjoyed both the poem you posted and the one James included which makes me want to go back and revisit his work now that I myself am more steeped in the mind of poetry. College, for me, was an awfully long time ago…
Lovely. He’s so imitated and watered down, it’s a bit unfair. Thanks for the lovely poem. K.
I agree! Great article. There are strict forms, but there is a yearning to expand the art form in new ways, venturing from the traditional, so we can know the poetic world in not flat, and that we will on sail off a falsely held belief there is an edge.
I agree! Great article. There are strict forms, but there is a yearning to expand the art form in new ways, venturing from the traditional, so we can know the poetic world in not flat, and that we will not sail off a falsely held belief there is an edge.
LoveloveLOVE Cummings, especially Humanity, and Since Feeling is First. Great article, thanks!
Great! I feel like I know something about him, saw an article recently of him in the newspaper. Three thousand poems is a lot of poems. Thanks.
hannah uk said:
More like a body guard or a boxer’s manager, pugnacious.
hat two sizes too large and askew,
not jauntily, which is always acceptable,
like the Irish typical lovable rogue, but
awkward on a close-cropped head
mouth pouting and rolled up old fashioned scarf
slung nonchalently round lapel of
implying disinterest in outward appearance
and no need for fashionable garments or style.
fair enough, as long as he is at home in these clothes.
Doesn’t seem to be.
Irritable, and that other word which escapes me.
Irrascible. that’s it.
Anger barely concealed in stance and word order
Hardly one grippable phrase, disdain for anybody
Switched off by these two stanzas
if that is what they are
I let the words flow over me like drip drops on a corrugated roof.
Like riffling through a dictionary,
bending the corners and letting them ripple through your fingers
like listening to a crossed line on an old phone with a bad connection
I, the dullard feel dulled even more by this apathy
with words, this self-indulgent train of thoughts
hidden and as mysterious as he would like to be.
not for me.
not yet anyways.
Not at first sight, but that is hardly fair.
Have I found what HE is like?
Probably not one jot.
Give me time.
hannah uk said:
Sorry, didn’t mean to hide.
My keyboard has a will of its own.
Wanted to say that I liked your topic .
I also like both regulated and unregulated verse.
It’s all just a way of making words dance.
His work is a nightmare for proofreaders!
Rosemary Nissen-Wade said:
I’ve been mad about cummings for years and years and years. So have a lot of people; it seems his words d speak to many. Jan, I am very fond of that piece too. But my very favourite cummings is (oh, will if fomat correctly here?):
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what I want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Rosemary Nissen-Wade said:
No dammit, it didn’t. It’ supposed to spread across the page, lines falling like steps under each other, indents all over the place …. but actually it reads very well this way too. It’s the way cummings wrote it, obviously — you HAVE to say it as he intended. I think he was a master.
I wanted to say, too: even though I don’t at all agree with your estimation of him, Hannah, I think your poem about him is wonderful!
It took me a while to appreciate the works of E.E. Cummings. Not all his poems are meant to be read out loud, I think, but the ones that are, really do read well.
Hi! Brian, Claudia, and d’Verse crew…
What a very interesting [and very informative] post…You know this is my first-time reading poet e.e.cummings’ poetic words.
Tks, for sharing!
[Side-note: On a Ning that I’m a member Of a lady said, that I don’t capitalize the first letters Of my [first and last] name like poet e.e. cummings…My response [or rather thought was…Who?] Now, I know who e.e. cummings is… an unconventional poet.]
brian miller said:
nice chris…i have learned much from cummings and thoroughly enjoyed his works over the last couple years…his was one of my first poetry books i checked out from the library actually…
Gay Reiser Cannon said:
Ah..modernism – is a classification given to the period 1895 to 1920. All happening first Paris then to New York. Yes, I would classify cummings as modern and put him in with those guys & gals of the period..stein, picasso, hemingway, stevens.
Love the favorite anthology pieces still – in just spring, and anyone lived in a pretty how town
Cumming certainly forced me to think in different ways when I first started writing – not sure he has made a lasting impression. I continue to try to find my own voice. Pity, it just keeps changing and getting older along with me.
Thanks Chris, for another wonderful and illuminating article.
Boy was this one popular! I think he is my favorite, as well. Thank you, Chris.