Monday, January 31, 2011

E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings (1894–1962) was the son of a Congregationalist minister. Although he became quite critical of those involved in organized religion, such as in his poem “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls”, his father’s influence on him was significant. A major poetic influence was Ezra Pound.

One poem of a spiritual encounter begins:
------------------------no time ago
------------------------or else a life
------------------------walking in the dark
------------------------i met christ

“Cummings was a scoffer in his youth, then more and more a Christian,” said Malcolm Cowley in Yale Review; “...he believes in the resurrection of the flesh.” In his early poetry it seems that his most important topics were love and sex — in his later poetry he is focussing on love and God. In his journals he frequently calls out to “le bon Dieu” — often praying for inspiration. Cummings himself is quoted as saying, “As I grow older, I tend towards piety.”

He is best known for the visual innovations in his poetry, such as spelling “I” with a lower case “i” — and for defying other language conventions, such as using verbs for nouns, or dislocating words from their normal place within a sentence. A good example of this is the word “most” in the first line of the following sonnet.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: