Poem Geek

The Sonnets of e. e. cummings

Beautiful. If I had to sum up the poetry of e. e. cummings in a single word it would be beautiful. The beauty of cumming’s poetry is not in his flowery vocabulary or even his evocative imagery. cummings uses a common every day vocabulary and is unusually light on the descriptors, yet his poetry leaps off the page and pulls you in, entangling you with all it’s mystery, sensuality, spirituality, and yes, beauty. cumming’s true genius lies in syntax and sentence structure. cummings did for the sentence what Picasso did for the color blue… what John Coltrane did for the quarter note. He rearranges all the parts and creates a thing of unquestionable… oh hell, I’ll say it again, beauty!

 So, I thought we’d take a look at every poem geek’s favorite form: the sonnet, as a window into how cummings can take a traditional form and totally transform it. This should be the antidote to everyone who ever says they hate to write in forms because they are too confining. cummings refuses to be confined! 

being to timelessness as it’s to time, by e. e. cummings

nude man carrying nude woman

being to timelessness as it’s to time,
love did no more begin than love will end;
where nothing is to breathe to stroll to swim
love is the air the ocean and the land

(do lovers suffer?all divinities
proudly descending put on deathful flesh:
are lovers glad?only their smallest joy’s
a universe emerging from a wish)

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star

-do lovers love?why then to heaven with hell.
Whatever sages say and fools, all’s well

These paintings, by the way, are all by cummings. He was a painter and a playwright in addition to being a great poet. This next poem is a good example of how cummings approaches the Shakespearean sonnet the way a painter would approach the canvas. Actually, it’s a better example of how cummings approaches the Shakespearean sonnet the way Hannibal Lecter approaches the science of psychology.

life is more true than reason will deceive by e. e. cummings 

turbulent landscape

life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose:higher than have
—but beauty is more each than living’s

allmultiplied by infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete;pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing’s more than everything)

death,as men call him,ends what they call men
—but beauty is more now than dying’s when

Edward Estlin Cummings as he was born, became e. e. cummings after his editors took very seriously his demands that the typography of his poetry be reproduced exactly as he had it written. According to wikipedia, which is always wikiright about wikieverything, cummings may have been just being humble rather than idiosyncratic when he signed his name in lowercase letters. Yeah, and Madonna only took one name because she didn’t want anyone to make a fuss over her. Demanding that you be the only person in the history of the English language to not have any capital letters in your name is pure unadulterated hubris. I highly doubt cummings was so humble he didn’t want his overworked  copy editors to have to bother with the shift key. But this is all a fine example of how cummings subverts expectations. Look at this sonnet! Now he even breaks up the stanza structure, giving the sonnet a totally different look and feel! I know this sonnet has 13 lines, but the whole point of this discussion is that e. e. does whatever the hell he wants.

what time is it?it is by every star

embracing couplewhat time is it?it is by every star
a different time,and each most falsely true;
or so subhuman superminds declare

-nor all their times encompass me and you:

when are we never,but forever now
(hosts of eternity;not guests of seem)
believe me,dear,clocks have enough to do

Time cannot children,poets,lovers tell-
measure imagine,mystery,a kiss
-not though mankind would rather know how than feel;

mistrusting utterly that timelessness

whose absence would make your whole life and my
(and infinite our)merely to undie

 just(    bring)in (        sex        )timber[yback] lake  :-(

look, I just wrote a poem. DEAL WITH IT!

In all seriousness, it seems only cummings can do what he does. All imitations fall flat. But that’s the point. cummings is showing the way for us all to explore outside of the artificial boundaries of form and structure and find our own voice! or… finding what you didn’t lose.

the trick of finding what you didn’t lose by e. e. cummings

street scene

the trick of finding what you didn’t lose
(existing’s tricky:but to live’s a gift)
the teachable imposture of always
arriving at the place you never left

(and i refer to thinking)rests upon
a dismal misconception;namely that
some neither ape nor angel called a man
is measured by his quote eye cue unquote.

Much better than which,every woman who’s
(despite the ultramachinations of
some loveless infraworld)a woman knows;
and certain men quite possibly may have

shal we say guessed?”we shall” quoth gifted she:
and played the hostess to my morethanme

cummings was quite a hit with the ladies. When he would give poetry readings there were always throngs of young women just dying to hear his sensual poetry up close. The painting below is of his third wife, Marrion Morehouse.

your homecoming will be my homecoming- by e. e. cummings 

portrait of marion morehouse

your homecoming will be my homecoming-

my selves go with you,only i remain;
a shadow phantom effigy or seeming
(an almost someone always who’s noone)

a noone who,till their and your returning,
spends the forever of his loneliness
dreaming their eyes have opened to your mourning

feeling their stars have risen through your skies:

so,in how merciful love’s own name,linger
no more than selfless i can quite endure
the absence of that moment when a stranger
takes in his arms my very lifes who’s you

-when all fears hopes beliefs doubts disappear.
Everywhere and joy’s perfect wholeness we’re.

So, the challenge today is to write your own sonnet. OWN IT! Make this one unmistakably you! Make this sonnet so fresh and original you can spell your name however you want! Make this the one that puts you on the map! no pressure. But remember as you seek adulation and artistic immortality that better far than praise of men, ’tis to sit with book and pen!

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in by e. e. cummings

read by Cameron Diaz


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