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


Quote “THE RAVEN” Nevermore… the other poems of Edgar Allan Poe
January 6, 2009, 3:39 pm
Filed under: poetry, poets | Tags: , , , , , , ,



Hey there Poem Geeks! When I was in 4th grade, I bought a copy of The Raven and other poems by Edgar Allan Poe at the Scholastic Book Fair and it was my first introduction to the wonderful world of poetry. I even managed to become a huge Poe fan in highschool without wearing black lipstick and drawing intense scenes of sad angels stabbing themselves all over my Algebra homework. I liked The Raven alright, even Annabelle Lee, but what really got me were those “other poems”. This is my tribute to the other poems of Edgar Allen Poe. So without further adieu…


I’ll start off with my all time favorite, the one that in 4th grade made me aspire to live a life of haunt and heartbreak and die drunk and penniless. ‘Eldorado’ feels like a short little children’s poem, but beneath the surface is the  universal theme of chasing after immortality, for what lies in the mythical city but the fountain of youth? 

Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old–
This knight so bold–
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be–
This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied–
“If you seek for Eldorado!”

Poe is credited with inventing the modern detctive story. It all started with his love of cryptograms. As an editor, he constantly challenged his readers to send in cryptograms for him to solve and he was brilliant at it (having no formal training as a cypher). Sensing the public’s great interest in cryptograms, he wrote a story called The Gold Bug in which the hero solves a mystery by deciphering a mysterious letter. This next poem has nothing to do with that, I just thought it was interesting!

Serenade by Edgar Allan Poe

So sweet the hour, so calm the time,
I feel it more than half a crime,
When Nature sleeps and stars are mute,
To mar the silence ev’n with lute.
At rest on ocean’s brilliant dyes
An image of Elysium lies:
Seven Pleiades entranced in Heaven,
Form in the deep another seven:
Endymion nodding from above
Sees in the sea a second love.
Within the valleys dim and brown,
And on the spectral mountain’s crown,
The wearied light is dying down,
And earth, and stars, and sea, and sky
Are redolent of sleep, as I
Am redolent of thee and thine
Enthralling love, my Adeline.
But list, O list,- so soft and low
Thy lover’s voice tonight shall flow,
That, scarce awake, thy soul shall deem
My words the music of a dream.
Thus, while no single sound too rude
Upon thy slumber shall intrude,
Our thoughts, our souls- O God above!
In every deed shall mingle, love.

Though Poe was baptised as an Episcopalian , his tourtured life led to a tortured relationship with his faith. While Poe tends to write about death and tragedy and his works contain far more pagan allusions than Christian ones, he does appear believe in some sort of afterlife. The following poem seems to be written without a hint of irony and could fit well in the pages of John Dunne or William Blake but like Christopher Walken in our time, Poe has a way of making even the most innocent and uplifting things sound creepy… 

Sancta Maria by Edgar Allan Poe

Sancta Maria! turn thine eyes –
Upon the sinner’s sacrifice,
Of fervent prayer and humble love,
From thy holy throne above.
At morn – at noon – at twilight dim –
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and wo – in good and ill –
Mother of God, be with me still!

When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;  

Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

It’s amazing that with his stunningly creative output, Edgar Allen Poe was known more in his day as an editor than a writer. Poe did have a great critical eye and all aspiring poets would do well to heed his advice in this next poem.

Elizabeth by Edgar Allan Poe

Elizabeth, it surely is most fit
[Logic and common usage so commanding]
In thy own book that first thy name be writ,
Zeno and other sages notwithstanding;
And I have other reasons for so doing
Besides my innate love of contradiction;
Each poet – if a poet – in pursuing
The muses thro’ their bowers of Truth or Fiction,
Has studied very little of his part,
Read nothing, written less – in short’s a fool
Endued with neither soul, nor sense, nor art,
Being ignorant of one important rule,
Employed in even the theses of the school-
Called – I forget the heathenish Greek name
[Called anything, its meaning is the same]
“Always write first things uppermost in the heart.”


Edgar Allan Poe was the Jerry Lee Lewis of his day! He scandalously married his 13 year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who was the love of his life. Tragically, she died only two years later of tuberculosis. Poe often said that the greatest tragedy is the death of a beautiful young woman. Poe was never the same after Virginia died and his writing began to be much more about sorrow, heart ache, and the death  beautiful young women. Poe would have been a horrible writer for Hallmark. Can you imagine this poem on a wedding invitation?


Bridal Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe

The ring is on my hand, 
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.
And my lord he loves me well;
But, when first he breathed his vow,
I felt my bosom swell-
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,  
And he kissed my pallid brow,
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
“Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,  
And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken,
Here is a ring, as token
That I am happy now!

Would God I could awaken!  
For I dream I know not how!
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,-
Lest the dead who is forsaken
May not be happy now.

The cause of Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery (or painfully obvious depending upon how you look at it). According to reports at the time he was found by a man named Joseph W. Walker (Dubya) intoxicated out of his wits and in clothes that didn’t belong to him. He was taken inside in a futile attempt to nurse him back to health but he died later that night. Several times throughout the evening, he cried out in a feverish state, the name  “Reynolds!” Who Reynolds was, remains a mystery. This anecdote has spawned many creative theories but I feel the most obvious one is that Reynolds was the name of his dry cleaner. Reportedly Poe’s last words were: “Lord help my poor soul.” His death was reported in the papers as “Congestion of the brain”, which, apart from being the reason I can’t find my car keys, was usually a polite euphemism for a death more scandalous and embarrassing. No records have survived to tell us the actual cause of death. The most widely accepted theory is alchoholism, while syphilis and rabies both deserve honorable mentions. After Poe’s death, a fellow writer, a man named Rufus Griswold who had long held a grudge against him, wrote a biography which was widely read, and has long since been discredited. It claimed among other things that Poe was a mad man and a drug addict (both untrue, he was actually an eccentric who drank alot). Though this portrait of Poe is the one that remains etched in the popular imagination, Edgar Allan Poe did ultimately have the last laugh. When’s the last time you ran down to the local library to pick up a copy of The Complete Rufus Griswold?

The following poem is, I believe, his most beautiful. It combines all of his favorite themes, but like Eldorado it is simple, mesmerizing, and heart breaking.

A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow–
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream? 

Your challenge for today: What to you is the greatest the tragedy? The death of a beautiful woman? Genocide? Divorce? The Chicago Cubs? Whatever it is write about it!  Remeber, better far than praise of men, ’tis to sit with book and pen! 

Oh, and lay off the booze.

To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe

read by Tom Hanks