Ee Cummings: Clamored Order


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This English 102 assignment prompted us to identify a poet's influences and determine if the poet had an impact. The presumption was an impact upon literature. Amazingly enough, I never looked at Cummings in any depth prior to this paper. In fact, I don't even recall ever reading any of his poems prior to researching this paper.

I had some trouble with this paper early on. The prompt mentioned that we should not give a "report" on the poet. To me that meant we should not give much attention to the poet's biography. Well, the paper I was writing gave way too much detail to Cummings' time in France, Russia, his childhood, and his affair with Elaine Orr. Setting the paper aside for a week then looking at the prompt again, I discovered my "feeling" was 100% accurate. The end result of the rewrite is what you see here.

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Ee Cummings: Clamored Order

  1. 1. 1Louis WischnewskyProf. G. SmithEnglish 102December 7, 2011 E e. Cummings: Clamored Order The masses have long had a love-hate relationship with playwrights and poets, emphasison poets. The paradox is that the few words of a poet can be terribly complicated to understand.Fewer words, to most, should be fairly simple in meaning. The case of E. E. Cummings is anideal example of this dichotomy. For example, his poem “1(a leaffalls)oneliness” is more of acollection of letters than it is of words: 1(a le af fa ll s) one l iness (Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 883-884)“A leaf falls loneliness.” How complicated can that be to understand? Yet, it is open to manyinterpretations.
  2. 2. 2 Complicated or not, Cummings certainly had a significant impact upon literature,particularly poetry. He brought an entirely new concept to visual poetry. In doing so, heaccomplished what some noteworthy predecessors were unable to do: force the reader to engagethe poem as if he were the speaker himself. Mimicking Cummings, it is hard to garner the sameesteem because it is easy to miss Cummings point: it is not what you read, but how you say it.Sadly, though, his powerful way of affecting the visual arrangement of words is mostly whatCummings is famous for, even though that is just a small part of his overall plethora of literature.These aspects of the poet bring out two different things to consider when trying to know whatinfluenced Cummings. Already mentioned is the inspiration for why he created a new form ofvisual poetry. What, though, influenced his actual subjects? Four different periods or events inhis life answer that question. Looking pre-Cummings, yes, “concrete” or visual (also called emblem poetry) – poemswhose words are arranged in shapes – had been around for a long time (Kirszner and Mandel,801,1007-1008). For example, long before Cummings, George Herbert created a visual poemwith “Easter Wings” (1008). “Randomly arranged words,” however, are a distinctive Cummingstrademark (see poem in opening paragraph). Herberts poem was revolutionary in that it created avisual image. It did not, however, cause the reader to think with varied emotion or even variedpace. Poems like Cummings “a leaf [...]”, though, does something totally different: it forces thereader to pause, to second guess what is being read. Is the first character an “L” or a “one?” Whoknows? And that is the point of the poem: to demonstrate to the reader that everyone knows theyare an individual, but what is an individual? Starting and stopping, reflecting on whether thereader has interpreted what is written, what is history, the poem is a reflection of life: successessometimes, failures others. “Easter Egg” questions faith and admits sin while hoping for Godsmercy, but it requires the reader to put himself or herself into the emotion; it requires the reader
  3. 3. 3relate to the speaker. Cummings poem requires the reader be the speaker, accomplishing the goalwhether the reader wants it to happen or not. Punctuation is probably an even larger signature of Cummings. Yet, again, Cummingswas not the first to attempt using punctuation to affect what is being read in the poem. EmilyDickinson appears to have worked hard at the same goal. Look at how she used hyphens in“Heaven – is what I cannot reach!” to force certain emotions within the reader: “Heaven” - is what I cannot reach! The Apple on the Tree – Provided it do hopeless – hang – The – “Heaven” is – to Me! (1142-1143)The idea Dickinson is trying to convey is that the speaker is distraught, talking to someone, whodoes not matter, but to herself at the same time. “Heaven” is in quotes as if Heavens existence isquestionable. Regardless, the speaker stresses that she cannot reach it and that is known becauseof the exclamation point. Cummings sees what Dickinson wanted to accomplish and asks, “Whatif I tried the same thing but instead of using punctuation, I simply do not use punctuation at all?”The net result is powerful and gives him far more lattitude than that of an irritable, frustratedspeaker. Here are two lines from “in Just –”: “whistles far and wee / and eddieandbillcome” (Literature …, 957). Cummings forces a long pause where Dickinson would have forced aquick aside. Yet, Cummings is fully capable of forcing the quick aside, as well, by putting thenames together as one word. The range of emotion Cummings technique allows is infinite.Whats more, though he does not so to a large degree with “in Just –”, he most certainly couldadd punctuation anytime he wanted. Look at this line from “let us suspect,cherie,this not verybig”: “if we look at it we will want to touch it.” (Complete Poems …, 957). Bam! “If we look ateach other naked, something is going to happen. Period. End of debate.” He gets the same start
  4. 4. 4and sudden stop to the thought Dickinson was forcing in her poem, but Cummings can have thespeaker linger in thought (“whistles far and wee”) and, yet, says much without sayinganything at all (“if we look at it we will want to touch it.”). Dickinsons technique could not. The end result is that, in reality, Cummings did not randomly place words on the paper.Nor did he leave out punctuation or capitalization simply to be unique and stand out. In reality,he actually did use punctuation, but sparingly, as noted above. His arrangement had a purpose.Think of Cummings like Pablo Picasso: it might seem and look cheap and easy, but the art has avery specific reason – and takes a long time to develop. In fact, Cummings considered Picasso,“one of the greatest of the living painters” (A Miscellany Revised, 99). Why? Well look at whatPicasso was capable of and why he created cubist art. Picasso was fully capable of Botticelli-grade work (Picasso). However, he wanted to transpose the emotion of the subject into theviewer. Cummings wanted to do the same with readers of poetry and, thus, was an admirer of thecubist. Whats more, Cummings was quite capable of traditional schematics. Indeed, the majorityof his work falls well within traditional conventions. He was not only a master of writtenlanguage, though, he was also a master of auditory exchange and it is the auditory vernacular ofwords that usually commands the greatest emotions within human beings. Perhaps evenShakespeare knew this some hundreds of years earlier, but it was Cummings that revolutionizedlanguage and introduced a way of letting that exchange happen within written words. What, though, influenced this literary giant? There are as many answers to that questionas there are interpretations of any of his poems. Even so, there are some events in his life thatclearly affected his worldview. Cummings had made up his mind to be a poet at an early age. Thetotal anthology of his published works, E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904-1962, shows apoem written in 1904 when Cummings would have been only ten years old (1054). Thus, hischildhood had already guided him to be a poet in the first place. His imprisonment in France
  5. 5. 5after the first world war was an influence, as well, motivating him to write “[in] a rather clumsyand inadequate way” - but not so much in his poetry; The Enormous Room, is the reflection uponthat internment (Friedman, 23-24). As Eleanor Sickels explained, like many liberal bohemians ofthe day, Cummings was initially interested in the ideal of egalitarian communism (229-232).However, the Russian, or anti-Russian, influence was well after his most famous subject,eroticism, had become his forte and made him a, in true Cummings fashion, reluctantly eagercapitalist (229-236). So while Cummings adventures across the pond were influential, they werehardly foundations of his motivations. Rather, according to Milton A. Cohen, Cummings had a profound affinity toward Freudand his theories. Freudian influence on the poet is largely unknown, particularly Cummingspoetry from the late 1910s and early 1920s (592). In fact, a claim that Freudian influence uponCummings during that period is profound would be dead on. To begin with, Cummings wasunique among bohemian Modernists in that he not only accepted Freudian theory, Cummingsactually incorporated, or attempted to, into his life (591). The evidence is blatant: not only do Cummings works from that period have a greaterfrequency, and more intense elicit references than other periods of his life, there was the ElaineOrr affair that only amplified his misconception of what Freud was saying. Cummings figured,with his own interpretation of Freud, that Orrs pregnancy was her problem, not his. His reaction,denial that he sired the child, reflects more of a lack of initial self-confidence in the theory. Herewas Scofield Thayer, the poets college mentor, introducing and promoting Freudian philosophyon Cummings young mind but when “Jack Death” came knocking, suddenly Thayer is not aFreudian practitioner (592, 594-595). Neither was Orr, whom Cummings surely thought was aFreud disciple, as well. The end result is a transition from obvious suggestion, prior to the affair, in “wanta
  6. 6. 6spendsix” … wanta spendsix dollars Kid 2 for the room and four for the girl (Cummings, 942)to testing the waters, referencing each others sex as “it” in “let us suspect,cherie,this not verybig” … if we look at it we will want to touch it. And we mustnt because(something tells me) ever so very carefully if we begin to handle it out jumps Jack Death (957)It is obvious Cummings has moved from toying with eroticism to desperately wanting to ignorepotential consequences, per his interpretation of Freudian ideology; Jack Death beingconsumation of a child – having to be responsible Cummings ultimate disaster: death. The affairwas not, in Cummings mind, erotic in itself. What made the affair his step into the raw sexualpursuit he believed Freud was directing him toward was the fact Orr was married. The evidencecomes in several poems written during the Orr affair. Upon the end of the Orr affair period of poems, Cummings goes all out with poems like“my humorous ghost precisely will” and “Lady,i will touch you with my mind” (Complete …,967, 983). Cummings, through the voice of the speaker, can not get enough sex. He loves
  7. 7. 7women for the pleasure they bring him, but he loathes them because they remind him there areconsequences for his acts, whether they are random sex or, in the case of his trip to Russia,purposeful equality. The Soviets promised an egalitarian society. Problem was, a person had togive up all their freedoms in exchange. Cummings adored women for their vaginas, but loathedthem for their pregnancies or their weight gain or any other defect he could imagine within orupon them. Cummings would probably be joyed to know that nearly fifty years after his demise, he isstill widely recognized even beyond the world of art and literature. Unfortunately, to citeCummings when individuals fill their pages with errors, calling the mess poetry, truly dishonorsthis literary giants legacy. Cummings worked almost his entire life perfecting his writing skills.He did not avoid traditional conventions randomly and there is not a single shred of evidence toconclude that he did. Rather, he did so in order to know when, where, and why to break the rulesof the kings English, creating, thus, a clamored order to his style. It is practically impossible tolay claim that any one thing, event, or person influenced any writer or artist and this especiallyholds true of Cummings. Still, his childhood, days in a French prison, his trip to the SovietUnion, and his simultaneous exposure to Freud and affair with Elaine Orr were big events inCummings life, even for someone of his stature. It was his desire to be a great poet that allowedhim to experiment until he created poems like “in Just -,” but it was the end of that list that gavehim his preferred subject matter.
  8. 8. 8 Works CitedCohen, Milton A. “Cummings and Freud.” American Literature. Vol. 55. Issue 4, (1983): 591- 610. JSTOR Web. 13 Nov 2011.Cummings, E. E. “1(a leaf falls)loneliness.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Eds. Kirszner, Laurie G. and Mandell, Stephen R. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 833-884. Print.---. A Miscellany Revised. New York: October House, 1965. 99-100. Print.---. “DEDICATED TO DEAR NANA CLARKE.” E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904- 1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1991. 1054. Print.---. “in Just –” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Eds. Kirszner, Laurie G. and Mandell, Stephen R. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 957. Print.---. “Lady,i will touch you with my mind.” E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1991. 983. Print.---. “let us suspect,cherie,this not very big.” E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1991. 957. Print.---. “my humorous ghost precisely will.” E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1991. 967. Print.---. “wanta spendsix .” E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1991. 942. Print.Dickens, Emily. “Heaven – is what I cannot reach!” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Eds. Kirszner, Laurie G. and Mandell, Stephen R. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 1142- 1143. Print.Friedman, Norman. e. e. cummings: The Growth of a Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964. 23-24. Print.
  9. 9. 9Herbert, George. “Easter Wings.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Eds. Kirszner, Laurie G. and Mandell, Stephen R. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 1008. Print.Kirszner, Laurie G. and Mandell, Stephen R. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 801, 1007-1008. Print.Sickels, Eleanor M. “The Unworld of E. E. Cummings.” American Literature. Vol. 26. Issue 2, 1954: 223-238. Online.Picasso, Pablo. First Communion. 1896. Museo Picasso, Barcelona, Spain. Web. 06 Dec 2011.