“Who Are You,Little I Research Paper Sample
E. E. Cummings
Introduction and Thesis
Edwards Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1894. His poetry is widely read, second only to Robert Frost in the United States. He developed as a writer and an artist during a time of change and experimentation in literature and art in the United States. His poetry, creativity and innovation make him the quintessential American poet.
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window;at the gold
of november sunset
(and feeling:that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)”
(Cummings, Selected Poems, 3)
Cummings was born, grew up and educated in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor of sociology at Harvard but left to become a Unitarian minister. In addition to his mother and father, Edward had a sister, and grandmothers and other family members who were always coming to stay in the home for periods of time. Edward’s household growing up is described as, “a happy, harmonious arrangement, and growing up in the midst of a model extended family” (Kennedy, Dreams 11). He attended the Cambridge Latin School. He began writing around age 11 and enjoyed walking through the woods and being in nature when he was writing. His writings were full of humor and plays on language (Kennedy, Dreams 48-51).
Like most members of his family, Cummings attended Harvard for the next five years. He studied English, Greek and Latin and also Philosophy for one year. His love of language was demonstrated throughout his college career. Cummings was influenced by the ancient Greek poets and Keats. In 1917, some of Cummins poetry was featured in the publication, Eight Harvard Poets. Upon graduation, he volunteered to drive an ambulance in France during the First World War. He and a friend were arrested by the French for suspicion of espionage. The charges were dropped and he and his friend were freed. This experience led to his novel, The Enormous Room (“E.E. Cummings”).
As a young adult, he lived in Greenwich Village where he lived the life of an artist and writer. In 1920, The Dial published some of his poems, including “Buffalo Bill’s”. This marked his first exposure to the American audience. Europe was experiencing upheaval and revival in the art scene, and like so many other Americans, he travelled to Paris several times and stayed for extended periods to be a part of this creative revolution. He met artists such as Pablo Picasso and was influenced by Gertrude Stein’s writing. In 1921, Tulips and Chimneys was published, this work first showed his inventive use of written language. He travelled the world throughout the 1020’ Russia, South America and Europe and worked for a time as a writer for Vanity Fair Magazine.
In 1926, his father was killed in a car accident which affected him deeply. This experience guided him into a new era of creativity and expression. He continued to right, taking on more socially conscious topics in addition to his poems on love and sex and humor. In 1952, Harvard awarded him an honorary professor position. He became very popular during the 1950’s as a guest lecturer. His books, i-six nonlectures (1953) and Poems 1923-1954 (1954) were very popular (Kennedy, Dreams) at the time of their publication.
Cummings retired to his home in New Hampshire, but continued to travel and give talks. At this time, he was involved in the longest personal relationship of his life with Marion Moorehouse. He died of a stroke in 1962.
Influences: People, Events and the Typewriter
gape of tortured
rasp and graze of splintered
of planes clamors of
into the awful beauty
the young city
putting off dimension with a blush
the becoming garden of her agony”
(Cummings, Selected Poems, 36)
According to Everett, Cummings’ writing was influenced by both Gertrude Stein and Amy Lowell. Gertrude Stein’s writing is often describes as idiosyncratic and humorous, repetitive and lyrical. Amy Lowell’s style was free verse and full of imagery. Ezra Pound was also another favorite of Cummings. Pound also used words sparingly and felt that verse should be cut down to its bare bones. In his early years in school, Cummings studied and enjoyed the poems of the Ancient Greeks and also became an admirer of Keats, especially Keats’ attitude that a writer was to put imagination first and everything else beneath it. Cummings was also a great admirer of Pablo Picasso and adapted his style of Cubism to his writing (Kirsch).
On a personal level, Cummings was influenced by his father. He loved and respected his father very much. When his father was killed in an automobile accident in 196, Cummings was prompted to write several poems about the man and his influence on Cummings. Cummings was also a lover of women and has written scores of poems about them and sex. Life at Harvard and the presence of Harvard in his father’s life and his own also affected his writing. As a young man he lashed out at the institution but softened his view later in life. There is no question that the education he received there, coupled with his natural talent produced and amazing writer (Kirsch).
During his time at Harvard, Cummings was a member of the Harvard Poetry Society. This is where he had his introduction to Pound, Stein, Lowell an others. Armed with their poetry and his typewriter, Cummings embarked on a style of poetry that would forever identify him. One only need to glance a piece of poetry he has written and recognize it immediately. His use of the type writer to create space and movement within his poem is one of his signatures. Cummings used the physical of the letters and words in addition to their meaning to describe and evoke feeling in the reader (Everett).
Modernist Poetry and Art
Cummings was born into a time period at the turn of the century that saw unprecedented change in the art world. The visual arts, music and writing underwent tremendous change during this period. Artists and writers turned their backs on Victorian societies, its values and its excessiveness. Paintings and prose were overly decorated and overly done. Clothes, furniture and architecture all reflect the art and writing of this time. Modernists were influenced by the First World War, great economic and political change as well as upheaval in societal norms. Women were shedding their corsets and long skirts, simple décor and architecture in the form of Art Deco was emerging, World War I ripped nations apart and resulted in economic difficulties. Democracy was slowly beginning to replace dictatorships and monarchies. These events all set the modernist movement in the arts into motion.
In writing Modernism is described as a concern and focus on the individual and their thoughts, stream of consciousness and interior monologue. Chronology is not important in a narrative or poem. There is a dissolution or breaking up of earlier conventions of writing. One of the aims of modernism is to turn over historic convention in writing and explore new avenues in form and expression. Advances in psychology, sociology and industry fueled writers search for the unconscious and what determines and motivates a human being. Imagery and idealism in writing at the beginning of the modernist movement changed with World War I. Writing became more critical and cynical (Stevenson 14-16).
At a glance, Cummings’ poetry is very representative of the Modernist movement. Visually, his poems have broken free of any convention found in previous forms of poetry. His style of writing by juxtaposing words, writing them in a physical line that suggests movement and an apparent lack of structure are all characteristic of modernist poetry. He maintained this style throughout his career.
Cummings is also noted for creating new words, such as converting a verb into an adverb, “one(Floatingly)arrive/(silent)one by(alive)/from(into disappear/and perfectly)nowhere/vivid anonymous /mythical guests of Is/unslowly more who” (Cummings, Selected Poems 110). These creations served an important purpose in his poetry, the conveyed a feeling, thought or image that could not be captured with traditional language.
Cummings wrote dozens of poems on his love interests, but they were erotic and sensual. They described the act of sex, his observations and feelings. They were not romantic in the traditional sense. He did not write the epic romance poetry of the past. “O It’s Nice To Get Up In, the slipshod mucous kiss/ of her riant belly’s fooling bore” (Cummings, Selected Poems 75).
Cummings was also a master of sarcasm and cynicism when he was in disagreement with an idea or institution. “I sing of Olaf glad and big/ whose warmest heart recoiled at war: a conscientious object-or” (Cummings, Selected Poems 142). There were many targets for his stinging wit in society including politics and his alma mater of Harvard.
His writings expressed his stream of consciousness and not linear thinking. When he wrote his emotionally potent pieces for his father at the time of his death and his personal reflections on life and death, the words pour out of his head and heart and into the print. “my father moved through dooms of love/ through sames of am through haves of give/ singing each morning out of each night/ my father moved through depths of height” ((Cummings, Selected Poems 54).
Contributions to Literary Heritage
E. E. Cummings introduced modernist poetry to an entire generation of Americans. His unique style and creativity have created interest and delight in all who have read his work. His lectures in the 1950’s brought together the man with his work and his engaging personality won people over. Today, most American who are familiar with poetry immediately recognize his work. He also inspired thousands of would be poets to epitomize his brilliance.
“E. E. Cummings.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web 26 Mar. 2015.
Everett, Nicholas. “E. E. Cumming’s Life.” Modern American Poetry, n.d. Web 26 Mar. 2015
Kennedy, Richard. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York:
W. W. Norton Company, 1994. Print.
Kennedy, Richard. E, E. Cummings: Selected Poems. New York: Liveright, 1994. Print.
Kirsch, Adam. “The Rebellion of E. E. Cummings.” Harvard Magazine Mar./Apr. 2005:
Web 26 Mar. 2015 < http://harvardmagazine.com/2005/03/the-rebellion-of-ee-cumm.html>
Stevenson, Randall. Modernist Fiction: An Introduction. New York: Prentice Hall, 998. Print.
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