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Will Bodron
Mrs. Pritchard
English II
3/16/16
The Unconventional Conventions of ee cummings
ee cumming's experiences as a World War One ambulance driver, as a father, and others
all molded his voice, style, and the overall creativity of his poetry. ee cummings, widely known
for his rebellion against capitalization and other common conventions, requested that any who
write about him, write his name in lowercase letters for various and controversial reasons. ee
cummings' poetry remains truly revolutionary.
ee cummings manipulates his tone, punctuation, and spacing in his poetry to elicit some
response from his audience. In "maggie and milly and molly and may," the reader sees
cumming's ingenious use of alliteration and polysyndeton as soon as he/she merely reads the
title. Almost every line acts as an example of enjambment, and as a result is read at a quicker
tempo. All these poetic devices create the sense that a child is narrating the poem. Then, at the
end of his poem, ee cummings hits the reader with a philosophical spiel; writing, in the form of a
rhymed couplet, "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)/it's always ourselves we find in the
sea" (Cummings "maggie"). This statement is immensely surprising to the reader this surprise
and is also implemented in his poem, "my sweet old etcetera".
"my sweet old etcetera" is reminiscent of ee cummings' time spent in WWI. The poem is
written as if it were a letter to home. He does not address it to one person. Instead, he writes to

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"etcetera", as well as more specific people such as his father and mother. This creates the
illusion that the narrator (who I'll assume is ee cummings himself) speaks directly to anyone who
cares to read. He frequently trails off at the end of lines, even in the middle, using the phrase
"etcetera", allowing the reader's mind to wander off to very specific topics dictated solely by the
poem itself. The dual sided nature of the poem, one being on the paper itself, the other being in
the reader's mind, allows the reader a very personal connection to the narrator. , the poem would
n'ot work if ee cummings was not able to slow it down enough to allow the reader's mind to
wander. Being a strict rebel to capitalization and punctuation, ee cummings ingeniously found a
different way to combat the pace of the reader. He spaced out lines in a highly ununiformed
manner, sometimes breaking lines in the middle of words for no apparent reason, as well as
including useless repetition such as "Isabel created hundreds (and hundreds) of socks." Again, at
the end of the poem, ee cummings goes way off the deep end and makes a reference that leads
the reader in a very specific direction:
(dreaming,
et
cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Et cetera) (Cummings "etcetera")
Not only is this poem surprising in subject matter, but it is also visually shocking. It includes

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parentheses to set apart phrases, it frequently lacks capitalization, and the entire poem, like most
of ee cummings' poetry, is one a run-on sentence. "l(a" finds some similarities to "my sweet old
etcetera" in these aspects but is also very different.
"l(a" visually and vocally describes the descent of the first leaf in fall with a grand total of
4 words. Visually, the number of characters in each line increases as the poem goes along, the
last line being the much longer than the rest. ee cummings does not capitalize a single letter in
the entire poem, and has the entire poem within the word "loneliness", something ee cummings
struggled with in his life. Overall, ee cumming's highly creative outlook in this poem allows him
to create something that it is hard to imagine could be any better.
"next to of course god america i," with its lack of capitalization and punctuation, its
rhyme, and references to exclusively "American" culture, to create a gibberish speaking
politician that anyone can dislike as easily as the author. The reader can nearly see a politician
standing behind his podium, a glass of water in hand, spurting seemingly random words and
phrases like "heroic," or "my country tis of", and "land of the pilgrims" that only he (the
speaker) thinks add to his speech. The rhyme scheme and enjambment both help to manipulate
the pace of the poem. The first twelve appear to have no clear place to breathe at all, giving the
illusion that it should be read in one breath. The first punctuation mark is seen on the second to
last line, slowing down the poem dramatically, finally giving the reader a chance to catch his
breath with the politician.
"in Just-" happily melds other poems by cummings. It takes its childish tone from
"maggie and milly and molly and may," its form and structure from "l(a," its pace and spacing
from "my sweet old etcetera," and its effect of diction from "next to of course god america i."
"in Just-" tells the story of springs arrival, though not in the conventional way. One could write a

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story about plants growing or about puddles, to describe such an arrival, however, ee cummings
chooses to accomplish this between the lines. The poem takes the form of three stanzas, written
differently each time, give very similar messages. It is the changes between the stanzas that
create the illusion of the arrival of spring. "The poem takes on an elliptical rhythm," (Overview
"in Just- Spring") meaning, the poem rather than going from point A to point B, it loops back
from B to A. With each rotation cummings adds more details to each element. The balloon man
is referenced three times in this poem and each time his description is added on to or changed.
By the end of the poem, the reader perceives him as the "Pied Piper" or as the Greek
mythological Pan. Either way, as the poem progresses, it becomes more surreal and closer to
spring. ee cummings childish tone and diction displays yet another theme. The theme of
everyone's inner child. cummings uses this theme in several of works. In "in Just-" he uses
words like "mud-luscious" and "eddieandbill" to show his own inner child by using combined
and made up words, as a child might.
ee cummings' life influenced the methods and themes that he used in his craft. He rebels
against capitalization, uses a highly creative outlook, and meticulously choosing every word and
space. In light of the test of time, a reviewer of cummings' poetry goes so far to ask, "Can his
poems surmount such obstacles? Well, perhaps if they cannot survive as poems they can survive
as puzzles" (Graves). He goes further to associate them with cross-word puzzles. cummings'
poetry, when seen under this new light becomes much clearer. We, as the reader, are capable of
understanding the spacing of poems like, "l(a" or "in Just-" by reading them in a similar way,
only looking to understand each individual part by understanding the parts around it. This style
of poetry can be accredited to the many events of ee cummings' life.

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It seems that ee cummings' early life was specifically tailored to his future occupation. ee
cummings was encouraged by his family from an early age to become a poet (Goldfarb). ee
cummings, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, went to school at Harvard where he studied
classic, European, and English literature (Friedman). As a result of his parents' encouragement
and his ability to attend Harvard, ee cummings was able to become the truly revolutionary poet
he was.
Soon after finishing college, cummings signed up to become a part of the volunteer
ambulance corps and was sent to France (Goldfarb). As a pacifist, ee cummings wrote letters
that took a different opinion of Germans than that of the commonly accepted. He "refused to say
that he hated Germans" (Goldfarb). As a result, he was imprisoned in France for two months
which acted as an inspiration for him to write his first book, "The Enormous Room" (Goldfarb).
ee cummings time spent in WWI can explain his deeply rooted, confident tone in some of his
more controversial poetry. In, "next to of course god america i" the reader gains insight into
cummings thoughts about politicians, and raises the question of, "What else does ee cummings
dislike?"
ee cummings, although he was revolutionary, he lacked a purpose for his poetry. Unlike
other poets of his time, he lacked an overarching message. As a result, he would have to get his
inspiration from elsewhere. He chose to draw it from those he surrounded himself with.
Unfortunately, cummings' love life waxes and wanes. He was married and divorced three times
and maintains a distant relationship with his daughter, Nancy (Friedman).
ee cummings was able to manipulate the English language in a way that proved to be
truly revolutionary, by meticulously choosing the correct, not only words but also spacing and
capitalization, while tearing down the rules of the language to their very foundation.

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Works Cited
Clifford, Alison. "The Sweet Old Etcetera." Ed. Graeme Truslove. The Sweet Old Etcetera. AltW, n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2016. <http://www.duck-egg.co.uk/sweetweb/sweetoldetc.html>. =
Cummings, Edward Estlin. "[in Just] by E.E. Cummings." POETRY FOUNDATION. N.p., n.d.
Web. 7 Mar. 2016. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176657>.
- - -. "l(a." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L(a>.
- - -. "maggie and milly and molly and may." poetry.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
<https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/maggie-and-milly-and-molly-and-may>.
- - -. "Monday Poem: "my sweet old etcetera" by e. e. cummings." The Black Sheep. WordPress,
12 4 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2016. <https://oneblacksheep.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/monday-poemmy-sweet-old-etcetera-by-e-e-cummings/>.
Friedman, Norman. "Cummings, E(dward) E(stlin) (1894-1962)." Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia
of American Literature. George B. Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger. Vol. 1. New
York: HarperCollins, 1991. 233. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Goldfarb, Sheldon. "E. E. Cummings." Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (2016): Research
Starters. Web. 4 Mar. 2016. A brief overview of ee cummings' life.
Graves, Robert, and Laura Riding. "A Study in Original Punctuation and Spelling."A Survey of
Modernist Poetry, 1926. Reproduced in The Common Asphodel: Collected Essays on Poetry
19221949, (London: Hamish Hamilton,1949): pp. 8495. Quoted as "A Study in Original
Punctuation and Spelling" in Bloom, Harold, ed. The Sonnets, Bloom's Shakespeare Through the
Ages. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2008. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web.

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8 Mar. 2016 <http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?


ItemID=WE54&WID=19270&SID=5&iPin=STATS035&SingleRecord=True>.
"Lower case study of a poet." Irish Times 28 May 2005: Newspaper Source. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
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"Overview: "In Just-Spring"." Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature
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