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Sreelakshmi Sudhakaran

II P.S.English
American Literature CIA II
July, 2013
e e cummings
E. E. Cummings is an inventive, imaginative and creative American writer.
Edward Estlin Cummings was born on the 14
of October 1894, in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, into a Unitarian family son of Edwards Cummings and Rebecca Haswell
Clarke. He began writing poetry as early as 1904, when he was merely 10 years of age.
Cummings studied Latin and Greek at the Cambridge Latin High School, receiving his B.A
(1915) and M.A (1916) both from Harvard. It was his studies here that introduced him to
writers such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.
Cummings can easily be established as one of the foremost and innovative American writers
of his time. A term that is generally associated with Cummings writing is avant-garde
defined to be any creative group active in the innovation and application of new concepts
and techniques in a given field (especially in the arts). His interactions with the works of
Stein and Pound, both of whom were definitively unconventional writers, greatly influenced
Cummings writing and style later on. However, the seeds of this sort of tendency towards
the unusual and nonconformist, especially in his writing, were present even in childhood. At
the age of six, Cummings wrote the following to his father:
Cummings published his first poem in a 1912 issue of The Harvard Monthly, while he was
pursuing his studies there. Within a year, he was elected to serve on its editorial board
amongst like-minded peers, including fellow writer John Dos Passos. It was here that he was
introduced to the writings of the likes of Pound, Eliot, James Joyce and so on. He was also
exposed to the artistic innovations of Impressionism and Cubism. Cummings poetry at the
time was extremely conventional in style and content; however, his exposure to modernist
ideas and writing brought about a tremendous change in his style and expression as well. This
is most evident in his 1915 commencement address entitles The New Art, as well as four of
his poems that he selected for inclusion in Eight Harvard Poets (1917).
Through this experimental pieces, as they started out, Cummings began to establish a unique
style that was to develop over the years. Influenced by modernist art in addition to writing, he
began to cultivate the art-form of typography in his poetry, using form to emphasize and
embellish the content of his writing. Furthermore, Cummings is known for his
unconventional usage of the lowercase personal pronoun (i), which was intended to
represent his humility, his small physical stature, as well as his unique identity as a writer.
This usage first appeared in these initial works of his. However, at the time, an editor
corrected what he believed was Cummings mistake before he sent the works to print,
presaging many misinterpretations to come.
The same year that his works were published in the anthology, Eight Harvard Poets,
Cummings was drafted to serve in the ambulance corps in France for World War I. However,
he was extremely outspoken about his anti-war convictions, refusing to state any sort of
animosity towards the Germans. He was detained, along with a friend, on charges of
disloyalty and espionage. Although he was released later, his experiences with detainment led
to the creation of his novel, The Enormous Room (1922). About the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald
said "Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survivesThe
Enormous Room by e e cummings.....Those few who cause books to live have not been able
to endure the thought of its mortality."
His collections of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), and XLI Poems (1925), are what
finally established Cummings as an avant-garde poet. His inventive use of grammar and
syntax is clearly evident in these works. Though Tulips and Chimneys was heavily cut by his
editor, XLI Poems managed to more accurately represent Cummings unique identity as a
poet and writer. These anthologies received mixed reviews from critics. Many of them
mistook his revolutionary technique for deliberate obfuscation, reserving praise only for his
more traditional verses. However, Cummings satiric wit, unique style, and frank treatment of
subjects such as sexuality garnered him a small following, as well as somewhat of a
reputation as an iconoclast.
By 1927, Cummings had not only published a remarkable well-received novel (The
Enormous Room) and established himself as a unique and distinctive poet, he has also tried
his hand at playwriting. Him turned out to be an uneven but fascinating exploration of
artistic self-discovery, praised by avant-garde writers and critics, but condemned by nearly
everybody else.
The passing away of Cummings father saw his entry into a new artistic phase, where he
began to explore larger themes regarding life in his works. Cummings was not merely
inventive and distinctive in his style and content, he was also an extremely versatile artist.
While largely established as a poet, of which he continued to produce volumes throughout his
life, Cummings also added to his repertoire a couple of dramas after Him (Tom in 1935 and
Santa Claus in 1946); a travel diary titled Eimi (1933) Greek for I am modelled along
Dantes Inferno and exploring similar themes as in The Enormous Room; a collection of
essays titled A Miscellany (1958); and a final honour involving delivering a series of lectures,
published as i: Six Nonlectures (1953), a result of the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at
Harvard. The latter provided a pithy and pleasant summation of Cummings life and
philosophy. Cummings also wrote children's books and novels. A notable example of his
versatility is an introduction he wrote for a collection of the comic strip Krazy Kat.
Some of Cummings most famous poetry do not involve much odd typography or
punctuation, but still carry his unmistakable style, particularly in his unusual and
impressionistic word order. Furthermore, some of Cummings work often contain, in part or
whole, intentional misspellings and several phonetic spellings, intended to imitate particular
dialects. Many of Cummings poems are satirical and address social issues, but have an equal
or even stronger bias towards romanticism. Time and again, his poems seem to explore
concepts of love, sex, and the idea of rebirth. It is possible to state that while Cummings was
a definitively unconventional writer, he did seem to explore and express a lot of traditional
and conventional concepts.
E. E. Cummings passed away on the 2
of September, 1962, due to a brain haemorrhage.
There still continues debate regarding whether his name is to be written in lowercase a style
that he adopted in order to express his humility and establish his exclusive identity. However,
regardless of such minor controversies, it is no doubt that Cummings name has been
incorporated with great honour into the pantheon of American literati.
"E. E. Cummings: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center".
(2010, May 9). E. E.Cummings Collection. Harry Ransom Humainites Research Center.
Bloom, H. (2003). E. E. Cummings. Chelsea House Publishers.
Selected letters of E. E. Cummings, (1972) Edward Estlin Cummings, Frederick Wilcox Dupee, George
Stade. University of Michigan p3 ISBN 978-0-233-95637-4