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E. E. Cummings
E. E. Cummings, who was born in 1894 and died in 1962, wrote many poems with
unconventional punctuation and capitalization, and unusual line, word, and even
letter placements. Cummings' most difficult form of prose is probably the
ideogram; it is extremely short and it combines both visual and aural elements.
There may be sounds or characters on the page that cannot be said or cannot
carry the same message if pronounced and not read. Four of Cummings' poems - l(a,
mortals), !blac, and swi illustrate the ideogram form quite well. Cummings
utilizes unique syntax in these poems in order to convey messages visually as
well as verbally. Although one may think of l(a as a poem of sadness and
loneliness, Cummings probably did not intend that. "This poem is about
individuality ; oneness" (Kid 200-1). The theme of oneness can be derived from
the numerous instances and forms of the number '1' throughout the poem. First, 'l(a'
contains both the number 1 and the singular indefinite article, 'a'; the second
line contains the French singular definite article, 'le'; 'll' on the fifth line
represents two ones; 'one' on the 7th line spells the number out; the 8th line,
'l', isolates the number; and 'iness', the last line, can mean "the state
of being I" - that is, individuality - or "oneness", deriving the
"one" from the lowercase roman numeral 'i' (200). Cummings could have
simplified this poem drastically ("a leaf falls:/loneliness"), and
still conveyed the same verbal message, but he has altered the normal syntax in
order that each line should show a 'one' and highlight the theme of oneness. In
fact, the whole poem is shaped like a '1' (200). The shape of the poem can also
be seen as the path of a falling leaf; the poem drifts down, flipping and
altering pairs of letters like a falling leaf gliding, back and forth, down to
the ground. The beginning 'l(a' changes to 'le', and 'af' flips to 'fa'. 'll'
indicates a quick drop of the leaf, which has slowed by a longer line, 'one'.
Finally, the leaf falls into the pile of fallen leaves on the ground,
represented by 'iness'. Cummings has written this poem so perfectly that every
part of it conveys the message of oneness and individuality (200). In mortals),
Cummings vitalizes a trapeze act on paper. Oddly enough, this poem, too,
stresses the idea of individualism, or'eachness', as it is stated on line four.
Lines 2 and 4, 'climbi' and 'begi', both end leaving the letter 'i' exposed.
This is a sign thatCummings is trying to emphasize the concept of
self-importance (Tri 36). This poem is an amusing one, as it shows the effects
of a trapeze act within the arrangement of the words. On line 10, the space in
the word 'open ing' indicates the act beginning, and the empty, static moment
before it has fully begun. 'of speeds of' and '&meet&', lines 8 and 12
respectively, show a sort of back-and-forth motion, much like that of the motion
of a trapeze swinging. Lines 12 through 15 show the final jump off the trapeze,
and 'a/n/d' on lines 17 through 19, represent the deserted trapeze, after the
acrobats have dismounted. Finally, '(im' on the last line should bring the
reader's eyes back to the top of the poem, where he finds 'mortals)'. Placing '(im'
at the end of the poem shows that the performers attain a special type of
immortality for risking their lives to create a show of beauty, they attain a
special type of immortality (36-7). The circularity of the poem causes a feeling
of wholeness or completeness, and may represent the Circle of Life, eternal
motion (Fri 26). Cummings first tightly written ideogram was !blac, a very
interesting poem. It starts with '!', which seems to be saying thatsomething
deserving that exclamation point occurred anterior to the poem, and the poem is
trying objectively to describe certain feelings resulting from '!'. "black
against white" is an example of such a description in the poem; the
clashing colors create a feeling in sync with '!'. Also, why "(whi)"
suggests amusement and wonder, another feeling resulting from '!' (Weg 145).
Cummings had written a letter concerning !blac to Robert Wenger, author of The
Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings (see Works Cited). In it, he wrote, "for
me, this poem means just what it says . . . and the ! which begins the poem is
whatmight be called and emphatic (=very)." This poem is also concerns