Education Of Ee Cummings Essay, Research Paper
B.Introduction to Cummings? ideogram form
C.5 Poems being analyzed
D.Thesis Statement: Cummings utilizes unique syntax in these poems in order to
convey messages visually as well as verbally.
1.Theme – not sadness or loneliness, but oneness
a.instances of ?1? in the poem
b.shape of a poem representing leaf falling
3.Images – one and oneness
b.?climbi? and ?begi?
b.”of speeds of”
e.”(im” ? “mortals)”
3.Images – circularity of poem
a.?!? and its results
c.?.g? at end
a.less free verse than one may first think
1.four and one line altering stanzas
2.lone consonants forming a sort of rhyme themselves
3.trees & agains; (whi) & sky; te, rees, & le
b.falling of a leaf
1.the whole poem?s syntax
2.line and word spacing
a.comma after sky and trees
b.black against white
1.Theme ? differentiate b/w perception and conception
b.terseness, primary lang., and unclear syntactical relationships
c.motion ? Less
3.Images ? against ? across ? swift ? swimming
B.Comment on the ideogram
nto eachness begi
of speeds of
trapeze gush somersaults
fully is are ex
fall which now drop who all dreamlike
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 ? namely, ideograms. Cummings? most difficult form of prose is probably the ideogram; it is extremely terse and it combines both visual and auditory elements. There maybe sounds or characters on the page that cannot be verbalized or cannot convey 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 that Cummings 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 that something 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
). In it, he wrote,
“for me, this poem means just what it says . . . and the ! which begins the poem is what might
be called and emphatic (=very).” This poem is also concerns the cycle of birth, life, death, and
renewal. This is derived from the ?.? preceding the last letter. This shows that even though
the poem is finished, the circle of life is not, and is ever cycling (Weg 144). Through the
poem?s shape, !blac also shows a leaf fluttering to the ground. The lines? spacing
synchronizes the speed of the reading with that of the leaf at different points in its fall. With
its capital ?I?s, ?IrlI? also indicates a leaf falling straight down before it hits the ground (147).
Reading this poem, one may realize the lone comma on line 12. The poet writes about the sky
and a tree, and then a comma intrudes, which makes the reader pause, and realize the new
awareness that the comma indicated ? that of a falling leaf (145). Lines 1 through 6 are also
very important to the poem. Although “black against white” may be referring to the color of
the falling leaf in contrast to the bright sky, it is not wrong to assume it means more. As
stated above, the poem?s theme is the cycle of life, and “black against white” could be
indicating life death versus life. It shows that even though a leaf falling may be an indication
of death, falling of leaves is an integral part of the whole life cycle of the tree (146). !blac may
seem like a simple mess of words, but in reality is much more complex than that.
swi( is another poem of Cummings? ideogram form. The essence of this poem is seeing a
bird?s swift flight past the sun, and the wonder of this experience. The poem mainly tries to
convince the reader of the difference between conception, what one sees, and perception,
what one knows he is seeing (Mar 105). The first line, ?swi(? shows that the object the poet
sees is moving so rapdly that before he completely utters his first word, he must describe the
object, and that it is passing before another object ? the sun. His use of only primary
descriptives, such as speed, direction, color, and shape indicates that he is trying to describe
the bird as quickly as possible. The way he speaks, in terse syllables that lack syntactical
relationship to each other, imitate one who tries to speak before he knows exactly what he
wants to say; it is another indication of how quickly the object is moving (106).
“a-motion-upo-nmotio-n/Less?”, the 6th line, is signifying that although the poet knows that
both the objects are moving, one?s motion causes the other to seem still (106). The ?d,? at the
end of the poem is showing that after the poet has finally named the object he saw, he
immediately loses interest and stops, as writing more to further organize his thoughts would
be superfluous (106). The contrasting words in this poem are very important. ?against?
contrasts with ?across?, and signifies a halt. It seems that the poet wants to stop the object in
order to describe it. But a stopping of motion would contradict ?swi/ftly?, so Cummings
decided to refer to the speed average of the two, ?Swi/mming? (106). swi( contains less
symbolism than the other poems being analyzed, but it is similar in that the syntax adds
greatly to the poem.
Cummings? peculiar method of using syntax to convey hidden meaning is extremely effective.
The reader does not simply read and forget Cummings? ideas; instead, he must figure out the
hidden meaning himself. In doing this, he feels contentment, and thus retains the poem?s idea
for a more extended period of time. Cummings? ideogram poems are puzzles waiting to be
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New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972.
Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the
Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.
Marks, Barry A. E. E. Cummings. New York: Twayne Publishers,
Triem, Eve. E. E. Cummings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New
York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc