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Reading a poem by American modernist poet Edward Estlin Cummings is not like reading a poem by other poets. To understand his experimental work, one must first understand Cummings, his opinions and perspectives. Throughout his career Cummings dedicated his life to the pursuit of remaining in an active state of creating, and therefore experimented with many artistic mediums. Cummings is not usually thought of as a classically-influenced poet; rather his unconventional experimentation with form, grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax brought him much attention, creating an inspiring individuality. Cummings poem ‘i carry your heart with me’ is immediately recognizable as a Cummings poem as the title gives it away, for he was famous for his use of lowercase, sometimes even using it in his name, as in E.E. Cummings. Cummings was a Modernist, and Modernists believed in stripping away all that was unnecessary in a poem in order to showcase its form. This article examines some interesting features of E. E. Cummings’ poetry, his style of writing along with a stylistic analysis of E.E Cummings’ poem ”i carry your heart with me’, in order to better understand the main idea of the poem which is ideal, selfless and profound love for his beloved.
The period of time from the late nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries, known as the Modernist period, witnessed the appearance of mostly philosophical and profoundly different pieces of literature. The writers of these literary works (focusing specifically on E.E. Cummings in this paper) employed and applied new methods and characteristics concerning style, plot, point of view, character, grammar, etc. in their writings. Moreover these authors also had an extremely different vision on life influenced by years of war and depression, scientific theories such as that of Darwin’s evolution, social disputes involving religion, and political issues, which generated a gloomy and weary feeling to this period of literature.
Consequently there are numerous works that embody the main characteristics of this period. These include the experimental forms such as free verse and stream of consciousness which are the easiest to recognize in modernist writings. One author in particular who regularly applies these experimental forms in his works is T.S. Eliot. His poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, is a dramatic monologue that makes use of extreme stream of consciousness. Also considered to be one of the most experimental poets and the focus of this paper is American poet and painter E.E. Cummings. His use of peculiar experimental word coinages, shifting of grammar, blending of established stanzaic forms and free verse, flamboyant punning, typographic distortion and the most unusual punctuation, makes him stand out amongst the modernist writers. Some other striking features of Modernism is the fall from innocence, denoting that mankind has fallen into corruption, evil, and immorality chiefly as a result of both world wars and the Spanish Revolution, which resulted in the wipe out of much of Europe and the appalling acts of violence committed by men against each other. This fall from innocence is clearly portrayed in Wystan Hugh Auden’s poem “Lullaby”. Furthermore Modernism witnessed the existence of extreme human suffering, which can be considered one of the most dominant features of that period. Additionally Modernist writers shifted the setting of their writing from nature or rural areas to the cities. This was the result of the rapid growth of the cities because such a huge amount of people were moving to the cities from the countryside. Writers depicted the darkness and filth associated with the cities to highlight the misery and suffering abound in them.
It can be said that the beginning of the twentieth century witnessed some of the worst events in the history of mankind. The results of the great Wars had ruined most of Europe, killed millions of people and had left millions more in poverty to the point of starvation. These aftermaths of the war led many to consider that there was no ending to the pain and suffering witnessed by all. This exemplified in Samuel Beckett “Endgame” where he portrays this eternal suffering throughout the play. Ultimately, the devastation as a result of all the Wars of the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries greatly altered humanities outlook on life, bringing into question how God could have possibly allowed such a repulsive events to have occurred. Authors such E. E. Cummings and many more utilized a range of groundbreaking and idiosyncratic methods and techniques in their works to depict the suffering and sorrow experienced my many, and hence, launched a new genre of literature called Modernism. The following information will shed light on E.E. Cummings as a modernist poet, his biography as well as his style of writing with one of his most well-known poems analyzed and exemplified.
The Modernist movement was a period of new revolutionary ideas particularly in the field of poetry. Generally modern literature can be characterized by the radical break with the traditions of literary subjects, forms, concepts and styles. Regarding the field of modern poetry, the modernist elements can be examined with regards to four key subheadings: modern or new experiments in form and great variety of styles as in the case of Cummings’ poems, new themes and word-games, new manners of expression, and complex and open-ended nature of their themes. It can be argued that modern poetry is usually described as being highly experimental, meaning that it is a bold search for new forms of poetic expression or rather the experimentation of new modes of expression. Another way modern poetry can be defined is through the words of none other than TS Eliot himself who stated that ‘The best contemporary poetry can give us a feeling of excitement and a sense of fulfillment different from any sentiment aroused even by very much greater poetry of a past age”. Most modern poetry can be characterized by a feeling of anxiety about the world. Widespread industrialization, rapid technological advance, new insights about human nature and the universe, and the general disillusionment as a result of the world wars have impacted changing the shape and pace of modern life for the worse. Poets such as T.S. Eliot and E.E. Cummings have reacted to these things in a number of ways. For example both have expressed in their works, the desire to escape from the modern world and have responded to the challenge of modern life by upholding such universal values as beauty and love (Ramachandran, 2015).
Since Modernism contains the many ‘-isms’, modern poets used many different methods to express ideas and feelings. These included the imagist way which was established by Ezra Pound in 1912. Here, poets would present concrete images so that readers can comprehend the idea and experience the feelings themselves through the senses. Moreover symbolism also had a profound influence on poets by allowing them to express things in terms of deeply significant symbols of ideas and feelings so that readers will be able to interpret them intellectually. Realism allowed poets to truly reflect the veracity of the world. Naturalism portrayed extreme realism by reflecting on the private, psychological, fantastic and the neurotic (Pedersen, 2014). Furthermore impressionism focused on individual moments of experience. Moreover expressionism was a way of pondering deep into one’s own mind and attempting to voice the unconscious and deepest feelings. Finally the surrealist tried to inflict on the mood of madness, intoxication and neurosis to excite the illogical ‘language’ (Howarth, 2012). Finally it can be concluded that modernist poets have ignored all the famous conventions and traditional rules of the preceding eras in turn for the testing of a variety of new experiment. Each modern poet makes his own rules in their poems; hence this multiplicity of styles is what makes up modernist poetry.
Edward Estlin Cummings, or more commonly known as E. E. Cummings, was not only a notable American poet but also a well-known painter, essayist, author, and playwright. Considered to be one of the most innovative poets of the modern age, his vast experimentation with the poetic form and language allowed him to develop his own personal style. Cummings life achievements consists of the composition of 2900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and many essays, as well as a number of paintings and drawings, hence Cummings is considered a key voice of the twentieth century. Born on, October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, E.E. Cummings was the first of two children born to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. E.E. Cummings was raised in a well-educated family and was considered to be very intelligent, something he acquired from his talented father. Edward Cummings was an instructor at Harvard University teaching sociology and political science. He would later leave this job to become a Unitarian minister. From a young age E.E. Cummings grew up in Harvard yard where he was constantly surrounded by all aspects of Cambridge culture and tradition, with playmates including children of other Harvard professors. He had an exceptional relationship with his parents, especially his mother, who constantly encouraged him to write poetry on a daily basis. Hence his talents allowed him to produce his first piece of work at the age three, writing his first poem entitled “Oh, the pretty birdie, O; with his little toe, toe, toe!” By the time Cummings would attend high school, he was already composing stories and verses by the age of fifteen he was writing poems on a daily basis.
In 1911, Cummings enrolled at Harvard University and would later get his bachelors and master’s degree here. He continued to reside at home for the first three years of education. His studies gave him an in-depth background in English and classical literature as well as good knowledge of the language which would later be of great value to him in his poetic career. Cummings was an active student at University, he was an active writer for the Harvard Monthly journal, and in 1912 he published his first poems in that journal. Harvard University introduced Cummings to a variety of avant-garde developments, like Cubism in painting and the Imagist experiments of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. During his years at Harvard, Cummings had rebellious viewpoints toward traditional, conventional art and literature, hence praising imagination, intuition, and the individual. He would go on to inspire and influence later poets to exercise more freedom in their writings. These outlooks would be characteristic of most of Cummings works throughout his life. In 1916, after obtaining his master’s degree from Harvard, Cummings moved to New York and worked at an office job. Not being satisfied with the job, he left for France the following year to volunteer in an Ambulance Corps for the American Red Cross. After just a short time being here Cummings was imprisoned for four months by the French authorities on charges of treason, this imprisonment lead to the publication of his first book and autobiography, The Enormous Room and published it in 1922. After being released in 1918, he returned to New York City and soon after published his first of twelve volumes of poetry Tulips and Chimneys. Cummings is said to have married three times, his first marriage was to Elaine Orr in 1924, then in 1927 he renewed his vows and married a second time to Anne Barton and finally his third and final marriage was to Marion Morehouse in 1932. Cummings took permanent residency in New York City till his final days.
It’s not every day that a writer can change the way people write forever, Cummings did just that. In Cummings writings on hears a voice that speaks volumes to the modern world, a voice warning and at the same time a celebratory one. He was honored with many awards throughout his life for his extraordinary literary works and would influence writers to this day. E.E Cummings spent his final day working; he died on September 3rd, 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital, due to his deteriorating health.
E.E. Cummings is considered to be one of the most experimental and innovative poets of the 20th century. He is famous for creating his own distinctive style of writing, one that is still used by many poets today. It was during his years in University that he took a profound interest in the modernist movement. Despite his interest in avant-garde styles, most of Cummings works is traditional. His poems often deal with themes of love and nature and are abundant with satire. His poetry also deals with the relationship of the individual to the world.
During his years at college, Cummings studied Cubism and Impressionism, and was greatly influenced by the imagist experimentation of poet Ezra Pound and incorporated the imagist ideologies in his poetry. His later visits to France would expose him to other movements including Dadaism and Surrealism. Nevertheless Cummings would eventually find his own innovative style, a style that would distinguish Cummings for many years to come. It can be said that previously most writing was built on rules that writers would follow, but Cummings changed all that by creating his own rules or rather violated all rules of composition. One thing that he’s very famous for was his ‘radical’ experimentation with the idiosyncrasy of syntax and linguistic like grammar, punctuation, capitalization, conjunction of words, and spelling. Other unique, linguistic features that he applied to his writings for his own purpose, was the use of verbs like ‘if’, ‘am’, and ‘because’ as nouns.
Cummings poems have a distinguishable 14 line sonnet structure, with a complex rhyme scheme. Some of his poems are characterized by a typographical style, with words, parts of words or punctuation symbols scattered across the page. The reason he used this method is because he knew the importance of presentation, he wanted to challenge readers both visually and psychologically by painting a picture in the readers mind.
Cummings poems were mostly straightforward with a focus on topics of war, sex, and love. His poems attacked certain religions, politics and conformity. He strongly portrayed his discontent with people who followed society instead of being individualistic. As stated by Cummings himself: ‘I realized it’s not so much about words or lyricism…it’s a poem of imagery, your brain picks out what words it can and arranges them into some sense within the jumble of symbols…and you read it more with your mind like a picture then like a traditional poem’. It is this idiosyncratic state of E.E. Cummings poems that drew diverse readers to his poems and predestined him to come to be one of the most widely recognized literary figures of the 20th century (Saha, 2016).
E.E. Cummings is eminent when it comes to using morphological styles in his poems such as adding suffixes to adjectives to construct a superlative word, like “stupidest.” However, there are instances where Cummings inflect “absolute meanings” like “right” to “righter” and “shut” to “shuter” which is not the usually the norm in language. Despite this, Cummings is well-known when it comes to demonstrating inflections because his work is usually consistent and restricted, his readers are aware that he has a specific style regardless of breaking the norm of language. Jeffries calls this the “topographical aspects of a writer’s style.”
An Analysis of E.E. Cummings ‘I carry your heart with me’ Cummings is famous for his experimental ways of writing, but his subject matter was commonly traditional and simple. Cumming’s favored controversial topics such as war, death, and sex, but his favorite was topics of love and season of rebirth. Cummings has been called one of the best love poets of his time. The following will be an analysis of Cummings poem ‘i carry your heart with me,’ This poem has been a favorite love poem and a favorite selection that has been recited in many weddings and also in movies even up to the present day. This proves that Cummings writing still lives and continues to inspire many.
The poem [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] is a deep and selfless love poem. It is about a profound and sincere love that transcends the soul and mind. Here we observe a spontaneous overflow of emotions. There is an outburst of feelings. It is a profound love, the kind that keeps the stars apart and that transcends the soul or the mind.
In this poem we observe Cummings lack of use of capitalization. He has neglected the use of capital letters. There is also unusual paragraphing in the poem. In this poem we come to know that Cummings has taken on a unique and experimental style of writing by breaking certain set patterns of writing. The scheme of the poem is ABAB. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] consist of four stanzas. The arrangement of lines in each stanza is different. First stanza contains four lines, second contains five lines, third stanza contains five lines and last one contains only one line. There is unusual capitalization in this poem. We come to know that the first word of the title of the poem [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] is a small letter i.e. “i”. There is an unusual pattern of lines, unusual spacing, and unusual capitalization in this poem. Cummings has made use of parenthesis and we don’t find that there is any full stops at the end of any line which can indicate the rush of thoughts. This lack of punctuation can indicate there are no limits and restrictions in lovemaking, in the same way you can feel free from any rules and set patterns of writing, while writing about your beloved. It shows poet’s intense love and uncontrollable passions for his beloved.
Another distinctive feature of E.E. Cummings poem is his lack of the use of capital letters in his writings. I, which is a personal pronoun, and based on the rules of grammar must be written in capital letter, is violated here. We come to know that in this poem, there is unusual capitalization, unusual spacing and unusual pattern of lines in the stanzas. Also contracted forms of words are also being used in this poem, something that is not allowed in the standard writing. Line pattern and line spacing is not according to the set norms of grammar. He also uses alliteration which creates music through playing words like sky of the sky, bud of the bud and root of the root. We can say that, to some extent, in first and last line of the poem, there is the use of the refrain. The refrain is the regular pattern of lines that follows after every stanza. The poet has given metaphorical statements to compare the love and beauty of a girl with the moon, sun and stars. There is the use of imagery in this poem. Here is the use of personification for the poet gives moon and sun human qualities who can sing like human beings (Nawaz, 2014).
It can be concluded that E. E. Cummings was an exceptional poet. His style of poetry, which was mostly characterized by individuality, his distinctive form, structure and viewpoint, his use of traditional themes made Cummings a master of the art of poetry in his own style. Many people to this day appreciate his works for its extreme uniqueness.
Cummings once stated: ‘So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality…Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else’. This is Cummings’ firm belief on “the freedom of the individual to think and explore and create,” During the 20th century, America saw a rapid change in society ideals, this was a breaking point for modernist poets like E.E. Cummings to gain their title. After securing his place among the likes of other great American poets like Ezra Pound, Cummings contributed a lot by helping shape literary expression in the 1900’s. Richard Kennedy, of the Modern American Poetry Foundation, notes: “he [Cummings] continued to produce poems of with and ingenuity, of vigorous satire, and of beauty and delicacy well into his seventh decade” (Everett, 2001). It is because of these characteristics that by the time of his death in 1962, E.E. Cummings had become one of America’s most beloved modernist poets, and the most widely read as well.
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