May 13, 2010

e.e. cummings, spring

Top: spring singer

Left: pantheist's lectern

I’m pretty sure this is an unwritten rule: people who claim to be serious about literature are supposed to scoff at e.e. cummings as one more sentimentalist, along the lines of Longfellow or Dr. Seuss.

I’m pretty sure the following is true: many people who care about good writing have secretly liked e.e. cummings, the lovable rebel and the romantic in all senses of the word. Some might even confess they’ve found his work a turning point in their fondness for poetry.

I know this is true: several friends or colleagues and I have whispered to each other, “Yes, I like cummings. Shhhh. Don’t tell. It would kill any credibility I might have.” We might have gone on to say, “Yes, he’s sappy and puerile, but he opened up new ways to think, feel, and speak when I very much needed that.”

Here are two from cummings’ 100 selected poems (thanks to (I include the second poem, #54, mainly for its concluding aphorism—the rest is a bit much even for sappy me). (Did you ever notice that “manly” is natural typo for “mainly”? Can manly men care for cummings? “You with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”)


may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile


you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


Anonymous said...

Oh, don't leave this one. I have something to say once I gather the thoughts together. For example, those who sneer at ee, give me an example of what they consider better poetry. Who has a lighter, deeper touch. I really want to know.

Banjo52 said...

Hiker, that Barbaro fellow has a comment on the Saturday/Dylan Thomas post that might interest you.

Where's your sidekick?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Slowly creeping along here. I have learn to anticipate the 'rolling of the eyes' gesture when anyone references e.e. I'm with AH - show me a lighter/deeper touch.
Anthony Zerbe, the actor, once did a touring one man poetry reading of e.e. cummings. Just awesome. Although the auditorium was 2/3 empty, the air was rich, laughing, longing; and all of us were in love.
Having several small volumes of e.e.'s poetry that I used to read to a boyfriend, I assure you that guys can like it.

Banjo52 said...

I wonder if cummings is the most copulatory poet in human history.

That was fun. Was that bad?

Anonymous said...

I feel left out. I never copulated to ee.

Lovers' Lane