I’m glad I started reading e.e. cummings with Collected Poems rather than Complete Poems 1904-1962 because at 1102 pages I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to tackle that big of a volume of poems, even if I had read many of them years before.
However, it didn’t take me long to find
pity this busy monster,manunkind,
not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victum(death and life safely beyond)
plays with the bigness of his littleness
-electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen until unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born-pity poor flesh
and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical
ultraomnipotence. We doctors know
a hopeless case if—listen:there’s a hell
of a good universe next door;let’s go
one of my favorite all-time cummings’ poems that I didn’t realize wasn’t in the Collected Poems until i read it here again.
Of course, it’s difficult not to note that it was published in 1944 when cummings was approximately 50, and not nearly as old or as cynical as I am — well, not as old, at least.
On the other hand, I first read this poem at 19 and even then had begun to wonder if “Progress” was the best description of changes manifesting themselves. Perhaps it’s the stoic in me that feels uncomfortable with too much comfort. Of course, I was also moved by Emerson’s “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind,” so the idea wasn’t completely new to me.
Even though I’ve long been fascinated with electron microscopes, the line “electrons deify one razorblade/ into a mountainrange” struck me as particularly true, for even in the 60’s people seem far too impressed with “the latest thing” no matter what it might be. Unfortunately, that knowledge hasn’t totally immunized me to the appeal of the latest technological toys.
In the end, it’s the contrast between “poor flesh” and “a world of made” that seems most convincing here. Too many people are caught up in their mountains and mountains of things and unconcerned with the welfare of people who have nothing except their lives.