what if a much of a which of a wind

As much as I like E. E. Cummings ( I just read that he preferred that editors and critics capitalize his name), I can sometimes read fifty or more pages in his Complete Poems and not find a single poem that I like. Then, suddenly, there’s two poems within five pages of each other that seem unforgettable, like this poem and yesterday’s “pity this busy monster manunkind:”

XX

what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer’s lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
— when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man

what if a keen of a lean wind flays
screaming hills with sleet and snow:
strangles valleys by ropes of thing
and stifles forests in white ago?
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
— whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
it’s they shall cry hello to the spring

what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
Blow soon to never and never to twice
(blow life to isn’t; blow death to was)
— all nothing’s only our hugest home;
the most who die, the more we live

It hardly seems that the two poems could have been written by the same author. This poem reminds me of Gerald Manly Hopkins, perhaps even Dylan Thomas, while “pity this busy monster manunkind” seems like it could have been written by a Metaphysical Poet.

I’m not sure that it isn’t mainly the sound of this poem that appeals to me, particularly the opening line, which sounds like it could have come directly from the Wizard of Oz. It doesn’t hurt that the pattern of this first line is repeated in each of the three stanzas.

A lot of online commentators apparently see the poem as a description of the end of the world. And while I can see why they might interpret the poem that way, it seems to me the real emphasis is on the last two lines of each stanza, which offer a remarkably optimistic view, considering the opening lines.

Even if all the promise of summer is a lie, and life consists of being buffeted about by autumn winds, “the single secret will still be man.”

No matter how harsh the winter, those who hearts “are mountains” shall remain to “cry hello to the spring.”

Even in the face of death, “the more we live,” for what else can you do but reaffirm the value of life when confronted by death?

4 thoughts on “what if a much of a which of a wind

  1. Even in the face of death, “the more we live, for what else can you do but reaffirm the value of life when confronted by death?

    Your words express what I learned while visiting my old friend in the Palo Alto VA Hospital this last week. And am still learning, along with him. Thanks so much for this, loren.

  2. He is contemplating if not exactly invoking Hopkins in this poem, but I think it’s more to acknowledge the Windhover’s contributions to the poetic toolbox than any real attempt to emulate. Cummings owes more to Miniver Cheevy than he ever will to Hopkins or Donne.

What do you think?