Cummings’ “73 Poems”

I’ve finished 73 Poems, apparently the last book of poems published during Cumming’s life. Though for me few of the poems rise to the level of his greatest poems, I marked 7 of the poems as worth re-reading, not an insubstantial number.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several of the poems deal with the subject of death, quite optimistically, I noted. I’m not sure if this poem makes the best argument for that optimism, but it’s one that I’ve considered as possible from time to time, and it does a good job of tying together major themes in his poetry from his earliest, most famous poems to these last, less famous ones:

44

Now i lay(with everywhere around)
me(the great dim deep sound
of rain;and of always and of nowhere)and

what a gently welcoming darkestness–

now i lay me down(in a most steep
more than music)feeling that sunlight is
(life and day are)only loaned:whereas
night is given(night and death and the rain

are given;and given is how beautifully snow)

now i lay me down to dream of(nothing
i or any somebody or you
can begin to begin to imagine)

something which nobody may keep.
now i lay me down to dream of Spring

I can’t help but think that the opening line was meant to reflect the famous childhood prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

which would certainly reflect Cumming’s early upbringing, and, though his religious beliefs become less clear in his later poetry, his enthusiasm for life, especially for Spring, the symbol of rebirth and new beginnings, never waivers.

I’m not sure why but the whole poem reminds me of Walt Whitman’s line in Song of Myself: “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,/ And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” Certainly the attitude toward death seems equally optimistic.

In the end dreaming of “Spring” brings to mind all of the delightful poems that Cumming’s has written about Spring, and reminds us just how remarkable it is for a modern poet to be so both optimistic and successful.

One thought on “Cummings’ “73 Poems”

  1. Yes, I agree, the “Now I lay me down” must be based on that prayer; I like what he does with it, the way he interweaves imagery between the words.

    I was just thinking today that this time of year, late April, when the leaves aren’t quite out yet and everything looks brand new, is my favorite time of year, full of anticipation and bursting with joy. I can understand why Cummings said he would dream of Spring when he lay himself down…

What do you think?