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:”


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?

pity this busy monster,manunkind

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.

“may my heart always be open to little”

Although there’s often a spiritual note to cumming’s poems, that note becomes much louder in the last poems in E.E. Cummings: Collected Poems, beginning, perhaps, with this one:


Jehovah buried,Satan dead,
do fearers worship Much and Quick;
badness not being felt as bad,
itself thinks goodness what is meek;
obey says toc,submit says tic,
Eternity’s a Five Year Plan:
if Joy with Pain shall hang in hock
who dares to call himself a man?

go dreamless knaves on Shadows fed,
your Harry’s Tom,your Tom is Dick;
while Gadgets murder squawk and add,
the cult of Same is all the chic;
by instruments,both span and spic,
are justly measured Spic and Span:
to kiss the mike if Jew turn kike
who dares to call himself a man?

loudly for Truth have liars pled,
their heels for Freedom slaves will click;
where Boobs are holy,poets mad,
illustrious punks of Progress shriek;
when Souls are outlawed,Hearts are sick,
Hearts being sick,Minds nothing can:
if Hate’s a game and Love’s a fuck
who dares to call himself a man?

King Christ,this world is all aleak;
and lifepreservers there are none:
and waves which only He may walk
Who dares to call Himself a man.

Although I wouldn’t expect to hear this in any of the churches I’ve attended, few, far-far-between, it still has a sermon-LIKE ring to it. I suppose you might argue that it’s a typical sermon calling sinners back to the TRUE faith, but I don’t think this is the true FAITH most churches declare. In fact, it seems to be attacking the hypocrisy of most Sunday-Only-Christians, turned to the worship of “Much and Quick,” “Eternity’s A Five Year Plan,” become “dreamless knaves on “Shadows fed.”

Our ARK is beginning to leak, and this time King Christ isn’t here to offer “life preservers” because “Boobs are holy,” “poets mad.”

Now, if that were the best religious poem in the section, I wouldn’t be considering ordering a new copy of E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, because it turns out the Collected Poems I bought in ’60 or ’61 ends with poems written in 1938 or so. No, the notes introduced in


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

obviously have much more appeal to me, NOW, though, unremarkably, perhaps, I made no note of it when I read it in college. After all, how could He Who Talks to Small Birds not love a poem with a first stanza like that? It’s obvious i’ve got to see what he wrote in the last twenty five years of his life. The Complete Poems contains twice as many poems as this Collected Poems.

Love’s “Unknownness”

At times cummings almost seems obsessed with love, particularly with sex, but, in the last part of Collected Poems there seems to be a subtle shift in many of these love poems, not that he wasn’t still writing poems devoted to sex.

Strangely, I marked these two poems both when I first read them in college and this time as I read them, though i can’t imagine that I had similar ideas about love at such different points in my life. Of course, this first one with its emphasis on “unknownness,” seems to be universally true, at least among men.


love’s function is to fabricate unknownness

(known being wishless;but love,all of wishing)
though life’s lived wrongsideout,sameness chokes oneness
truth is confused with fact,fish boast of fishing

and men are caught by worms(love may not care
if time totters,light droops,all measures bend
nor marvel if a thought should weigh a star
—dreads dying least;and less,that death should end)

how lucky lovers are)whose selves abide
under whatever shall discovered be)
whose ignorant each breathing dares to hide
more than most fabulous wisdom fears to see

(who laugh and cry)who dream,create and kill
while the whole moves;and every part stands still:

This “unknownness” of love lends itself particularly well to cummings’ poetic style, its enjambment, it’s Metaphysical conceits and contradictions. Who could argue that love is “all of wishing,” that “truth is” quite often “confused with fact?” Men may boast of their prowess with women, but more often than not it’s they that end up caught “by worms.” Often it’s the mystery of the other, of the lover, the constant sense of discovery that seems to drive love, at least romantic love.

I guess it makes sense if we know so little about this love that is so precious to us that we need to be “More careful” of it “Than of anything:”


be of love(a little)
More careful
Than of everything
guard her perhaps only

A trifle less
(merely beyond how very)
closely than
Nothing, remembers love by frequent

Her least never with most
memory) give entirely each
Forever its freedom

(Dare until a flower,
understanding sizelessly sunlight
Open what thousandth why and
discover laughing)

Although it’s the first stanza that seems to be the most quoted, the most interesting juxtaposition of words to me is the narrator’s admonition that we should guard it “a trifle less” “closely than” … “Nothing.” Doesn’t this suggest that it’s actually impossible to “guard” love at all, precisely because we must “give entirely each/ Forever its freedom?”