“life is more true than reason will deceive”

I’ve finished the volume called XAIPE in E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962 without finding one poem as good as “pity this busy monster manunkind” or “what if a much of a which of a wind,” but I have found a number I like. Several, like this one, focus on “reason:”

life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose:higher than have
–but beauty is more each than living’s all

multiplied with infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
canceled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete:pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing’s more than everything)

death,as men call him, ends what they call men
-but beauty is more now than dying’s when

Although he says “reason,” it’s clear that Cummings is talking about “science” and its insistence on sticking to the “facts,” which seems to stand in opposition to art’s emphasis on feelings. While I’d like to think this is a false dichotomy, forced to make this choice I’d choose beauty over reason.

I may read the “meditations of mankind” during the winter, but find it nearly impossible to stay inside reading on a sing day, much less a summer day. Though I’ve devoted much of my life to books, I’ve never read a book that moved me as deeply as a week’s backpack in to a Cascade wilderness.

I’ve been too close to death not to fear its power, but “beauty is more now than dying’s when.” Who thinks of dying when confronted with great beauty?

5 thoughts on ““life is more true than reason will deceive””

  1. An amazing coincidence! I wanted a link to this poem from a post I’ve just written, and couldn’t find a good one. Then I went to via negativa, and saw it in his sidebar feedreader. This is perfect, and your commentary illuminates it even more. Thanks so much!

  2. I agree with you that there shouldn’t be a dichotomy separating scientific fact from intuition. But, like you, I suspect that there is. William Blake would probably have thought so too. Perhaps, though, the greatest scientific discoveries are arrived at first through intuition and subsequently proved by careful observation. e e cummings deserves the attention you have obviously given him.

  3. The phrase “dying’s when” shows EEC’s magic for me. His use of language makes his mark distinct. kjm

  4. Yes, kjm, in re-rereading this poem before entering it, there seemed several more precise use of words that I could have noted. like “higher than have”

  5. I don’t believe there is another modern poet as good with the sonnet form than Cummings. And this is one of his best.

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