Cummings’ “you said Is”

Reading 200 plus pages of uncollected poems is probably more of a challenge than a pleasure, but I’ve finally finished reading E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962.

The most interesting sequence of the uncollected poems are a series of love poems that would probably have been considered too “erotic” to publish when they were written, though my favorite of the sequence

you said Is
there anything which
is dead or alive more beautiful
than my body,to have in your fingers
(trembling ever so little)?
Looking into
your eyes Nothing,i said,except the
air of spring smelling of never and forever.

….and through the lattice which moved as
if a hand is touched by a
moved as though
fingers touch a girl’s
Do you believe in always,the wind
said to the rain
I am too busy with
my flowers to believe,the rain answered

would probably have passed the censors even when written.

Since Cummings often equates spring with sex, the last line of the first stanza seems a little disingenuous, but effective, nevertheless. One doesn’t have to look too deeply to realize that most of Spring’s beauty is merely a manifestation of sexuality and the desire to procreate.

The more unusual line, however, is found in the last stanza, where the very nature of believing, or at least believing in “always,” is subordinated to taking care of “my flowers.” The narrator is too caught up in the moment, in fostering the beauty of here and now, to worry about death and whether or not he will live beyond this moment.

Cummings’ “Ballad of an Intellectual”

After reading 845 pages of collected poems, I doubt a reader has the right to expect too much from 55 pages of “Uncollected Poems,” though they may cast some new light on poems that were collected. In fact, I’m sure that the last third of E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 19054-1962 is intended more for scholars than casual readers, and I’m certainly not a Cummings scholar, nor do I aspire to become one.

Still, some of the poems help to remind us of the Cummings’ most important traits, traits that definitely set him apart from contemporaries like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, both of which happen to be mentioned in this poem:

Ballad of an Intellectual

Listen, you morons great and small
to the tale of an intellectuall
(and if you don’t profit by his career
don’t ever say Hoover gave nobody beer).

‘Tis frequently stated out where he was born
that a rose is as weak as its shortest thorn:
they spit like quarters and sleep in their boots
and anyone dies when somebody shoots
and the sheriff arrives after everyone’s went;
which isn’t,perhaps,an environment
where you would(and I should) expect to find
overwhelming devotion to things of the mind.
But when it rains chickens we’ll all catch larks
— to borrow a phrase from Karl the Marks.

As a child he was puny;shrank from noise
hated the girls and mistrusted the boise,
didn’t like whisky,learned to spell
and generally seemed to be going to hell;
so his parents,encouraged by desperation,
gave him a classical education
(and went to sleep in their boots again
out in the land where women are main).

You know the rest:a critic of note,
a serious thinker,a lyrical pote,
lectured on Art from west to east
–did sass-seyeity fall for it? Cheast!
if a dowager balked at our hero’s verse
he’d knock her cold with a page from Jerse;
why,he used to say to his friends, he used
“for getting a debutante gived me Prused”
and many’s the heiress who’s up and swooned
after one canto from Ezra Pooned
(or–to borrow a cadence from Karl the Marx–
a biting chipmunk never barx).

But every bathtub will have its gin
and one man’s sister is another man’s sin
and a hand in the bush is a stitch in time
and Aint It All a Bloody Shime
and he suffered a fate which is worse than death
and I don’t allude to unpleasant breath.

Our blooming hero awoke,one day,
to find he had nothing whatever to say:
which I might interpret(just for fun)
as meaning the es of a be was dun
and I mightn’t think(and you mightn’t,too)
that a Five Year Plan’s worth a Gay Pay Oo
and both of us might irretrievably pause
ere believing that Stalin is Santa Clause:
which happily proves that neither of us
is really an intellectual cus.

For what did our intellectual do,
when he found himself so empty and blo?
he pondered a while and he said,said he
“It’s the social system,it isn’t me!
Not I am a fake,but America’s phoney!
Not I am no artist,but Art’s bologney!
Or–briefly to paraphrase Karl the Marx–
‘The first law of nature is, trees will be parx.’ “

Now all you morons of sundry classes
(who read the Times and who buy the Masses)
if you don’t profit by his career
don’t ever say Hoover gave nobody beer.

For whoso conniveth at Lenin his dream
shall dine upon bayonets,isn’t and seam
and a miss is as good as a mile is best
for if you’re not bourgeois you’re Eddie Gest
and wastelands live and waistlines die,
which I very much hope it won’t happen to eye;
or as comrade Shakespeare remarked of old
All that Glisters Is Mike Gold

(but a rolling snowball gathers no sparks
–and the same hold true of Karl the Marks).

Written in 1932, this is actually one of the later uncollected poems. One suspects that Cummings chose not to include this poem in one of his collections. It’s certainly not a typical poem, and if I’d found it somewhere else I would never have connected it to him.

While the sense of humor is obviously exaggerated here, a sense of humor seems to be a cummings’ trademark. It’s hard to think of cummings without poems like “nobody loses all the time” or ” poem, or beauty hurts mr. vinal.” The informal language is another Cummings’ trademark.

What’s less typical is the regular rhyme scheme, even though it’s clear that Cummings is making fun of it when he begins by rhyming small and “intellectuall.”

Considering that I continue to get negative responses to my rather old comments on T.S Eliot, and, more particularly, Ezra Pound, I appreciated Cummings’ references to them in this poem, particularly “and many’s the heiress who’s up and swooned/ after one canto from Ezra Pooned.”

Course, I ain’t no ‘airess, which might ‘splain why ol’ ‘Zra had a rather difrn’t ‘fect on me. Still, there more than a few obscure allusions to ‘temporaries like Eddie Gest and Mike Gold in this here poem that reminded me of both Eliot and Pound.

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:


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.

“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?