Cummings’ “89”

There’s a surprising number of e.e. cummings’ poems that strike my fancy, but many are so well known it hardly seems worth the bother to present them here. What’s more, many involve Spring, and I’m beginning to wonder if my longing for Spring weather hasn’t altered my very taste in poetry.

Here’s a poem that I didn’t note the first time through, probably because I was so caught up with studying to become someone or something I wasn’t that it didn’t appeal to me:


               let's live suddenly without thinking

               under honest trees,
                                  a stream
               does.the brain of cleverly-crinkling
               -water pursues the angry dream
               of the shore. By midnight,
                                               a moon
               scratches the skin of the organised hills

               an edged nothing begins to prune

               let's live like the light that kills
               and let's as silence,
                                           because Whirl's after all:
               (after me) love,and after you.
               I occasionally feel vague how
               vague i don't know tenuous Now-
               spears and The Then-arrows making do
               our mouths something red,something tall

I’m not a stream, and though at times I seem little more than a stream of thoughts, at this point in my life I can see the wisdom in living “suddenly without thinking/ under honest trees.” It’s too easy in this society to get caught up in the brain of “cleverly-crinkling-water,” caught up in the “Whirl” of activity. I don’t even have a job, but when i got home from a week-long vacation I found 125 emails waiting for me in just one of several email accounts, not to mention the thousand-or-so articles waiting to be read in my RSS reader.

In a world where you’re just as apt to be speaking to a person halfway around the world as to the person sitting next to you, Whirl seems ALL. No wonder some of us have trouble deciding whether we’re better friends with someone halfway round the world who you play Scrabulous with daily or the neighbor you haven’t talked to in six months.

e.e. cummings’ celebration of Spring

It’s been a long time since I read e.e. cummings, though he was one of my favorite poets in college. Mike’s suggestion that I might want to take a look at his Unitarian roots made me decide to re-read his Collected Poems. I’m enjoying reacquainting myself with his poetry, especially since it gives me a chance to compare poems that I liked while at college and poems that I like now. I decided not to look at poems I’d marked until I’ve actually re-read them.

I did look back and see that I also enjoyed this poem the first time I read it, suggesting that neither cummings nor i have entirely shaken our Romantic heritage:


Oh, sweet spontaneous
earth, how often have
fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
beauty . how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and
buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
thou answerest

them only with


Generally when I think of e.e.cummings i tend to forget about the content of his poems and focus on the rather obvious differences between his poetry and that which proceeded him. Poems like this remind me just how traditional much of the comment seemed. Of course, seen in the context of contemporary poetry, his style also seems much more traditional than it did when i read him in the 60’s. In fact, he reminds me more of Metaphysical poems like Doone and Herbert than he does most current poets.

Still, there’s an immediacy to this poem that reminds me more of Taoism than I would ever have imagined. He rejects attempts to turn Nature into Gods, but contrasts the marvel of spring to the “incomparable couch of death” it’s “rhythmic lover.”