E.E. Cummings Month: Inaugural Edition and an explanation

Welcome to E.E. Cummings* month.


via.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near


your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose


via.

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;


nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing


(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

(E.E. Cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond.” ** 1931.)

The last line is my favorite. It is sort of aching and bittersweet because I find it beautiful but also sad in that I’m lonely. But here is why I like it. Drops of rain themselves are so small and simple and ought change nothing but in numbers and with insistence they can unstoppably drench everything around them and produce a deluge: that’s a great metaphor for love, which starts with such a small thing like a smile or a handshake and then increases itself even within minutes to become this powerful force that changes what your world was up until that point. Like rain. Does this make sense? I feel like I might have stopped making sense.

*I had always been put off by the lowercase “e.e. cummings” that you encounter in anthologies and the like because it seemed a little dramatic and juvenile, kind of put-on, but I’ve recently found that Cummings signed all his work “E.E. Cummings,” and used the capitalized form professionally and with his peers, and that the lowercase with which we are familiar was a result of several misconceptions at the publishing level which were given shockingly wide dissemination even after having been proven false.


Example of his signature.

There is a good and thorough story about it here, written by Norman Friedman, a writer, critic, and close friend of Cummings and his common-law wife, Marion Morehouse, which includes specific comments from Ms. Morehouse indicating her opinion that the widespread use of her deceased’s husband’s name in lowercase was inaccurate idiocy and asking her friend to intercede with the publishers to remove factual errors from the preface about him having legally changed his name to “e.e. cummings” and have it capitalized on the spine and jacket as well as within. Mr. Friedman wrote a follow-up article three years later, voicing his distress that the error has not been widely corrected and calling the inaccurate lowercase usage “cutesy-pooh” and “pure nonsense.”


Does this look like a dude who would go in for “cutesy-pooh” nonsense? No.

Mr. Friedman also uncovered in the years between the two articles a request from an editor while Cummings was alive asking in what case to set Cummings’ name on a book cover: how should it appear? because he understood the poet to prefer a lack of capitals. Cummings replied, quote, “E.E. Cummings.” Done deal in my book.

At any rate, I’m so glad to shake off of him the dust of what I had always feared was pretentiousness! So I’m capping his name all month and have retconned*** past lowercase usage into uppercase, is the main thing.

**Untitled works — and Cummings seldom used titles — are referred to by their opening line.

***Retcon: retroactive continuity, a term used mainly in comics and speculative fiction which I explained in better detail in my Music Moment entry on Julie Nunes.

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2 Responses to “E.E. Cummings Month: Inaugural Edition and an explanation”

  1. Brian Says:

    Such a moving, aching poem. Thank you for Goethe month. I am in Wien and occasionally pass the statue of the stern-faced man. When I see him I want to ask ‘what did I do?’ Anyway, I loved the opening poem of that series and retranslated it in a vain attempt to better my German. It was inspiring, as I hope Cummings month will be.

    • E. Says:

      Thank you, Brian! I think the transition from Goethe, with all his wonderful logic and inquisitive nature, to the more emotional and formally-freewheeling Cummings will be an interesting gear-shift. I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

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