E. E. Cummings, who was born in 1894 and died in 1962, wrote many
poems with unconventional punctuation and capitalization, and unusual
line, word, and even letter placements - namely, ideograms. Cummings'
most difficult form of prose is probably the ideogram; it is extremely
terse and it combines both visual and auditory elements. There may be
sounds or characters on the page that cannot be verbalized or cannot
convey the same message if pronounced and not read. Four of Cummings'
poems - l(a, mortals), !blac, and swi( - illustrate the ideogram form
quite well. Cummings utilizes unique syntax in these poems in order to
convey messages visually as well as verbally.
Although one may think of l(a as a poem of sadness and
loneliness, Cummings probably did not intend that. This poem is about
individuality - oneness (Kid 200-1). The theme of oneness can be
derived from the numerous instances and forms of the number '1'
throughout the poem.
First, 'l(a' contains both the number 1 and the
singular indefinite article, 'a'; the second line contains the French
singular definite article, 'le'; 'll' on the fifth line represents two
ones; 'one' on the 7th line spells the number out; the 8th line, 'l',
isolates the number; and 'iness', the last line, can mean "the state
of being I" - that is, individuality - or "oneness", deriving the
"one" from the lowercase roman numeral 'i' (200). Cummings could have
simplified this poem drastically ("a leaf falls:/loneliness"), and
still conveyed the same verbal message, but he has altered the normal
syntax in order that each line should show a 'one' and highlight the
theme of oneness. In fact, the whole poem is shaped like a '1' (200).
The shape of the poem can also be seen as the path...