The Poetry of E. E. Cummings

Essay by And1kingCollege, UndergraduateA+, June 2005

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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...