Is the of style e. e. cummings’ poetry its true genius, or the very reason the works should be called drivel? Alfred Kazin says that the poet’s style is “arrogant” and “slap stick” and that cummings is “the duality of the traditionalist and the clown”(155).
Others, such as Richard P. Blackmur, say his technique is an insult to the writing profession. He says that cummings’ poetry would only appeal to those with a “childish spirit”(140). It was Mark Van Doren, though, who probably said the truth about cummings.
“He has a richly sensuous mind; his verse is distinguished by fluidity and weight; he is equipped to range lustily and long among the major passions”(140) Through examples of his work, “from spiralling ecstatically this,” Buffalo Bill’s,” “next to of course god america I,” and “whippoorwill this,” it can be show that cummings is a deliberate, inventive, and precise poet who uses his own, unique style.
Style throughout cummings work is usually difficult to piece together and the works’ meanings are even harder to decipher, but they all conjure the reader to think. Cummings uses an assortment of tools for his style. In “from spiralling ecstatically this” cummings uses imaginative new words and line breaks.
Cummings creates the word “unmiracle” in line five. This word implies destruction of what has just taken place, the birth of a baby. “Perhapsless” is another new word, also of pessimistic connotations. Perhaps is a hopeful word, meaning there is a chance, “perhapsless” implies that failure is inevitable and that trying is futile.
The line breaks of this poem were meant to emphasize the single lines of the poem. “From spiralling ecstatically this” suggests that one is going throughout life with no sense of direction or meaning. “Perhapsless mystery of paradise” implies that the afterlife is non existent. “Whose only secret all creation sings” is that the mother’s “love provides the universal rhythm .
. . despite man’s attempt to change or stop the rhythm, it marks the limits on his destructive power” (Powers 237) and who knows what lies beyond.
In “Buffalo Bill’s” cummings’ style not only includes line breaks, but run on and joined words as well.
His line breaks and technique of separating words is a precise and deliberate method which causes the reader to think. Separating “defunct” by itself could also mean death (Dilworth 176). Using the word Jesus in a place by itself with a long space, indicating a pause, before and after it, indicate that it is not being used to describe Jesus Christ, but rather as an expression of amazement and awe, common in everyday speech. Cummings, throughout this poem, uses space in order to indicate pauses, much as a comma would do.
In this poem he also uses run on and joined words to emphasize description of Buffalo Bill. In line four of the poem cummings wrote “watersmooth-silver” to describe the stallion in line five. The combination of the words are referring to the fluidity and grace of the mighty stallion, but suggest that it is a coward by describing its blood as water. This image does not coincide with the masculinity Buffalo Bill, himself, portrayed by not acting like a coward.
Silver, used in conjunction with watersmooth, that described the stallion, Dilworth stated, could also refer to the “silver-haired Bill Cody in old age”(175). Cummings also uses the combined words “onetwothreefourfive” and “pigeonsjustlikethat.” These emphasize what made Buffalo Bill famous in the first place, his sharp-shooting as well as the diction of the speaker. “Onetwothreefourfive” is the speed of which he can draw his gun and nearly empty it destroying “pigeons-justlikethat.
” “Pigeonsjustlikethat” are the clay pigeons that Cody destroyed while perfecting his shooting.
In “next to of course god america I” cummings uses popular clichs, a run on word, and a line break in the poem for his style choice. In the beginning section of the poem he uses no punctuation except for the quotation marks, an apostrophes and a question mark. This is so the lines run into each other, creating a sense of confusion.
The lines in the poem are a collection of clichs that have been used throughout the years describing patriotism for this country or phrases that have been used in everyday life. Cummings discusses his feelings toward a nation’s attitude of war, through the quotation of clichs. He could not understand why this nation would send our troops off to “the roaring slaughter.” His writings suggests the question of whether this country has nothing better for its young men than to send them off to die in war.
There is also a run on word present in the quotation, “deafanddumb.” This is done to show how closely related these two words are and that society, at the time, viewed them both as one and the same. It was also what the hierarchy of this nation felt regarding the average intelligence of the common man. There is a line break that separates the last line from the body of the poem.
The unusual aspect of this is that cummings capitalized the “H” in “He” and used a period. The capitalized letter is startling because cummings, who is so modest that he had his name legally changed to all lower case letters, never thought any human was important enough to have capitalized letters in the pronoun form. The period was also amazing because cummings never uses them in their prescribed manner, yet he does so in this poem.
In “whippoorwill this” the style again includes run on words and this time cummings also uses inventive, original words as well as line breaks.
In this poem there are two run on words, the first is “whippoorwill,” followed by “moonday.” When one thinks of the word whippoorwill, one thinks of the bird, but that is not so in this case. Don Jobe said “‘whippoorwill’ may be split into three separate words: whip, poor and will. .
. . The reader may attribute ‘will’ to a man’s will, thus ‘whip’ and ‘poor’ become adjectives possibly meaning fate and weakness”(48). Jobe continues to explain that “moonday” is actually night, since that is when the moon rises and sets.
Cummings also uses inventive, self made words in this work. “Unthings” in the poem are the humans that occupy this planet (Jobe 48). Humans are nothing when compared to the vastness of this universe and the universe itself doesn’t recognize people or have any obligation towards them. “Threeing” is another new word in this poem that has an assortment of possible meanings.
It has been said that “threeing” is man “living in the three dimensions of the physical universe”( 48). Humans are only allowed, for now, to understand and comprehend three dimensions, so that when cummings wrote “threeing alive” in line seven of his poem he means that that is how humans live for now, that is their lifestyle. The line breaks in this poem allow the reader to indulge in their thoughts on this work. There is a set pattern in this poem of one line, two lines, one line for the stanzas.
Each line, or group of lines, though has it own significance to the poem.
This poet has been admired for decades for his style of writing and the thoughts he provokes. Critics write about his work and are still trying to understand him still, even though he has been dead for nearly three decades. Cummings poetry style is unique because of the tools he uses.
The run on and joined words, the punctuation, line breaks and original words are all part of his style. He is not an snooty, comedic, or childish write, his works are precise, inventive and deliberate. Cummings is a wonderful poet who lets the pen speak for itself.
Blackmur, Richard P.
“Notes on E. E. Cummings’ Language.” Contemporary LiteracyCriticism.
Eds. Dedria Bry Fonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson. Vol. 12.
Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1980: 140-141.
cummings, e. e.
“next to of course god america I.” Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed.George J.
Firmage. New York: Liverright, 1991: 267.
cummings, e. e.
“Buffalo Bill’s.” Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed. George J.
Firmage.New York: Liverright, 1991: 90.
cummings, e. e.
“from spiralling ecstatically this.” Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed.George J.
Firmage. New York: Liverright, 1991: 714.
cummings, e. e.
“whippoorwill this.” Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed. George J.
Firmage. New York: Liverright, 1991: 751.
Dilworth, Thomas. “Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill’s'” Explicator 53 Spring (1994): 175-176.
Jobe, Don. “Cummings’ Whippoorwill This.” Explicator 42 Fall (1983): 48-49.
“E. E. Cummings and his Fathers.” Contemporary Literacy Criticism.
Eds.Dedria Bry Fonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson. Vol. I Detroit: Gale ResearchInc.
, 1978: 155.
Powers, Kate. “cummings’s From Spiralling Ecstatically This.” Explicator49 Summer(1991) : 235-237.
Van Doren, Mark. “First Glance.” Contemporary Literacy Criticism. Eds.
Dedria BryFonskiand Phyllis Carmel Mendelson. Vol. XII. Detroit: Gale Research Inc.
Blackmur, Richard P. “Notes on E. E.
Cummings’ Language.” Contemporary LiteracyCriticism. Eds. Dedria Bry Fonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson.
Vol. XIIDetroit: Gale Research Inc., 1980: 140-141.
e. Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed. George J.
Firmage. New York:Liverright, 1991.
Dilworth, Thomas. “Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill’s’.
” Explicator 53 Spring (1994): 175-176.
Jobe, Don. “Cummings’ WHIPPOORWILL THIS.” Explicator 42 Fall (1983): 48-49.
Kazin, Alfred. “E. E. Cummings and his Fathers.
” Contemporary Literacy Criticism. Eds.Dedria Bry Fonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson. Vol.
I Detroit: Gale ResearchInc., 1978: 155.
Literature and the Writing Process. Eds.
Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and RobertFunk. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 1996.
“cummings’s From Spiralling Ecstatically This.” Explicator 49 Summer(1991) : 235-237.
Van Doren, Mark. “First Glance.
” Contemporary Literacy Criticism. Eds. Dedria BryFonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson. Vol.
XII. Detroit: Gale Research Inc.,1980: 139-140.