E E Cummings

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 of a falling leaf; the
poem drifts down, flipping and altering pairs of letters like a falling leaf
gliding, back and forth, down to the ground. The beginning 'l(a' changes to'le', and 'af' flips to 'fa'. 'll' indicates a quick drop of the leaf, which has
slowed by a longer line, 'one'. Finally, the leaf falls into the pile of fallen
leaves on the ground, represented by 'iness'. Cummings has written this poem so
perfectly that every part of it conveys the message of oneness and individuality
(200). In mortals), Cummings vitalizes a trapeze act on paper. Oddly enough,
this poem, too, stresses the idea of individualism, or 'eachness', as it is
stated on line four. Lines 2 and 4, 'climbi' and 'begi', both end leaving the
letter 'i' exposed. This is a sign that Cummings is trying to emphasize the
concept of self-importance (Tri 36). This poem is an amusing one, as it shows
the effects of a trapeze act within the arrangement of the words. On line 10,
the space in the word 'open ing' indicates the act beginning, and the empty,
static moment before it has fully begun. 'of speeds of' and '&meet&',
lines 8 and 12 respectively, show a sort of back-and-forth motion, much like
that of the motion of a trapeze swinging. Lines 12 through 15 show the final
jump off the trapeze, and 'a/n/d' on lines 17 through 19, represent the deserted
trapeze, after the acrobats have dismounted. Finally, '(im' on the last line
should bring the reader's eyes back to the top of the poem, where he finds'mortals)'. Placing '(im' at the end of the poem shows that the performers
attain a special type of immortality for risking their lives to create a show of
beauty, they attain a special type of immortality (36-7). The circularity of the
poem causes a feeling of wholeness or completeness, and may represent the Circle
of Life, eternal motion (Fri 26). Cummings first tightly written ideogram was !blac,
a very interesting poem. It starts with '!', which seems to be saying that
something deserving that exclamation point occurred anterior to the poem, and
the poem is trying objectively to describe certain feelings resulting from '!'.
"black against white" is an example of such a description in the poem;
the clashing colors create a feeling in sync with '!'. Also, why "(whi)"
suggests amusement and wonder, another feeling resulting from '!' (Weg 145).

Cummings had written a letter concerning !blac to Robert Wenger, author of The

Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings (see Works Cited). In it, he wrote, "for
me, this poem means just what it says . . . and the ! which begins the poem is
what might be called and emphatic (=very)." This