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E. E. Cummings

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English Literature

Poets have long sought to inject their own personal style into the poems that they write. Few have been more successful in crafting instantly-recognizable, unique poems than American poet E.E. Cummings. Cummings, whose name is often stylized as e.e. cummings, wrote books, sonnets, and poetry collections that feature his singular poetic style.

E.E. Cummings Biography and Facts

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His full name was Edward Estlin Cummings, which he shortened to E.E. throughout his life. From a very young age, Cummings was interested in poetry. He began a daily practice of writing poetry at the age of 8, which he continued until he was 22. Cummings attended Harvard University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree.

In 1917, Cummings joined the American war effort in World War I as a member of the Ambulance Corps. Cummings was a pacifist and served in the War via the Ambulance Corps, where he was not involved in the fighting. Cummings was stationed in France, where he became friends with a fellow American also in the Ambulance Corps, writer William Slater Brown.

Cummings and Brown were arrested by the French in September of 1917 for suspected espionage and detained in a French internment camp. Cummings was released after nearly four months. After returning to the United States, Cummings was drafted into the army in 1918 and served a training deployment.

Cummings and Brown were arrested for reasons of suspected espionage. This is because the two young men, bored with life in the Ambulance Corps, amused themselves by embedding cryptic comments in their letters back home, leading the two to be brought under charges of espionage for the content of their letters.

E. E. Cummings, World War I Ambulance Corps,  StudySmarterA group of men and their ambulance during World War I, wikimedia

Cummings spent two years in Paris from 1921 to 1923; during this time he published his first book, The Enormous Room (1922), and his first poetry collection, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). Throughout the 1920s, Cummings continued to publish poetry that was regarded as avant-garde and highly unique. For the next two decades, Cummings was often found traveling – back to Paris, throughout the Soviet Union, within Mexico, and across Northern Africa.

Later in his life, Cummings gave a series of famous lectures at Harvard University, his alma mater, which he later published entitled six nonlectures (1953). He spent his time traveling and attending various functions where he was the main speaker. He was awarded numerous fellowships in his lifetime, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Academy of American Poets fellowship.

In this article, Cummings’s name is spelled with capital letters. Throughout his lifetime, Cummings’s name often appeared with all lowercase letters—e.e. cummings. This was a decision made by one of Cummings’s editors to make his name on the cover of his book consistent with the style of his poetry. Cummings more commonly signed his name in all capital letters, though the all-lowercase version of his name appears often in print today.

E.E. Cummings Cause of Death

Later in life, Cummings spent his time alternately traveling and residing at his home in New Hampshire. It was during his later years in life that Cummings delivered the lecture series that would later be published, known as his nonlectures. Cummings died of a stroke in New Hampshire when he was 67 years old.

Works by E.E. Cummings

Throughout his lifetime, Cummings produced thousands of poems along with books, plays, and even paintings.

Books by E.E. Cummings

Cummings’s first book, The Enormous Room (1922), was published after he had returned to Paris and was based on his experiences during the First World War, particularly his time spent in the internment camp. After his travels throughout the Soviet Union in the 30s, Cummings published Eimi (1933) which was a travel diary about his time spent in the USSR.

In addition to his more traditional books, Cummings published a play entitled Him (1928). It was a three-act play that contained numerous vignettes and an unorthodox structure. His most successful play during his lifetime was his 1946 production Santa Claus: A Morality.

Cummings's trip to the USSR was formative for his political ideology—in the public eye, Cummings was seen as bohemian and free-spirited; his politics, however, were much more rightwing and as a result of his experiences in the Soviet Union, he later became a supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy's actions to oust communism in the United States.

Poems by E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings’s first poetry collection was published in 1923, entitled Tulips and Chimneys. The collection was heavily edited before publication and many of the poems that Cummings wanted to include were excluded. As a result, two years later he published & (1925), a second poetry collection that included all of the poems that were meant to be in Tulips and Chimneys but were left out by the editors.

Sonnets by E.E. Cummings

Many of Cummings’s poems were actually sonnets. Disguised by his unique approach to capitalization and punctuation, his poems might not be instantly recognizable as sonnets. However, his poems such as “life is more true than reason will deceive” and “being to timelessness as it’s to time” each consist of fourteen lines made up of three quatrains and a couplet.

E. E. Cummings, Portrait of E. E. Cummings, StudySmarterSide profile portrait of E. E. Cummings, wikimedia

E.E. Cummings Quotes

So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality.1

This quotation comes from one of Cummings’s Harvard nonlectures, the series of lectures he gave at the University. This quotation exemplifies Cummings’s approach to poetry – individuality. His unique poetic expression is clear to see in his poetry and its unconventional structure and style.

anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn't he danced his did 2

This, from Cummings’s 1940 poem 'anyone lived in a pretty how town', is a prime example of Cummings’s poetic style. He uses unconventional syntax and word order while ignoring the prevailing norms of capitalization and punctuation.

How does this style of poetry differ from other styles you are familiar with? Does Cummings write like other poets that you know?

E.E. Cummings Writing Style

Cummings had a distinct writing style that makes much of his poetry instantly recognizable. His poetry is characterized by his disregard for conventional capitalization and punctuation. His poetry is best categorized as Modernist free-verse poetry. He often changed up the spacing and line variations in his poems, and if he couldn’t find a word to suit his authorial sensibilities, Cummings had no issue with inventing his own compound word to suit his purposes.

Despite many of his poems being free verse, and many having a seemingly free verse structure, Cummings also wrote poetry that utilized his unique application of syntax and punctuation but in a 14-line sonnet-esque structure.

Thematically, Cummings wrote most often and most profoundly about love. Many of his most famous poems, such as “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)” (1952) and “[since feeling is first]” (1926), are love poems. He also wrote many erotic poems. Additionally, his natural imagery and use of nature was consistent throughout almost all of his poems, regardless of their subject matter

Cummings was married twice in his lifetime. Cummings began a relationship with his first wife, Elaine Orr, who was also his cousin, while she was still married to Cummings's good friend Scofield Thayer. Thayer knew and approved of their relationship and following his and Elaine's divorce, Cummings married Elaine. The marriage lasted two months before they separated and then divorced nine months later.

E. E. Cummings - Key takeaways

  • E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) was an American poet, author, and playwright.
  • Cummings grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University; after Harvard, Cummings served in the Ambulance Corps in the First World War.
  • Cummings is known for his unique, unconventional poetry style that includes a lack of capitalization and punctuation, unorthodox use of line spacing, and the creation of compound words invented by Cummings.
  • He wrote books, such as The Enormous Room (1922), poetry collections like Tulips and Chimneys (1923), and plays such as Him (1928).
  • Cummings is one of the most influential and famous poets of the twentieth century for his unique, wholly individual style.

1. E.E. Cummings. i: six nonlectures. 1953

2. E.E. Cummings. 'anyone lived in a pretty how town'. 1940.

E. E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings is best known for his unique, unorthodox poetry. He wrote most often in a modernist, free-verse style. His poetry lacked the conventional capitalization and punctuation norms, and he was known for his unusual word order and the inclusion of words that he invented.

E.E. Cummings’s writing style was unconventional, modernist writing. He rejected many traditional poetry styles, though he did write hundreds of sonnets, by rejecting capitalization, punctuation, and utilizing his own words when the existing ones would not suffice. 

The major characteristics of E.E. Cummings’s poetry were its stylistic innovations. His poems used precise language, often using compound words made up by Cummings, and were arranged unconventionally on the page. He often rejected normal capitalization and punctuation in favor of all lowercase letters and free-flowing verse.

E.E. Cummings was an American author and poet. He was born in 1894 and spent his childhood writing poetry. Cummings is known as one of the most famous and influential poets of the 20th century for his innovative, unique style and rejection of many poetic norms. 

The poem 'in Just-' is about the springtime. Exemplifying Cummings’s usual unorthodox writing style, he makes use of line spacing, syntax, and his own unique style to paint a thematic portrait of spring and rebirth. The poem reminds the reader of the continual possibilities in the world that come with the burgeoning springtime. 

Final E. E. Cummings Quiz

Question

In what war did E. E. Cummings serve?

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Answer

World War I

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Question

E. E. Cummings spent nearly four months in an internment camp in France for what alleged crime?

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Answer

Desertion

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Question

Why is E. E. Cummings famous?

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Answer

E. E. Cummings is famous as he is one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. At the time of his death, he was the second most widely-read poet in America after Robert Frost. Cummings had a unique, wholly individual poetic style that differed from many of his contemporary poets.

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Question

True or False: Cummings only wrote free verse poetry without a set structure.

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

What style of poetry did Cummings often write?

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Answer

Haiku

Show question

Question

What is E.E. Cummings best known for?


Show answer

Answer

E.E. Cummings is best known for his unique, unorthodox poetry. He wrote most often in a modernist, free-verse style. His poetry lacked the conventional capitalization and punctuation norms, and he was known for his unusual word order and the inclusion of words that he invented.

Show question

Question

What is E.E. Cummings style of writing?


Show answer

Answer

E.E. Cummings’s writing style was unconventional, modernist writing. He rejected many traditional poetry styles, though he did write hundreds of sonnets, by rejecting capitalization, punctuation, and utilizing his own words when the existing ones would not suffice. 

Show question

Question

What are the major characteristics of E.E. Cummings poetry?


Show answer

Answer

The major characteristics of E.E. Cummings’s poetry were its stylistic innovations. His poems used precise language, often using compound words made up by Cummings, and were arranged unconventionally on the page. He often rejected normal capitalization and punctuation in favor of all lowercase letters and free-flowing verse.

Show question

Question

Who was E.E. Cummings?


Show answer

Answer

E.E. Cummings was an American author and poet. He was born in 1894 and spent his childhood writing poetry. Cummings is known as one of the most famous and influential poets of the 20th century for his innovative, unique style and rejection of many poetic norms. 

Show question

Question

What are the theme and the message of the poem “in Just-” by E.E. Cummings?


Show answer

Answer

The poem “in Just-” is about the springtime. Exemplifying Cummings’s usual unorthodox writing style, he makes use of line spacing, syntax, and his own unique style to paint a thematic portrait of spring and rebirth. The poem reminds the reader of the continual possibilities in the world that come with the burgeoning springtime. 

Show question

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