| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Edward Estlin Cummings, the son of Edward Cummings,
a Unitarian minister, and Rebecca Haswell Clarke, a woman of distinguished
literary and intellectual ancestry, grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a
community dominated by the learning of Harvard University and the literary
spirit of Longfellow and Lowell. Although he was educated at the Cambridge
Latin School and Harvard (A.B. in classics, 1915; A.M. in English, 1916),
he soon became a rebel against the Cambridge atmosphere.
at Harvard, Cummings became intensely interested in the new movements in the
visual arts: impressionism, post-impressionism, cubism, and futurism, and he
began painting in the modern manner. He read the new poets: Pound, H.D.,
Sandburg, and Amy Lowell, and he started to write free verse and follow the
imagist principles. But seeking fresh and unusual effects, he began, by 1916,
to create a style of his own, a form of literary cubism, breaking up his
material and attempting to present it so that its appearance on the page directed
the reader toward its meaning.
the United States entered the European war in 1917, Cummings volunteered for
service in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. While he was on duty in France,
his pacifist leanings led to his being imprisoned in a French concentration
camp under suspicion of espionage. This experience formed the basis of his
autobiographical book The Enormous Room. Continuing to write verse, Cummings
established, by 1919, a distinctive poetic style that had its own grammatical
usages, its own punctuation, and its own rules for capitalization, in the
freest kind of verse.
work, published in Tulips and Chimneys and later volumes, met with much
critical hostility, expressed in complaints about his “exploded fragments,”
“eccentric punctuation,” and “jigsaw puzzle” arrangements. His harsh satirical
verse as well as his erotic poems served also to identify him as a
social iconoclast. But Cummings’s trip to Russia in 1931 and two troublesome
marriages brought about a change in his youthful and exuberant outlook. He
became politically more conservative and more irascible in temper, as seen in
such volumes as Eimi, an account of his experience in Russia, and No Thanks, a
collection of his most experimental verse. At the same time, he continued to
give voice to a basic affirmation of life, especially in whatever was simple,
natural, individual, or unique, and he expressed powerful opposition to any
social forces that would hinder uniqueness, forces such as conformity,
groupiness, imitation, and artificiality. His poem “anyone lived in a pretty
how town” gives mythic expression to these attitudes.
horrors of World War II, the atomic bomb, and the cruel Russian suppression of
the Hungarian revolution all made their impact upon Cummings’s later work, but
he was still able to express moods of serenity, particularly in response to the
beauties of the natural world.
Joyce, Eliot, Faulkner, and other literary innovators, Cummings gradually
taught his audience how to read his work; and with Pound and others he carried
free verse into visually directive forms. The appearance on the page of much
present-day poetry owes something to the flexibility Cummings introduced into
Richard S. Kennedy|
In the Heath Anthology
[into the strenuous briefness]
[the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls]
[i like my body when it is with your]
[my sweet old etcetera]
[since feeling is first]
[i sing of Olaf glad and big]
[anyone lived in a pretty how town]
[pity this busy monster, manunkind]
[what if a much of a which of a wind]
the enormous room
tulips and chimneys
1 X 1
i: six non-lectures
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
Modern American Poetry
Biography, extensive excerpts of secondary materials, and a bibliography.
NOT "e. e. cummings"
Convincing site arguing that the poet's name should actually be written with conventional upper/lower case usage.
SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society
Notes on Cummings's works, a bibliography, links, and more.
The Academy of American Poets
Biographical information, selection of poetry, and links.
The Paintings of E.E. Cummings
Digitized collection of paintings as well as information about this other aspect of Cummings's artistic work.
Milton Cohen, Poet and Painter: The Aesthetics of E. E. Cummings' Early Work, 1987
Norman Friedman, E. E. Cummings: The Art of His Poetry, 1960
Norman Friedman, E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer, 1964
Norman Friedman, ed. E. E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1972
Norman Friedman, (Re)Valuing Cummings, 1996; Richard Kostelanetz, Another E. E. Cummings, 1998
Richard S. Kennedy, Dreams in the Mirror, 1980
Rushworth Kidder, E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry, 1979
Barry A. Marks, E. E. Cummings, 1964
Charles Norman, The Magic Maker, 1958