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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

E.E. cummings

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.

While 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.

When 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.

His 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.

The 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.

Like 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 American verse.

Richard S. Kennedy
Temple University

In the Heath Anthology
[Buffalo Bill's] (1920)  [n.b., 1923]
[into the strenuous briefness] (1923)
[the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls] (1923)
[i like my body when it is with your] (1925)
[Picasso] (1925)
[my sweet old etcetera] (1926)
[since feeling is first] (1926)
[i sing of Olaf glad and big] (1931)
[anyone lived in a pretty how town] (1940)
[pity this busy monster, manunkind] (1944)
[plato told] (1944)
[what if a much of a which of a wind] (1944)

Other Works
the enormous room (1922)
tulips and chimneys (1923)
is 5 (1926)
him (1927)
ViVa (1931)
eimi (1933)
no thanks (1935)
50 poems (1940)
1 X 1 (1944)
xiape (1950)
i: six non-lectures (1953)

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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.

Secondary Sources

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