Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
E. E. Cummings
Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), typically abbreviated E. E. Cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, and playwright. Though a representation not endorsed by him, his publishers often mirrored his atypical syntax by writing his name in lowercase, e. e. cummings.
Cummings is probably best known for the unusual style used in many of his poems, which includes unorthodox usage of both capitalisation and punctuation, in which unexpected and seemingly misplaced punctuation sometimes interrupt sentences and even individual words. Several of his poems are also typeset on a page in an unusual fashion, and appear to make little sense until read aloud.
Despite Cummings' affinity for avant garde styles and for unusual typography, much of his work is traditional; for instance, many of his poems are sonnets. Cummings' poetry often deals with themes of love and nature, as well as satire and the relationship of the individual the masses and to the world.
During his lifetime, he published more than 900 poems, along with two novels, several essays, as well as numerous drawings, sketches, and paintings. He is remembered as one of the preeminent voices of twentieth-century poetry.
E. E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Edward and Rebecca Haswell Clarke Cummings. Cummings' father was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University and later a Unitarian minister. Raised in a liberal family, Cummings was writing poetry as early as 1904 (age 10). His only sibling, a sister, Elizabeth, was born six years after he was.
In his youth Cummings attended the Cambridge Latin High School. Many of his early stories and poems were published in the Cambridge Review, the school newspaper.
From 1911 to 1916 Cummings attended Harvard, from which he received a B.A. degree in 1915 and a Master's degree for English and Classical Studies in 1916. Also while at Harvard, he met and befriended John Dos Passos. Several of Cummings' poems were published, beginning in 1912, in the Harvard Monthly, a school newspaper on which Cummings worked with his friends Dos Passos and S. Foster Damon.
From an early age, Cummings studied the classical languages of Greek and Latin. His affinity for both can be seen in his later works, such as XAIPE (the title of one of his collections and "Rejoice!" in Greek), Anthropos (the title of one of his plays and "mankind" in Greek), and "Puella Mea" (the title of his longest poem, and "My Girl" in Latin).
Cummings graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1915, and delivered the commencement address, entitled "The New Art". In his final year at Harvard, he came under the influence of the works of avant garde writers, such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. His first published poems appeared in a collection of poetry entitled Eight Harvard Poets in 1917.
Cummings went to France in 1917 as a volunteer for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in the First World War. However, due to an organisational mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to unit for five weeks, during which he stayed in Paris. During this time Cummings became enamored with the city, which he would return to throughout his life. Cummings was eventually assigned to an ambulance unit, though, after five months, he and a friend, William Slater Brown, were arrested on 21 September 1917 on suspicion of espionage (the two openly expressed pacifist views on the war). The two were sent to a detention camp, the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy for 3½ months. Cummings' experiences in the camp are later related in his novel The Enormous Room.
He was released from the camp on 19 December 1917, after much intervention from his father. Cummings returned to the United States on New Years' Day 1918. Later in 1918, he was drafted into the army. He served in the 73rd Infantry Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918.
Cummings returned to Paris, France in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s he returned to Paris a number of times, and travelled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings travelled to the Soviet Union and recorded his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also travelled to Northern Africa and Mexico. Also, from 1924 to 1927, he worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine.
In 1926, Cummings' father, whom he was close to, and whom was one of Cummings' most ardent supporters, was killed suddenly and tragically in a car accident. Though severely injured, Cummings' mother survived, and lived for more than twenty years until her death in 1947. Cummings detailed the accident in the following quote, from Richard S. Kennedy's biography of Cummings, Dreams in the Mirror :
- "... a locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing- dazed but erect- beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head. One of her hands (the younger added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to discover why it was wet. These men took my sixty-six year old mother by the arms and tried to lead her toward a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father's body, and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then) she let them lead her away."
His father's death had a profound impact on Cummings, who entered a new period in his artistic life. Cummings began to focus on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He began this new period by paying homage to his father's memory in the poem "my father moved through dooms of love" "in Just-", which features words such as "mud-lucious" and "puddle-wonderful".
Many of Cummings' poems address social issues and satirise society, but have an equal or even stronger bias toward romanticism: time and again his poems celebrate love, sex and spring. His talent extended to children's books, novels, and painting. A notable example of his versatility is an introduction he wrote for a collection of his favorite comic strip, Krazy Kat.
Cummings has been criticised for allowing himself to become static in technique, and accordingly showing a lack of artistic growth; however, others opine that Cummings simply found a style that suited him and kept it. He has also been labelled by some as a misanthrope due to his sometimes harsh satire. Some critics go so far as to call his depictions of society's hypocrisy and monotony elitist and self-indulgent. Most controversial perhaps is the hotly disputed claim that some of his work features racist and anti-semitic overtones.this webpage from the E. E. Cumming Society.
- Santa Claus, A Morality
Santa Claus: A Morality was probably Cummings' most successful play. It is an allegorical Christmas fantasy presented in one act of five scenes. The play was inspired by his daughter Nancy, whom he was reunited with in 1946.
The play's main characters are Santa Claus, his family (Woman and Child), Death, and Mob. At the outset of the play, Santa Clause's family has disintegrated due to their lust for knowledge (Science). After a series of events, however, Santa Clause's faith in love and his rejection of the materialism and disappointment he associates with Science are reaffirmed, and he is reunited with Woman and Child.
Santa Claus: A Morality was first published in the Harvard University magazine the Wake.
Capitalisation of Cummings' name
His name is frequently written in lowercase, e. e. cummings, as the lowercase form was a concept for a cover design by one of his publishers. However, Cummings himself capitalised his name. Stories claiming that Cummings preferred a lowercase version of his name or even so much legally changed his name to the lowercase version are false.
Cummings scholar Norman Friedman addressed the matter in his essay "NOT 'e. e. cummings'", which appeared in the first edition of Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society.
During his lifetime, E. E. Cummings received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including:
- Dial Award (1925)
- Guggenheim Fellowship (1933)
- Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry (1944)
- Harriet Monroe Prize from Poetry magazine (1950)
- Fellowship of American Academy of Poets (1950)
- Guggenheim Fellowship (1951)
- Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard (1952-1953)
- Special citation from the National Book Award Committee for his Poems, 1923-1954 (1957)
- Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1957)
- Boston Arts Festival Award (1957)
- Two-year Ford Foundation grant of $15,000 (1959)
- Eight Harvard Poets (1917)
- The Enormous Room (1922), a novel based on his war experiences.
- Tulips and Chimneys (1923)
- & (1925)
- XLI Poems (1925)
- is 5 (1926)
- him (1927)
- [No title] (1930)
- Anthropos or The Future of Art (1930)
- CIOPW (1931)
- ViVa (1931)
- Eimi (1933)
- No Thanks (1935)
- Tom: A Ballet (1935)
- 1/20 (1936)
- Collected Poems (1938)
- 50 Poems (1940)
- 1 × 1 (1944)
- Santa Claus: A Morality (1946)
- Puella Mea (1949)
- Xaipe (1950)
- i: six nonlectures (1953)
- Poems 1923–1954 (1954)
- 95 Poems (1958)
- 16 Poèmes Enfantin (1962)
- 73 Poems (1963)
- Fairy Tales (1965)
A number of books have been written about E. E. Cummings, notably:
- Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings, by Richard S. Kennedy
- E. E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Norman Friedman
- E. E. Cummings: The Art of his Poetry, by Norman Friedman
- E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography, by George James Firmage
- p. 293, Kennedy, Richard S (1980). Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright Publishing. ISBN 0871406381
- ^ p. 41–43, Lane, Gary (1976). I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings' Poems. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700601449
- ^ Landles, Iain (2001). "An Analysis of Two Poems by E.E. Cummings". SPRING, The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 10 (2001), 31-43.
- ^ Shafer, Nancy Imelda (2005). "ee cummings" (http://www.empirezine.com/spotlight/cummings/cummings.htm). Retrieved 17 April 2005.
- ^ p. 295, Kennedy.
- Cummings Society
- UbuWeb: E. E. Cummings from the album lunapark 0,10
- e.e. cummings reads four poems including "next to of course god america i" and "since feeling is first"
- Poems and biographies
- E. E. Cummings selected poems, letters, and photographs
- Americanpoems.com: E. E. Cummings: a short biography and selected poems.
- Modern American Poetry: E. E. Cummings a collection of analytical essays on selected poems
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