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Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894. He began writing poems as early as 1904 and studied Latin and Greek at the Cambridge Latin High School.

He received his BA in 1915 and his MA in 1916, both from Harvard University. His studies there introduced him to the poetry of avant-garde writers, such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

In 1917, Cummings published an early selection of poems in the anthology Eight Harvard Poets. The same year, Cummings left the United States for France as a volunteer ambulance driver in World War I. Five months after his assignment, however, he and a friend were interned in a prison camp by the French authorities on suspicion of espionage (an experience recounted in his novel, The Enormous Room) for his outspoken anti-war convictions.

After the war, he settled into a life divided between his lifetime summer home, Joy Farm in New Hampshire, and Greenwich Village, with frequent visits to Paris. He also traveled throughout Europe, meeting poets and artists, including Pablo Picasso, whose work he particularly admired.

In 1920, The Dial published seven poems by Cummings, including "Buffalo Bill ’s." Serving as Cummings' debut to a wider American audience, these "experiments" foreshadowed the synthetic cubist strategy Cummings would explore in the next few years.

In his work, Cummings experimented radically with form, punctuation, spelling, and syntax, abandoning traditional techniques and structures to create a new, highly idiosyncratic means of poetic expression. Later in his career, he was often criticized for settling into his signature style and not pressing his work toward further evolution. Nevertheless, he attained great popularity, especially among young readers, for the simplicity of his language, his playful mode and his attention to subjects such as war and sex.

The poet and critic Randall Jarrell once noted that Cummings is "one of the most individual poets who ever lived—and, though it sometimes seems so, it is not just his vices and exaggerations, the defects of his qualities, that make a writer popular. But, primarily, Mr. Cummings's poems are loved because they are full of sentimentally, of sex, of more or less improper jokes, of elementary lyric insistence."

During his lifetime, Cummings received a number of honors, including an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1958, and a Ford Foundation grant.

At the time of his death, September 3, 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in the United States, after Robert Frost. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.

 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Complete Poems (Liveright, 1991)
73 Poems (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962)
95 Poems (Harcourt, Brace, 1958)
Xaipe: Seventy-One Poems (Oxford University Press, 1950)
1 x 1 (Holt, 1944)
50 Poems (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1940)
1/20 (Roger Roughton, 1936)
Tom (Arrow Editions, 1935)
No Thanks (The Golden Eagle Press, 1935)
W(ViVa) (Liveright, 1931)
XLI Poems (The Dial Press, 1925)
& (self-published, 1925)
Tulips and Chimneys (T. Seltzer, 1923)

Prose

Eimi (Covici, Friede, 1933)
The Enormous Room (Liveright, 1922)

Amores (IV)

consider O 
woman this 
my body.
for it has 

lain 
with empty arms 
upon the giddy hills 
to dream of you, 

approve these 
firm unsated 
eyes 
which have beheld 

night's speechless carnival 
the painting 
of the dark 
with meteors 

streaming from playful 
immortal hands 
the bursting 
of the wafted stars 

(in time to come you shall 
remember of this night amazing 
ecstasies       slowly, 
in the glutted 

heart fleet 
flowerterrible 
memories 
shall 

rise,slowly 
return upon the 
                                red elected lips 


scaleless visions)

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

E. E. Cummings

E. E. Cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings is known for his radical experimentation with form, punctuation, spelling, and syntax; he abandoned traditional techniques and structures to create a new, highly idiosyncratic means of poetic expression.

by this poet

poem
when god lets my body be

From each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom

the purpled world will dance upon
Between my lips which did sing

a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes

will lay between their little breasts
My strong fingers beneath the snow

Into strenuous
poem
there is a 
moon sole 
in the blue 
night 

             amorous of waters 
tremulous, 
blinded with silence the 
undulous heaven yearns where 

in tense starlessness 
anoint with ardor 
the yellow lover 

stands in the dumb dark 
svelte 
and 
urgent 

           (again 
love i slowly 
gather 
of thy languorous
poem
when life is quite through with
and leaves say alas,
much is to do
for the swallow,that closes
a flight in the blue;

when love's had his tears out,
perhaps shall pass
a million years
(while a bee dozes
on the poppies,the dears;

when all's done and said,and
under the grass
lies her head
by oaks and roses