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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 (VII)

if i believe 
in death be sure 
of this 
it is 

because you have loved me, 
moon and sunset 
stars and flowers 
gold crescendo and silver muting 

of seatides 
i trusted not, 
                        one night 
when in my fingers 

drooped your shining body 
when my heart 
sang between your perfect 
breasts 

darkness and beauty of stars 
was on my mouth petals danced 
against my eyes 
and down 

the singing reaches of 
my soul 
spoke 
the green-

greeting pale-
departing irrevocable 
sea 
i knew thee death. 

                                  and when 
i have offered up each fragrant 
night,when all my days 
shall have before a certain 

face become 
white 
perfume 
only, 

         from the ashes 
then 
thou wilt rise and thou 
wilt come to her and brush 

the mischief from her eyes and fold 
her 
mouth the new 
flower with 

thy unimaginable 
wings,where dwells the breath 
of all persisting stars

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
i like
to think that on
the flower you gave me when we
loved

            the far-
departed mouth sweetly-saluted
lingers.
              if one marvel

seeing the hunger of my
lips for a dead thing,
i shall instruct
him silently with becoming

steps to seek
your face       and i
entreat,by certain foolish perfect
poem
Thy fingers make early flowers of
all things.
thy hair mostly the hours love:
a smoothness which
sings,saying
(though love be a day)
do not fear,we will go amaying.

thy whitest feet crisply are straying.
Always
thy moist eyes are at kisses playing,
whose strangeness much
says;singing
(though love be a day)
for
poem
I will wade out
                    	   till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
                                	   	Alive
                                            	               with closed eyes
to dash against darkness