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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)

[little tree]

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold.
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

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

Eruptive lightnings flutter to and fro
Above the heights of immemorial hills;
Thirst-stricken air, dumb-throated, in its woe
Limply down-sagging, its limp body spills
Upon the earth. A panting silence fills
The empty vault of Night with shimmering bars
Of sullen silver, where the lake

poem

Great carnal mountains crouching in the cloud
That marrieth the young earth with a ring,
Yet still its thoughts builds heavenward, whence spring
Wee villages of vapor, sunset-proud.—
And to the meanest door hastes one pure-browed
White-fingered star, a little, childish thing,
The busy

poem

yonder deadfromtheneckup graduate of a
somewhat obscure to be sure university spends
her time looking picturesque under

the as it happens quite
erroneous impression that he

nascitur