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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)

Songs (I)

(thee will i praise between those rivers whose
white voices pass upon forgetting(fail
me not)whose courseless waters are a gloat
of silver;o'er whose night three willows wail,
a slender dimness in the unshapeful hour
making dear moan in tones of stroked flower;
let not thy lust one threaded moment lose:
haste)the very shadowy sheep float
free upon terrific pastures pale,
 
whose tall mysterious shepherd lifts a cheek
teartroubled to the momentary wind
with guiding smile,lips wisely minced for blown
kisses,condemnatory fingers thinned
of pity—so he stands counting the moved
myriads wonderfully loved,
(hasten,it is the moment which shall seek
all blossoms that do learn,scents of not known
musics in whose careful eyes are dinned;
 
and the people of perfect darkness fills
his mind who will their hungering whispers hear
with weepings soundless,saying of "alas
we were chaste on earth we ghosts:hark to the sheer
cadence of our grey flesh in the gloom!
and still to be immortal is our doom;
but a rain frailly raging whom the hills
sink into and their sunsets,it shall pass.
Our feet tread sleepless meadows sweet with fear")
 
then be with me:unseriously seem
by the perusing greenness of thy thought
my golden soul fabulously to glue
in a superior terror;be thy taut
flesh silver,like the currency of faint
cities eternal—ere the sinless taint
of thy long sinful arms about me dream
shall my love wholly taste thee as a new
wine from steep hills by darkness softly brought—
 
(be with me in the sacred witchery
of almostness which May makes follow soon
on the sweet heels of passed afterday,
clothe thy soul's coming merely,with a croon
of mingling robes musically revealed
in rareness:let thy twain eyes deeply wield
a noise of petals falling silently
through the far-spaced possible nearaway
from huge trees drenched by a rounding moon)

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
into the smiting 
sky tense 
with 
blend 

ing 
the 
tree        leaps 
                           a stiffened exquisite 

i 
wait the sweet 
annihilation of swift 
flesh 

i make me stern against 
your charming strength 

O haste 
                annihilator 
drawing into you my enchanting 
leaves
poem
              10

maggie and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced
poem
why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer "no"?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
"kill" killing is an act of christian love.
"