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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 (III)

Always before your voice my soul 
half-beautiful and wholly droll 
is as some smooth and awkward foal, 
whereof young moons begin 
the newness of his skin, 

so of my stupid sincere youth 
the exquisite failure uncouth 
discovers a trembling and smooth 
Unstrength,against the strong 
silences of your song; 

or as a single lamb whose sheen 
of full unsheared fleece is mean 
beside its lovelier friends,between 
your thoughts more white than wool 
My thought is sorrowful: 

but my heart smote in trembling thirds 
of anguish quivers to your words, 
As to a flight of thirty birds 
shakes with a thickening fright 
the sudden fooled light.

it is the autumn of a year: 
When through the thin air stooped with fear, 
across the harvest whitely peer 
empty of surprise 
death's faultless eyes 

(whose hand my folded soul shall know 
while on faint hills do frailly go 
The peaceful terrors of the snow, 
and before your dead face 
which sleeps,a dream shall pass) 

and these my days their sounds and flowers 
Fall in a pride of petaled hours, 
like flowers at the feet of mowers 
whose bodies strong with love 
through meadows hugely move. 

yet what am i that such and such 
mysteries very simply touch 
me,whose  heart-wholeness overmuch 
Expects of your hair pale, 
a terror musical? 

while in an earthless hour my fond 
soul seriously yearns beyond 
this fern of sunset frond on frond 
opening in a rare 
Slowness of  gloried air... 

The flute of morning stilled in noon— 
noon the implacable bassoon— 
now Twilight seeks the thrill of moon, 
washed with a wild and thin 
despair of violin

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

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

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
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also,with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds