When Susie asked if I wanted to participate in Serena’s blog tour celebrating National Poetry Month at Savvy Verse and Wit, my response was:
- Oh, also hell yes
Most of you know I’m kind of a poetry nerd. There’s probably a name for that. Poetryphile? Poetryphiliac? Whatever, I dig poetry the most, daddy-o. I write it, I read it, it makes me all thrilly and sometimes there are tears. Sometimes I read it because I need beautiful words in my eyeholes and sometimes I read it because I want to revel in all those glorious words and sometimes I read it because I want to see what’s going on in the poetry world and sometimes I read it because I only have a brief period of time to read and poetry is a briefly compact magic.
So today, let’s talk about one of my most favorite poets. I have a lot of them, but today we’re talking about a major poetry badass: Mr. E. E. Cummings.
And also a fine, fine figure of a man.
E. E. Cummings (real name: Edward Estlin Cummings, I like Estlin very much, it’s fancy, no?) was born in 1894. In his sixty-seven years, he wrote plays, poems, essays, and books, and oh, also was an artist, in case you thought he could only write. Why? Because he was a Renaissance man, I assume.
- went to Harvard (FANCY!)
- worked for a book dealer (HARDWORKING!)
- enlisted and served in an ambulance corps in World War I (BRAVE!)
- was a prisoner of war for 3.5 months in France and was released by President Wilson (WELL-CONNECTED!)
- fell in love with France even though he was detained there (FORGIVING!)
- traveled heavily throughout all of Europe (BON VIVANTY!)
- was friends with Pablo Picasso (SUPPORTIVE!)
- lost his father when he was only 32 (TRAGIC!)
- guest-lectured at Harvard (SCHOLARLY!)
- married two women, divorced each of them not long after, and lived in SIN with a third woman (SEXY!)
- was randomly a Republican who approved of McCarthyism (PERPLEXING!)
- was quite a writer of erotic poetry (HOT!)
- played with style, form, and punctuation (CREATIVE!)
Also in his later years, he looked a lot like my grandfather, so how could I not love that?
Also, I learned that even though I’ve called him “cummings” my whole life, he actually preferred the traditional capitalized spelling of his name, so “Cummings” it shall be from now on. I STAND CORRECTED!
Let’s look at some of his poems I love best and discuss, yeah? Yes, let’s!
(With the formatting, I have to paste in a photo or it’s all wonky. Click the photo for the original site – it’s Poets.org, and I highly recommend it.)
I love this one. SIDE NOTE! You’re aware of why the title’s “Buffalo Bill’s,” right? No? I WILL TELL YOU! When a poet doesn’t title a poem, the title becomes the first line. Cummings often didn’t title his work; therefore, a lot of his poems are titled with the first line.
I love “watersmooth-silver” and I love “onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat” and I love “blueeyed boy.” I love “defunct” as if Buffalo Bill just ran down like a wind-up toy. I love “Jesus/he was a handsome man” because I can hear the sorrow and regret in those lines. And I love “Jesus” just hanging out like that: it can either run into the next line, like a curse, or it can be addressing Jesus, like a proper name. And the last three lines: it’s railing against death, the waste of it, the abject unfairness of it all. This is an elegy for Buffalo Bill, but it’s also an elegy for anyone who’s died. I read this one aloud whenever I come across it; out loud if I’m alone, under my breath if I’m in company. It demands to be read aloud. Most of Cummings’ work does, I think.
I love this one. This one makes me weep. It is so intelligent on so many levels. First, you have to read this aloud. You’re missing out if you don’t. This is such a musical, lyrical poem. “Stars rain sun moon.” “With up so floating many bells down.” You have to say these things, because they ring in your mouth. They’re rich there. On the paper they’re lovely; in your voice, they sing.
On one level this is a love story; the participants are a man named Anyone and a woman named Noone. That’s the level I read it at in high school; the other kids around me were all, “THIS IS NONSENSE FOOLISHNESS” and I read “(and noone stooped to kiss his face)” and “noone loved him more and more” and fought back tears in my overly-bright English classroom.
But on another level, an adult level, this is about alienation, loneliness, dying alone. No one stooped to kiss anyone’s face. No one. No one and anyone were earth by April. Forgotten, but never even seen – no one saw anyone. No one did.
It’s a poem about how we’re never alone. It’s a poem about how we’re always alone. And therefore, it is a poem that is true.
No Cummings post would be complete without this, even though it’s become ubiquitous. It’s become ubiquitous because it’s (in my most humble opinion) just about the perfect love poem. You’ve probably heard this somewhere (In My Shoes, maybe? Cameron Diaz reading it tearfully at her sister’s wedding?) or seen it on a tattoo or in a Tumblr post or heard it quoted. That’s ok. I’m putting it here anyway. You can always see it again. It won’t hurt.
Here is the wonder that is keeping the stars apart. The wonder that is keeping the stars apart. Can you imagine a more perfect line of poetry? I get a thrill every time I read that. And I’ve read this poem, most assuredly, hundreds of times.
I have people whose hearts I carry in mine. I say this poem quietly for them, sometimes. This poem is theirs. It might belong to the whole world now, but it was mine before it was everyone else’s. I found it when I was only a wee one, and wept all over the anthology at the wonder that was keeping the stars apart.
My favorite Cummings poem, however, came to me late in life. I only found this one last year, and I think that was the way of the world; I wouldn’t have appreciated it if I’d found it when I was younger. It speaks to an adult me. It’s not a poem for the girl I was. It’s a poem for the woman I am.
I can’t find this on a pretty website. I don’t think it’s one of his more well-known works.
You are tired
You are tired,
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)
You have played,
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.
This is a poem for adults, who have loved, who have lost, who are coming to each other with so much baggage that their arms are exhausted with the carrying of it. This is a poem for adults who have all but given up, but have the slightest fire of hope guttering barely pilot-light blue in the back of their eyes. This is a poem for adults who meet and see something in one another that they recognize, something that they are drawn to, something that they yearn toward like the pull of the tides, like magnets, like plants reaching toward the last ray of sunshine.
Tired of things that break, and-/Just tired./So am I.
Yes. Oh, my. Oh, my, yes. So, so tired. So many things have broken.
I read this one aloud, too. I cannot keep the tears out of my voice or my eyes.
But I’ll try for you. You need to hear this one. You need to hear it aloud.
Jacinth = pretty way to say hyacinth. Poetry most sincerely wins.
I’ll sing you the jacinth song/Of the probable stars.