Edward Estlin Cummings, better known as E.E. Cummings, was a standout American poet of the 20th century who is remembered for his inventive use of language and poetic form. He often wrote of love, nature, and the importance of individuality, while playing with syntax, punctuation, and word arrangement. At times, Cummings used verbs as nouns or invented new terms by combining words. While his avant-garde work was not consistently well-received during his lifetime, he was eventually widely read and recognized as a gifted and eloquent wordsmith.
Cummings decided to become a writer during his childhood, and between the ages of eight and 22 he wrote a poem every day. He practiced traditional poetic forms while also experimenting with the more organic and unique poetry that would become his trademark. A pacifist, he volunteered with an ambulance service during the First World War. He wound up imprisoned in a French internment camp, and the experience inspired his first book, The Enormous Room, in 1922. His first poetry book, Tulips and Chimneys, was published in 1923, followed by several other volumes of poetry. As his works were more widely read, Cummings was recognized as a poignant and inventive writer, and received critical acclaim.
In the 1950s, Cummings gave a series of what he called “nonlectures” on his life and work at his alma mater, Harvard University. In these talks, he upheld the centrality of love and artistic freedom. He stated, “So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be, strictly and distinctly, a question of individuality.” These 13 lines of poetry give us a glimpse of his poetic precision, passion, and imagination.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in. my heart)
completely dare / be beautiful
I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing / than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.
the axis of the universe –love
trust your heart / if the seas catch first / (and live by love / though the stars walk backward)
twice i have lived forever in a smile
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
The whole truth… sings only —and all lovers are the song
love is a deeper season / than reason
‘since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you
on forever’s very now we stand
Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear
lovers alone wear sunlight