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Cummings’ Most Difficult Form of Prose

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E. E. Cummings, who was born in 1894 and died in 1962, wrote many

poems with unconventional punctuation and capitalization, and unusual

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line, word, and even letter placements – namely, ideograms. Cummings’

most difficult form of prose is probably the ideogram; it is extremely

terse and it combines both visual and auditory elements. There may be

sounds or characters on the page that cannot be verbalized or cannot

convey the same message if pronounced and not read. Four of Cummings’

poems – l(a, mortals), !blac, and swi( – illustrate the ideogram form

quite well. Cummings utilizes unique syntax in these poems in order to

convey messages visually as well as verbally.

Although one may think of l(a as a poem of sadness and

loneliness, Cummings probably did not intend that. This poem is about

individuality – oneness (Kid 200-1). The theme of oneness can be

derived from the numerous instances and forms of the number ‘1’

throughout the poem. First, ‘l(a’ contains both the number 1 and the

singular indefinite article, ‘a’; the second line contains the French

singular definite article, ‘le’; ‘ll’ on the fifth line represents two

ones; ‘one’ on the 7th line spells the number out; the 8th line, ‘l’,

isolates the number; and ‘iness’, the last line, can mean “the state

of being I” – that is, individuality – or “oneness”, deriving the

“one” from the lowercase roman numeral ‘i’ (200).

Cummings could have

simplified this poem drastically (“a leaf falls:/loneliness”), and

still conveyed the same verbal message, but he has altered the normal

syntax in order that each line should show a ‘one’ and highlight the

theme of oneness. In fact, the whole poem is shaped like a ‘1’ (200).

The shape of the poem can also be seen as the path of a falling leaf;

the poem drifts down, flipping and altering pairs of letters like a

falling leaf gliding, back and forth, down to the ground. The

beginning ‘l(a’ changes to ‘le’, and ‘af’ flips to ‘fa’. ‘ll’

indicates a quick drop of the leaf, which has slowed by a longer line,

‘one’. Finally, the leaf falls into the pile of fallen leaves on the

ground, represented by ‘iness’. Cummings has written this poem so

perfectly that every part of it conveys the message of oneness and

In mortals), Cummings vitalizes a trapeze act on paper. Oddly

enough, this poem, too, stresses the idea of individualism, or

‘eachness’, as it is stated on line four. Lines 2 and 4, ‘climbi’ and

‘begi’, both end leaving the letter ‘i’ exposed. This is a sign that

Cummings is trying to emphasize the concept of self-importance (Tri

36). This poem is an amusing one, as it shows the effects of a trapeze

act within the arrangement of the words. On line 10, the space in the

word ‘open ing’ indicates the act beginning, and the empty, static

moment before it has fully begun. ‘of speeds of’ and ‘&’, lines 8

and 12 respectively, show a sort of back-and-forth motion, much like

that of the motion of a trapeze swinging. Lines 12 through 15 show the

final jump off the trapeze, and ‘a/n/d’ on lines 17 through 19,

represent the deserted trapeze, after the acrobats have dismounted.

Finally, ‘(im’ on the last line should bring the reader’s eyes back to

the top of the poem, where he finds ‘mortals)’. Placing ‘(im’ at the

end of the poem shows that the performers attain a special type of

immortality for risking their lives to create a show of beauty, they

attain a special type of immortality (36-7). The circularity of the

poem causes a feeling of wholeness or completeness, and may represent

the Circle of Life, eternal motion (Fri 26).

Cummings first tightly written ideogram was !blac, a very

interesting poem. It starts with ‘!’, which seems to be saying that

something deserving that exclamation point occurred anterior to the

poem, and the poem is trying objectively to describe certain feelings

resulting from ‘!’. “black against white” is an example of such a

description in the poem; the clashing colors create a feeling in sync

with ‘!’. Also, why “(whi)” suggests amusement and wonder, another

feeling resulting from ‘!’ (Weg 145). Cummings had written a letter

concerning !blac to Robert Wenger, author of The Poetry and Prose of

E. E. Cummings (see Works Cited). In it, he wrote, “for me, this poem

means just what it says . . . and the ! which begins the poem is what

might be called and emphatic (=very).” This poem is also concerns the

cycle of birth, life, death, and renewal. This is derived from the ‘.’

preceding the last letter. This shows that even though the poem is

finished, the circle of life is not, and is ever cycling (Weg 144).

Through the poem’s shape, !blac also shows a leaf fluttering to the

ground. The lines’ spacing synchronizes the speed of the reading with

that of the leaf at different points in its fall. With its capital

‘I’s, ‘IrlI’ also indicates a leaf falling straight down before it

hits the ground (147). Reading this poem, one may realize the lone

comma on line 12. The poet writes about the sky and a tree, and then a

comma intrudes, which makes the reader pause, and realize the new

awareness that the comma indicated – that of a falling leaf (145).

Lines 1 through 6 are also very important to the poem. Although “black

against white” may be referring to the color of the falling leaf in

contrast to the bright sky, it is not wrong to assume it means more.

As stated above, the poem’s theme is the cycle of life, and “black

against white” could be indicating life death versus life. It shows

that even though a leaf falling may be an indication of death, falling

of leaves is an integral part of the whole life cycle of the tree

(146). !blac may seem like a simple mess of words, but in reality is

swi( is another poem of Cummings’ ideogram form. The essence of

this poem is seeing a bird’s swift flight past the sun, and the wonder

of this experience. The poem mainly tries to convince the reader of

the difference between conception, what one sees, and perception, what

one knows he is seeing (Mar 105). The first line, ‘swi(‘ shows that

the object the poet sees is moving so rapdly that before he completely

utters his first word, he must describe the object, and that it is

passing before another object – the sun. His use of only primary

descriptives, such as speed, direction, color, and shape indicates

that he is trying to describe the bird as quickly as possible. The way

he speaks, in terse syllables that lack syntactical relationship to

each other, imitate one who tries to speak before he knows exactly

what he wants to say; it is another indication of how quickly the

object is moving (106). “a-motion-upo-nmotio-n/Less?”, the 6th line,

is signifying that although the poet knows that both the objects are

moving, one’s motion causes the other to seem still (106). The ‘d,’ at

the end of the poem is showing that after the poet has finally named

the object he saw, he immediately loses interest and stops, as writing

more to further organize his thoughts would be superfluous (106). The

contrasting words in this poem are very important. ‘against’ contrasts

with ‘across’, and signifies a halt. It seems that the poet wants to

stop the object in order to describe it. But a stopping of motion

would contradict ‘swi/ftly’, so Cummings decided to refer to the speed

average of the two, ‘Swi/mming’ (106). swi( contains less symbolism

than the other poems being analyzed, but it is similar in that the

Cummings’ peculiar method of using syntax to convey hidden

meaning is extremely effective. The reader does not simply read and

forget Cummings’ ideas; instead, he must figure out the hidden meaning

himself. In doing this, he feels contentment, and thus retains the

poem’s idea for a more extended period of time. Cummings’ ideogram

poems are puzzles waiting to be solved.

Works Cited

Friedman, Norman. E. E. Cummings: A Collection of Critical
Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972.

Kidder, Rushworth M. E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the
Poetry. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1979.

Marks, Barry A. E. E. Cummings. New York: Twayne Publishers,
Inc., 1964.

Triem, Eve. E. E. Cummings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1969.

Wegner, Robert E. The Poetry and Prose of E. E. Cummings. New
York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965.


Cite this Cummings’ Most Difficult Form of Prose

Cummings’ Most Difficult Form of Prose. (2018, Oct 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/cummings-most-difficult-form-of-prose/

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