E.E. Cummings
1894–1962

Introduction

Edward Estlin Cummings, who was mainly known as e e cummings and also E. E. Cummings, (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He was an ambulance driver during World War I and was in an internment camp, which provided the basis for his novel The Enormous Room (1922). The following year he published his first collection of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys, which showed his early experiments with grammar and typography. He wrote four plays; HIM (1927) and Santa Claus: A Morality (1946) were most successful. He wrote EIMI (1933), a travelogue of the Soviet Union, and delivered the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in poetry, published as i—six nonlectures (1953). Fairy Tales (1965), a collection of short stories, was published posthumously.

Cummings wrote approximately 2,900 poems. He is often regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. He is associated with modernist free-form poetry, and much of his work uses idiosyncratic syntax and lower-case spellings for poetic expression. M. L. Rosenthal wrote that:

The chief effect of Cummings' jugglery with syntax, grammar, and diction was to blow open otherwise trite and bathetic motifs through a dynamic rediscovery of the energies sealed up in conventional usage ... He succeeded masterfully in splitting the atom of the cute commonplace.

For Norman Friedman, Cummings's inventions "are best understood as various ways of stripping the film of familiarity from language to strip the film of familiarity from the world. Transform the word, he seems to have felt, and you are on the way to transforming the world."

The poet Randall Jarrell said of Cummings, "No one else has ever made avant-garde, experimental poems so attractive to the general and the special reader." James Dickey wrote, "I think that Cummings is a daringly original poet, with more vitality and more sheer, uncompromising talent than any other living American writer." Dickey described himself as "ashamed and even a little guilty in picking out flaws" in Cummings’s poetry, which he compared to noting "the aesthetic defects in a rose. It is better to say what must finally be said about Cummings: that he has helped to give life to the language."

Wikidata identifier

Q298703

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