E. E. Cummings NYWTS

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) in 1953. New York World-Telegram & Sun by Walter Albertin. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 - September 3, 1962), popularly known as E.E. Cummings (sometimes written as e.e. cummings) was an American poet, painter, essayist, and playwright.



Cummings' body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, 2 autobiographical novels, 4 plays, and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings. He is remembered as a preeminent voice of 20th century poetry, as well as among the most popular.

Youth and educationEdit

Born into a Unitarian family, Cummings exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life. As he grew in maturity and age, Cummings moved more toward an "I, Thou" relationship with God. His journals are replete with references to “le bon Dieu” as well as prayers for inspiration in his poetry and artwork (such as “Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.”). Cummings "also prayed for strength to be his essential self ('may I be I is the only prayer -- not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong'), and for relief of spirit in times of depression ('almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness')."[1]

Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from age 8 to 22, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard University, where he developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. On graduating he worked for a book dealer.[2]

World War IEdit

In 1917, with World War I ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos. Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for 5 weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life.[3]

During their service in the ambulance corps, they sent letters home that drew the attention of the military censors, and were known to prefer the company of French soldiers over fellow ambulance drivers. The two openly expressed anti-war views; Cummings spoke of his lack of hatred for the Germans.[4]

On September 21, 1917, just 5 months after his belated assignment, he and a friend, William Slater Brown were arrested by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities. They were held for 3½ months in a military detention camp at the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy.[3] They were imprisoned with other detainees in a large room. Cummings' father failed to obtain his son's release through diplomatic channels and in December 1917 wrote a letter to President Wilson. Cummings was released on December 19, 1917, and Brown was released two months later. Cummings used his prison experience as the basis for his novel, The Enormous Room (1922) about which F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives — The Enormous Room by e e cummings....Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality."[5]

Cummings returned to the United States on New Year's Day 1918. Later in 1918 he was drafted into the army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918.[6][7]

Interwar periodEdit

Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His collection Tulips and Chimneys came in 1923 and his inventive use of grammar and syntax is evident. The book was heavily cut by his editor. XLI Poems, was then published in 1925. With these collections Cummings made his reputation as an avant garde poet.[2]

During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s Cummings returned to Paris a number of times, and traveled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, recounting his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico and worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine (1924 to 1927).

In 1926, Cummings' father was killed in a car accident. Though severely injured, Cummings' mother survived. Cummings detailed the accident in the following passage from his i: six nonlectures series given at Harvard (as part of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) in 1952–1953:

A locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing - dazed but erect – beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head. One of her hands (the younger added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to discover why it was wet. These men took my sixty-six year old mother by the arms and tried to lead her toward a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father's body, and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then) she let them lead her away.

His father's death had a profound impact on Cummings, who entered a new period in his artistic life. Cummings began to focus on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He began this new period by paying homage to his father's memory in the poem "my father moved through dooms of love"[8][9]

Name and capitalizationEdit

Cummings's publishers and others have sometimes echoed the unconventional orthography of his poetry by writing his name in lowercase and without periods. Cummings himself signed his name using both capital letters and periods, as on the title page of his 50 Poems (1940).[10]

However, a legend persists that "He had his name put legally into lower case," as Harry T. Moore put it in his preface to Norman Friedman's E.E. Cummings: The growth of a writer (1964). Friedman, who always wrote the poet's name in capitals, relates that after the book's appearance Marion Moorehouse wrote to him about Moore's statement: "you should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature."[10]

D. Jon Grossman, then preparing a French translation of Cummings's poems, wrote to the poet in 1951, asking him, "are you E.E.Cummings, ee cummings, or what?(so far as the title page is concerned)wd u like title page all in lowercase?" Cummings replied: "E.E.Cummings, unless your printer prefers E. E. Cummings/ titlepage up to you;but may it not be tricksy svp[.]"[11]

Final yearsEdit


Grave of E.E. Cummings, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Photo by Midnightdreary. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, fulfilling speaking engagements, and spending time at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire.

He died of a stroke on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital.[12]

His cremated remains were buried in Lot 748 Althaeas Path, in Section 6, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory in Boston. In 1969, his 3rd wife, model and photographer Marion Morehouse Cummings, died and was buried in an adjoining plot.



Despite Cummings' consanguinity with avant-garde styles, much of his work is quite traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, albeit often with a modern twist, and he occasionally made use of the blues form and acrostics. Cummings' poetry often deals with themes of love and nature, as well as the relationship of the individual to the masses and to the world. His poems are also often rife with satire.

"Buffalo Bill's"
        who used to
        ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

he was a handsome man
                      and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

From "Buffalo Bill's" (1920)

While his poetic forms and themes share an affinity with the romantic tradition, Cummings' work universally shows a particular idiosyncrasy of syntax, or way of arranging individual words into larger phrases and sentences. Many of his most striking poems do not involve any typographical or punctuation innovations at all, but purely syntactic ones.

As well as being influenced by notable modernists including Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, Cummings' early work drew upon the imagist experiments of Amy Lowell. Later, his visits to Paris exposed him to Dada and surrealism, which in turn permeated his work. Cummings also liked to incorporate imagery of nature and death into much of his poetry.

While some of his poetry is free verse (with no concern for rhyme or meter), many have a recognizable sonnet structure of 14 lines, with an intricate rhyme scheme. A number of his poems feature a typographically exuberant style, with words, parts of words, or punctuation symbols scattered across the page, often making little sense until read aloud, at which point the meaning and emotion become clear. Cummings, who was also a painter, understood the importance of presentation, and used typography to "paint a picture" with some of his poems.[13]

The seeds of Cummings' unconventional style appear well established even in his earliest work. At age 6, he wrote to his father:(Citation needed)


Following his novel The Enormous Room, Cummings' 1st published work was a collection of poems entitled Tulips & Chimneys (1923). This work was the public's earliest encounter with his characteristic eccentric use of grammar and punctuation.

Some of Cummings' most famous poems do not involve much, if any, odd typography or punctuation, but still carry his unmistakable style, particularly in unusual and impressionistic word order. For example, "anyone lived in a pretty how town" begins:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

"why must itself up every of a park" begins as follows:

why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer "no"?


Readers sometimes experience a jarring, incomprehensible effect with Cummings' work, as the poems do not act in accordance with the conventional combinatorial rules that generate typical English sentences (for example, "why must itself..." or "they sowed their isn't..."). His readings of Stein in the early part of the century probably served as a springboard to this aspect of his artistic development (in the same way that Robert Walser's work acted as a springboard for Franz Kafka). In some respects, Cummings' work is more stylistically continuous with Stein's than with any other poet or writer.

In addition, a number of Cummings' poems feature, in part or in whole, intentional misspellings, and several incorporate phonetic spellings intended to represent particular dialects. Cummings also made use of inventive formations of compound words, as in "in Just"[14] which features words such as "mud-luscious", "puddle-wonderful", and "eddieandbill." This poem is part of a sequence of poems entitled Chansons Innocentes; it has many references comparing the "balloonman" to Pan, the mythical creature that is half-goat and half-man.

Many of Cummings' poems are satirical and address social issues (see "why must itself up every of a park", above), but have an equal or even stronger bias toward romanticism: time and again his poems celebrate love, sex, and the season of rebirth (see "anyone lived in a pretty how town" in its entirety).

Cummings' talent extended to children's books, novels, and painting. A notable example of his versatility is an introduction he wrote for a collection of the comic strip Krazy Kat.

Examples of Cummings' unorthodox typographical style can be seen in his poem "The sky was candy luminous".[15]

Mr. Cummings's eccentric punctuation is, also, I believe, a symptom of his immaturity as an artist. It is not merely a question of an unconventional usage: unconventional punctuation may very well gain its effect - the really serious case against Mr. Cummings's punctuation is that the results which it yields are ugly. His poems on the page are hideous.[16]

Edmund Wilson, from an essay entitled, Wallace Stevens and E.E. Cummings (1924)

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

From "i thank You God for most this amazing" (1950)


During his lifetime, Cummings published 4 plays.

HIM, a 3-act play, was originally produced in 1928 by the Provincetown Players in New York City. The production was directed by James Light. The play's main characters are "Him", a playwright, and "Me", his girlfriend. Cummings said of the unorthodox play:

Relax and give the play a chance to strut its stuff - relax, stop wondering what it is all 'about' - like many strange and familiar things, Life included, this play isn't 'about,' it simply is. . . . Don't try to enjoy it, let it try to enjoy you. DON'T TRY TO UNDERSTAND IT, LET IT TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOU."[17]

Anthropos; or, The future of art is a short, 1-act play that Cummings contributed to the anthology Whither, Whither or After Sex, What? A Symposium to End Symposium. The play consists of dialogue between Man, the main character, and 3 "infrahumans", or inferior beings. The word anthropos is the Greek word for "man", in the sense of "mankind".

Tom: A ballet is a ballet based on Uncle Tom's Cabin. The ballet is detailed in a "synopsis" as well as descriptions of 4 "episodes", which were published by Cummings in 1935. It has never been performed. More information about the play as well as an illustration can be found at from the E.E. Cummings Society.

Santa Claus: A morality was probably Cummings' most successful play. It is an allegorical Christmas fantasy presented in 1 act of 5 scenes. The play was inspired by his daughter Nancy, with whom he was reunited in 1946. It was originally published in the Harvard College magazine the Wake. The play's main characters are Santa Claus, his family (Woman and Child), Death, and Mob. At the outset of the play, Santa Claus' family has disintegrated due to their lust for knowledge (Science). After a series of events, however, Santa Claus' faith in love and his rejection of the materialism and disappointment he associates with Science are reaffirmed, and he is reunited with Woman and Child.


E.E. Cummings House

E.E. Cummings House, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo by Twp. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In 1952, his alma mater, Harvard, awarded Cummings an honorary seat as a guest professor. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he gave in 1952 and 1955 were later collected as i: six nonlectures.


During his lifetime, Cummings received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including:




  • Eight Harvard Poets (contributor). New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1917.
  • Tulips & Chimneys. T. Seltzer, 1923
    • enlarged edition, Golden Eagle Press, 1937.
  • Puella Mia. Golden Eagle Press, 1923.
  • XLI Poems. Dial, 1925.
  • &. privately printed, 1925.
  • is 5. New York:Boni & Liveright, 1926
    • reprinted, New York: Liveright, 1985.
  • Christmas Tree. American Book Bindery, 1928.
  • W(ViVa). New York: Liveright, 1931
    • reprinted, 1979.
  • No Thanks. Golden Eagle Press, 1935
    • reprinted,New York: Liveright, 1978.
  • 1/20. Roger Roughton, 1936.
  • Collected Poems. Harcourt, 1938.
  • 50 Poems. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940.
  • 1 x 1. New York: Holt, 1944
    • (edited & afterword by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 2002.
  • XAIPE: Seventy-One Poems. Oxford University Press, 1950.
    • reprinted, New York: Liveright, 1979.
  • Poems, 1923-1954. Harcourt, 1954.
  • 95 Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1958
    • (edited by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 2002.
  • 100 Selected Poems. Grove, 1958.
  • Selected Poems, 1923-1958. Faber, 1960.
  • 73 Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1962; London: Faber, 1962
  • (edited by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 2003.[18]
  • A Selection of Poems. Harcourt, 1965.
  • Complete Poems, 1923-1962 (two volumes). MacGibbon & Kee, 1968
    • revised edition (in one volume) as Complete Poems, 1913-1962. Harcourt, 1972.
  • Poems, 1905-1962 (edited by George James Firmage). Marchim Press, 1973.
  • Tulips & Chimneys: The Original 1922 Manuscript with the 35 Additional Poems from & (edited by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 1976.
  • Love Is Most Mad and Moonly. Addison-Wesley, 1978.
  • (Chaire). New York: Liveright, 1979.
  • Complete Poems, 1910-1962. Granada, 1982.
  • Etcetera: The unpublished poems of E.E. Cummings (edited by George James Firmage & Richard S. Kennedy). New York: Liveright, 1984.
  • In Just-Spring. Little, Brown, 1988.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Liveright, 1994.
  • May I Feel Said He: Poem (paintings by Marc Chagall). New York: Welcome Enterprises (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Another E.E. Cummings (selected, introduced by Richard Kostelanetz, John Rocco, assistant editor). New York: Liveright, 1998.
  • 22 and 50 Poems (edited by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 2001.
  • Love: Selected poems (edited by Christopher Myers). New York: Hyperion, 2005.[18]
  • Erotic Poems. New York: Norton, 2010.[18]


  • Him (3-act play; first produced in New York at the Provincetown Playhouse, April 18, 1928), Boni & Liveright, 1927, new edition, Liveright, 1970.
  • Santa Claus: A morality. New York: Holt, 1946.
  • Three Plays and a Ballet (edited by Firmage). October House, 1967.


  • The Enormous Room. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922.
    • revised edition, New York: Liveright, 1978.

Short fictionEdit

  • [untitled] (collection of stories), Covici Friede, 1930.


  • Eimi. Covici Friede, 1933; 4th edition, Grove, 1958.
    • Eimi: A journey through Soviet Russia (edited by George J. Firmage; preface by Madison Smartt Bell; afterword by Norman Friedman.). Liveright, 2007.[18]
  • Anthropos: The future of art. Golden Eagle Press, 1944
    • reprinted, Norwood, 1978.
  • i: six nonlectures. Harvard University Press, 1953.
  • (With Marion Morehouse) Adventures in Value. Harcourt, 1962.


  • Fairy Tales (illustrated by John Eaton). New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1965.
  • Hist Whist, and other poems for children (edited by George James Firmage). New York: Liveright, 1983.
  • Little Tree. Crown, 1987
    • (illustrated by (Deborah Kogan Ray). Dragonfly Books, 1994.[19]


  • CIOPW (artwork). Covici Friede, 1931.
  • Tom (ballet based on Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe). Arrow Editions, 1935.

Collected editionsEdit

  • E.E. Cummings: A Miscellany. Argophile Press, 1958
    • revised edition (edited by George Firmage). October Press, 1965.


  • (Translator) Louis Aragon, The Red Front. Contempo, 1933.


  • Selected Letters (edited by F.W. Dupee & George Stade). Harcourt, 1969.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[20]


E.E. Cummings reads Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town

In Just by E.E

In Just by E.E.Cummings - Poetry Reading


E.E. Cummings reads Next of Course God America

Ee cummings reads "Somewhere I have never travelled..

Ee cummings reads "Somewhere I have never travelled..."

Audio / video Edit

  • E.E. Cummings Reads His Collected Poetry, 1943-1958 (recording), Caedmon, 1977.[20]

See alsoEdit


  • Bloom, Harold, Twentieth-century American literature, New York : Chelsea House Publishers, 1985-1988. ISBN 9780877548027.
  • Cohen, Milton A. (1987). POETandPAINTER: The Aesthetics of E.E. Cummings' Early Work. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 9780814318454. 
  • Friedman, Norman (editor), E.E. Cummings: A collection of critical essays. isbn 9780982973301
  • Friedman, Norman, E.E. Cummings: The Art of his Poetry.
  • James, George, E.E. Cummings: A Bibliography.
  • Kennedy, Richard S. (October 17, 1994) [1980]. Dreams in the Mirror (2nd ed.). New York: Liveright. ISBN 087140155X. 
  • McBride, Katharine, A Concordance to the Complete Poems of E.E.Cummings.
  • Mott, Christopher. "The Cummings Line on Race." Spring: The journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, vol. 4, pp. 71-75, Fall 1995.
  • Norman, Charles, E.E. Cummings: The magic-maker, Boston, Little Brown, 1972.
  • Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher, E.E. Cummings: A biography, Sourcebooks, 2004. ISBN 978-1-57071-775-8.


  1. "E. E. Cummings: Poet And Painter". 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Profile at the Poetry Foundation
  3. 3.0 3.1 "E. E. Cummings: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center". Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. Retrieved May 9, 2010. 
  4. Friedman, Norman "Cummings, E[dward] E[stlin]" in Steven Serafin The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, 2003, Continuum, p. 244.
  5. Bloom, p. 1814.
  6. Kennedy, p. 186.
  7. Data on U.S. Army Divisions during World War I; 12th Division, 23rd Infantry Brigade, 73rd Infantry (draftees)
  8. "My father moved through dooms of love". 
  9. Lane, Gary (1976). I Am: A Study of E. E. Cummings' Poems. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-7006-0144-9. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Norman Friedman, 'Not "e.e. cummings",' Spring 1 (1992), 114-121. Web, Dec. 15, 2018.
  11. Norman Friedman, 'Not "e.e. cummings" Revisited,' Spring 5 (1995), 41-43. Web, Dec. 15, 2018.
  12. "E. E. Cummings Dies of Stroke. Poet Stood for Stylistic Liberty". New York Times. September 4, 1962. 
  13. Landles, Iain (2001). "An Analysis of Two Poems by E.E. Cummings". SPRING, the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society 10: 31-43. 
  14. "in Just". 
  15. "The sky was candy luminous...". 
  16. Wilson, Edmund. Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 30s (2007) The Library of America p. 50
  17. Kennedy, p. 295.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Search results = au:E.E. Cummings 2000-2014, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, June 21, 2014.
  19. Little Tree, Penguin Random House. Web, Dec. 9, 2018.
  20. 20.0 20.1 E.E. Cummings 1894-1962, Poetry Foundation, Web, July 9, 2012.

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