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by e. e. cummings
This poem, though short, requires a bit of study.
Inside the parentheses, you see “a leaf falls.” Outside of the parentheses, you get loneliness. So in totality, the poem says “a leaf falls with loneliness.” The poem is a visual representation of that descent.
I found a quote from a poetry editor that well describes Cummings’ work – and in particular this work.
“Cummings’s achievement deserves acclaim. He established the poem as a visual object… he revealed, by his x-ray probings, the faceted possibilities of the single word; and like such prose writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Tom Stoppard, he promoted sheer playfulness with language. Despite a growing abundance of second-rate imitations, his poems continue to amuse, delight, and provoke.” – Jenny Penberthy
Here we have a poem that is not a thing to be read but it is intended to be viewed and studied. In that regard, it functions as much like a painting as like a traditional poem.
Who is E.E. Cummings?
Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), often styled as e e cummings, as he is attributed in many of his published works, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He wrote approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays. He is often regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. Cummings is associated with modernist free-form poetry. Much of his work has idiosyncratic syntax and uses lower-case spellings for poetic expression.
Edward Estlin Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Edward Cummings and the former Rebecca Haswell Clarke, a well-known Unitarian couple in the city. His father was a professor at Harvard University who later became nationally known as the minister of South Congregational Church (Unitarian) in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother, who loved to spend time with her children, played games with Cummings and his sister, Elizabeth. From an early age, Cummings’ parents supported his creative gifts. Cummings wrote poems and drew as a child, and he often played outdoors with the many other children who lived in his neighborhood. He grew up in the company of such family friends as the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce. Many of Cummings’ summers were spent on Silver Lake in Madison, New Hampshire, where his father had built two houses along the eastern shore. The family ultimately purchased the nearby Joy Farm where Cummings had his primary summer residence.
He expressed transcendental leanings his entire life. As he matured, Cummings moved to 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’)”.
Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from age 8 to 22, exploring assorted forms. He graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1915 and received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1916. In his studies at Harvard, he developed an interest in modern poetry, which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, while aiming for a dynamic use of language. Upon graduating, he worked for a book dealer.