Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings
Ed. F. W. Dupee and George Stade
New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1969.



Cummings' letters are written in his usual amusing, typographically inventive, idiosyncratic, and allusive yet straightforward style. Early letters show Cummings' rebellion agaist his father, his interest in Freud and Krazy Kat, and his efforts to emancipate himself from conventional thinking. For example, he advises his sister on May 3, 1922: "NEVER TAKE ANYONE'S WORD FOR ANYTHING" (84). Cummings' verbal and typewriterly pyrotechniques often act to shield his private emotions. The most unguarded of the letters are written to his friends J. Sibley and Hildegarde Watson; the showiest and most obscure are to his poetic mentor Ezra Pound. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print, but it is available in many libraries. You may also be able to purchase a copy at used book seach sites like abebooks.com. We reprint below a sample from one letter, along with some notes. 

[At right: frontispiece photo, "EEC 1952 (Marion Morehouse Cummings)"] 

Further Reading:

  • Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound / Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996.
  • Donoghue, Denis. "Cummings and Goings." Review of Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings. Ed. F.W. Dupee and George Stade. New York Review of Books (9 Oct. 1969): Print and Web. 
  • Friedman, Norman. "Cummings Posthumous II: The Letters." (Re) Valuing Cummings: further essays on the poet, 1962-1993. Gainesville: University P of Florida, 1996. 117-128. 

To his aunt Jane, March 11, 1935 (on the difficulties of setting up No Thanks):

am fighting—forwarded and backed by a corps of loyal assistants—to retranslate 71 poems out of typewriter language into linotype-ese.  This is not so easy as one might think;consider,if you dare,that whenever a typewriter "key" is "struck" the "carriage" moves a given amount and the "line" advances recklessly or individualistically.  Then consider that the linotype(being a gadget)inflicts a preestablished whole—the type "line"—on every smallest part;so that the words,letters,punctuation marks &(most important of all)spaces-between-these various elements,awake to find themselves rearranged automatically "for the benefit of the community" as politicians say.  Oddly,this malforming or standardizing process is technically called "justify"ing:thanks to it,the righthand margin of any printed page which has been "set" on a linotype has a neat artificial evenness—which the socalled world-at-socalled-large considers indispensable forsooth.  Ah well;you should see the army of the Organic marching against Mechanism with 10,000th-of-an-inch(or whatever)"hair-spaces";you should watch me arguing for two and a half hours(or some such)over the distance between the last letter of a certain word and the comma apparently following that letter but actually preceeding the entire next word;you should hear my printer's blasts against his "operator"(as is called the Slave of the Linotype)when said unfortunate playfully smashes the machine while "he's thinking of giving Rockyfeller a bomb or something"(like all "operators",or all that I've met,this bird is a communist).  But something tells me we'll succeed — ! (Letters 140-141)

Notes for Selected Letters

page / letter number

23 / 20: under fire (?) by "Sapper" = probably Le Feu (1916) by Henri Barbusse. EEC may have been reading the French edition, since the American edition of Under Fire did not appear until August 1917.

92 / 69: o Munson Munson woe is me I lived too soon 2 sup with thee = a parody of Ezra Pound's epigram "Translator to Translated," first published in Canzoni (1911):

O Harry Heine, curses be,
I live too late to sup with thee!
Who can demolish at such polished ease
Philistia's pomp and Art's pomposities!         (CEP 166)

Gorham B. Munson was the founder and editor of the little magazine Secession (1922-1924). Cummings published poems in issues 2 (July 1922) and 5 (July 1923). Munson wrote a review (titled "Syrinx") of Tulips and Chimneys in issue #5. 

92 / 70: the indubitable Delanuxe Duet = Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Parisian avant-garde painters.

93 / 70: the Boy(or Garçon)stood on the "burning" Deck = a reference to the poem "Casabianca" (1826) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans:

        The boy stood on the burning deck
        Whence all but he had fled;
        The flame that lit the battle's wreck
        Shone round him o'er the dead.

Lars Posthumus of Cloaca parodies Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Horatius":

Lars Porsena of Closium
    By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
    Should suffer wrong no more.

Cloaca = sewer [Latin]. Weally = "Really" (EEC's imitation of John Dos Passos' lisp).
enervate origins = a reference to the second stanza of T. S. Eliot's poem "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service":

In the beginning was the Word.
Superfetation of τό έν,
And at the mensual turn of time
Produced enervate Origen.

"Superfetation" is the "formation or development of a second fetus when one is already present in the uterus," while the Greek τό έν means "the one." Origen (185-254 AD) was a father of the church who castrated himself to avoid temptations of the flesh. The stanza, like some parts of the rest of the poem, pokes fun at Unitarianism: the original Word, one at the beginning, multiplied through time as one god became three persons within one God. This sort of multiple birth eventually produced the "enervate" (exhausted) and castrated Origen. Thus the original creative Word ends in a non-reproductive Origen. See Cummings' 1920 essay on T. S. Eliot (Miscellany 25).
The M-haiden's Pr-hayer = piano composition by Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska (1834-1861).

100 / 74: Incidentally,none of us were in Paris on the 14th July: EEC refers to a highly inaccurate July 20, 1923 New York Times article, "The Battle of Montparnasse." The article claims that on Bastille Day, July 14, Cummings, John Dos Passos, Gilbert Seldes, and Malcolm Cowley attempted to "liberate" the Rotonde café by telling "the proprietor what they thought of him." In Exile's Return, Cowley characterizes this incident as a dadaist provocation (instigated by Louis Aragon and Laurence Vail). According to Cowley, he, Vail, and Aragon decided to insult and assault the proprietor of the Rotonde because "he had betrayed several anarchists to the French police" and also "had insulted American girls, treating them with the cold brutality that French café proprietors reserve for prostitutes" (164). Cowley's account also places the assault on July 14th; however, he makes no mention of Cummings, Dos Passos, or Seldes. In addition, Cowley asserts that he was the only one who was arrested.

101 / 74: M. Josephson = Matthew Josephson (1899-1978), one of the editors of the little magazines Broom and Secession, and later the author of Life among the Surrealists, a Memoir (1962). Balai = ballet.

104 / 78: The dating of this letter indicates that EEC moved into his 3rd floor studio at 4 Patchin Place sometime before February 2, 1924.

108 / 81: BLACK MARIA = A police paddy wagon. [pronounced muh-rahy-uh. As Kevin Young says, "rhymes with pariah."]

116 / 87: The NR = The New Republic. Townsend Ludington says in his biography of Dos Passos that the article was titled "New Theatre in Russia" (288). (Hence the reference to journeying to "the amen soviet yeastcake." Despite his demurral, Cummings would visit Russia in May and June of 1931—chronicling the trip in his book EIMI.)
paxvobiscumbed = "left in peace," based on pax vobiscum = "peace be with you" [Latin, from the Roman Catholic mass]. Later on in the sentence, viz should probably read via. M. R. Werner (1897-1981) was a biographer and good friend of Cummings. (See Kennedy, Dreams 269-270, 306-307, 324-325.)
eheuing = "lamenting the passing of time"—a reference to Horace, Odes, II.14:

Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
labuntur anni nec pietas moram
rugis et instanti senectae
adferet indomitaeque morti:

"Ah, Postumus, Postumus, how fleeting / the swift years--prayer cannot delay / the furrows of imminent old-age / nor hold off unconquerable death." (Cummings refers to this passage in Horace quite often: See Complete Poems 234, 492, 986 and EIMI 20/21 and 220/213.) .

Whan that Ap Reely = "Whan that Aprille," first phrase of the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Cummings may also be referring to Dos Passos' early poem " 'Whan That Aprille'," published in Eight Harvard Poets (1917). In the poem Dos Passos speaks of how "the song of the meadow lark" and "the merry piping / Of a distant hurdy-gurdy" makes him "faint with desire / For strange lands and new scents" (39).
Mudumunmushoo = Madam and Monsieur = Dos Passos and his wife Katy, who were in Key West visiting Hemingway, after a trip to Europe and return via Havana.

Sir Silbert Geldes = Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970), former editor of The Dial, author of The Seven Lively Arts (1924), and friend of Cummings. 

117 / 88: True Row = Truro, Massachusetts. In 1929 Dos Passos and his wife Katy bought a "small house" in South Truro. "Hidden from the main road that ran along the Cape, it was quite isolated, 'in a lonely and rather somber little hollow where the occasional booming of bitterns was the only sound to be heard,' was how Edmund Wilson described the place to Scott Fitzgerald the next year. Here they sometimes lived during succeeding summers, but mostly they farmed the land around it and resided at [Katy's place in Provincetown on] Commercial Street" (Ludington 280).

Dune City = Provincetown?
bishopy cook John Silver = John Peale Bishop (1892-1944), poet and friend of Cummings, conflated here with Long John Silver, pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Later, in 1938, Bishop would publish "The Poems and Prose of E. E. Cummings." For more on Cummings and Bishop, see EEC's letters to Bishop, pp. 92-93 and 135-136.
Harry the Kemp = vagabond poet, actor, and Provincetown character Harry Kemp (1883-1960), author of Tramping on Life: An Autobiographical Narrative (1922). For a photo of Harry Kemp's shack, see "Harry Kemp: Lest We Forget."
À BAS LES BARRELPIPPILS / VIVE LA VIE = “DOWN WITH THE BARREL PEOPLE / LONG LIVE LIFE” [French, English, and Krazy Kat]. 
Perhaps by "BARRELPIPPILS" and "Shantyshanty" Cummings refers to the inhabitants of small beach cabins common on Cape Cod. Of course, "Shantyshanty" also refers to the ending of T. S. Eliot's Waste Land. The "farmshack" at the end of Cummings’ litany of kinds of dwellings on the Cape probably refers to the Dos Passos house in the dunes of Truro.

133 / 100: hay shatoh = he has a (shitty) chateau.

135 / 102: Douglas . . . "South Wind" = George Norman Douglas (1868-1952), author of the novel South Wind (1917), a lightly-fictionalized account of goings-on among the expatriate community on the Italian island of Capri. Pound was talking of C. H. Douglas (1879-1952), a British engineer who promoted a theory of economics called "Social Credit" that advocated fair payment to workers based on the cost of the goods they produced.

136 / 102: does Hooey long? = Huey Long (1893-1935), populist Governor of Louisiana (1928-1932) and United Stares Senator from 1932 until his assassination in 1935.
sommeil aux porcs.  À bas Stalin.  Mort aux vaches / vive / the "basilique / d'esprit" = sleep to the pigs.  Down with Stalin.  Death to cows / Long live / the “basilica / of wit” [French].

155 / 119: This letter should be dated sometime in late October, 1946. Seldes' adaptation of Lysistrata received only four performances, October 17-19, 1946 (IBDB).

194 / 168: a religion of the entocosm = "a religion of the inner cosmos or universe."
ento- = a combining form meaning "within," used in the formation of compound words: entoderm. [Origin: Gk entós]
mesocosm = middle universe.
meso- = a combining form meaning "middle," used in the formation of compound words: mesocephalic. [Origin: Gk mésos middle, in the middle.]
ectocosm = outer universe.
ecto- = a combining form meaning "outer," "outside," "external," used in the formation of compound words: ectoderm. [Origin: Gk ektós outside.]

218 / 200: relived perhaps should read "relieved"?

229 / 214: EEC refers to books in the Bollingen series by their numbers:

7 = Friedmann, Herbert. The Symbolic Goldfinch, Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. 157 illustrations. Bollingen series 7. Washington: Pantheon Books, 1946.
12 = Cairns, Huntington, ed. The Limits of Art: Poetry and Prose Chosen by Ancient and Modern Critics. Bollingen Series 12. Washington: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Works Cited



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