These notes are limited to elucidating allusions and / or quotations which might puzzle that elusive and very un-Cummings-like personage, the "general reader." I have tried—not always successfully—to avoid the temptation to interpret the poems. I have not annotated allusions that most literate readers should know, nor have I deciphered all of Cummings' dialect spellings. For some suggestions on interpreting Cummings' visual and syntactic deformations, see "Deciphering Cummings."
To find notes to specific poems, click on book titles below, or scroll
down to individual first-line"titles" of poems, highlighted in green.
Notes to the poems begin with the page
number in Complete Poems
Tulips & Chimneys (1922 Manuscript)
The Enormous Room 
The 1994 Complete Poems publishes Cummings' original 1922 manuscript of Tulips & Chimneys as established by Cummings' editor, George James Firmage. When first published in 1923, Tulips and Chimneys contained only 67 of the 104 poems in the 1922 manuscript. As Richard S. Kennedy wrote: "For Tulips and Chimneys, Thomas Seltzer had gingerly avoided the most experimental of the poems and passed over those whose subject matter might startle readers who were still shocked by a writer like Theodore Dreiser" (Dreams 252). Later, "Lincoln Mac Veagh of the Dial Press looked over the remaining poems and selected forty-one for a published volume" (Kennedy, Dreams 252). This book, titled XLI Poems, was published in 1925. Cummings gathered the remaining "most startling" poems from the original manuscript, adding to them some poems he had written recently. This group of poems was privately printed, also in 1925, to avoid censorship. These last naughty leftovers and their new cousins Cummings entitled & [AND], using "the ampersand which Seltzer had denied him in Tulips and Chimneys" (Kennedy, Dreams 252-253).3-7. "Epithalamion"
This poem was commissioned by Cummings' friend, mentor, and patron, Scofield Thayer, to celebrate Thayer's marriage to Elaine Orr, June 21, 1916. Thayer paid Cummings the "extraordinary sum" of $1000 for the poem. (See Kennedy, Dreams 111-113.) Alison Rosenblitt discusses the classical heritage of this poem in her E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics (136-137).
(3) the god . . . whose cloven feet = Pan, licentious woodland deity. A dryad is a wood nymph.
(3) that delicious boy = Adonis. one goddess = Aphrodite (Venus).
Chryselephantine Zeus = statue of Zeus at Olympia, “a giant seated figure, about 13 m (43 ft) tall, made by the Greek sculptor Phidias around 435 BC.” The statue is called "chryselephantine" because was made of gold (chrysós) and ivory (elephántinos) panels molded over "a wooden substructure." Cummings may also be making a private reference to his own totem animal, the elephant.
(3) Nike = smaller sculpture of the winged goddess of Victory held in Zeus' right palm.
(3) diadumenos = "diadem-bearer" [Greek], a figural type of the sculptor Polykleitos (5th century BC) depicting "the winner of an athletic contest at a games, still nude after the contest and lifting his arms to knot the diadem, a ribbon-band that identifies the winner."
(4) victorious Pantarkes = local hero Pantarkes of Elis, who "won the boy's wrestling at Olympia in 436 BC," and who was a favorite of the sculptor Phidias and reportedly the model for the sculpture of "a triumphant athlete that stood at the base of the statue." Ancient sources also claim that Phidias carved the words "Kalos Pantarkes" ("Pantarkes is beautiful") on Zeus' little finger.
(4) how fought the looser of the warlike zone = Heracles, whose ninth labor required him to obtain the magic girdle (“zone,” or sash) of Hippolyta, queen of Amazons. Hippolyta was the only Amazon to marry: she was the first wife of the hero Theseus, and, as the next line says, mother of “tall Hippolytus.”
Dust jacket cover of Seltzer's truncated first edition of Tulips and Chimneys (1923)
3-7. "Epithalamion" [continued]
(4) Selene = goddess of the moon, sister of the sun god Helios. Selene's car = her chariot. We see depicted on the pedestal of the statue of Zeus the moon sinking in the ocean while the sun rises faintly in the east.
(4) Danae = mother of the Greek hero Perseus and daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. She was impregnated by Zeus, who visited her in the form of a shower of gold.
(6) athanor = furnace used in alchemy.
(6) goddess = Aphrodite, whose crippled thunder-forging groom is the blacksmith god Hephaistos.
the loud lord of skipping maenads = the wine god Dionysos.
Discordia's apple refers to Eris, goddess of Strife, who arrived uninvited at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and offered a golden apple to the fairest goddess. "Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They asked Zeus to judge which of them was fairest, and eventually he, reluctant to favor any claim himself, declared that Paris, a Trojan mortal, would judge their cases." At the famous scene known as The Judgement of Paris, Aphrodite bribed Paris by offering him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. Of course, Paris chose Aphrodite as the winner of the beauty contest, thus setting into motion the events that led to the Trojan War. the sacred shepherd = Paris.
(7) the tall boy god of everlasting war = Ares, god of war, who had an affair with Cytherea, or Aphrodite.
Richard S. Kennedy notes that this poem is a "free translation of the sequence in Aucassin et Nicolette in which Nicolette descends from her prison tower." Kennedy further comments that the "obvious model for the style is [Keats'] 'The Eve of St. Agnes' " (Dreams 76). Cummings' poem romanticizes the prose description of the escape in the medieval French chantefable, which mentions (in Andrew Lang's translation) Nicolette's bruised and bleeding hands, her difficulties in climbing out of the moat, and her fear of "wild beasts, and beasts serpentine" (31-32).
For an analysis of these nine poems as "songs of death," see Alison Rosenblitt's E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics (137-165).
15. "All in green went my love riding"
First published in The Harvard Monthly [62.1 (March 1916): 8-9] with the title "Ballad." On April 5, 1916, the founder and editor of Poetry Magazine, Harriet Monroe, visited the New England Poetry Club. Also invited was the recently founded Harvard Poetry Society, whose members included S. Foster Damon, John Dos Passos, and E. E. Cummings, then in the last semester of his MA year at Harvard. In her account of the visit, Monroe says that though she couldn't remember the names of any of the students who attended, she vividly recalled several of the poems that they read at the meeting, among them "a ballad of really distinguished quality, showing a feeling for recurrent tragic rhythms, and a delicate use of a varied refrain" ("Down East" 89). This description sounds very much like "All in green went my love riding," and since Cummings had published the poem just the month before in the Harvard Monthly, it is very likely that he read it at the meeting. Monroe concludes her account by writing that she "could scarcely overpraise the work of these students, or the enthusiasm which has carried them so far in the one short year since their club was founded" (89).
28. "hist whist"
Link: Jack Palance reads "hist whist".
29. "little tree"
This poem was first published in Eight Harvard Poets (1917) under the title "Epitaph" (10). Richard S. Kennedy notes that the poem is "about innocence betrayed or the vulnerability of beautiful things, but it is expressed by means of a classical subject, the abduction of Persephone by Hades, and treated with the new technique he had developed . . . . It is an image in action, presented with elliptical brevity" (Dreams 108). Charles Norman notes the likely allusion to Milton's lines in Paradise Lost: "Not that fair field / Of Enna, where Proserpin gathering flowers, / Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis / Was gathered" (IV. 268-71; Norman, Magic-Maker 39-40). See also the discussionn of the poem in Alison Rosenblitt's E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics (83-85).
53. "Humanity i love you"
It is instructive to consider why Cummings placed this poem first in a section called "La Guerre," poems about World War I. The following passage from i: six nonlectures seems relevant to the context of the poem:
Whereas—by the very act of becoming its improbably gigantic self—New York had reduced mankind to a tribe of pygmies, Paris (in each shape and gesture and avenue of her being) was continuously expressing the humanness of humanity. Everywhere I sensed a miraculous presence, not of mere children and women and men, but of living human beings; and the fact that I could scarcely understand their language seemed irrelevant, since the truth of our momentarily mutual aliveness created an imperishable communion. While (at the hating touch of some madness called La Guerre) a once rising and striving world toppled into withering hideously smithereens, love rose in my heart like a sun and beauty blossomed in my life like a star. Now, finally and first, I was myself: a temporal citizen of eternity; one with all human beings born and unborn. (53)the old howard = The Old Howard Theatre, on Howard St. in Scollay Square, Boston. Long since demolished by "illustrious punks of Progress" (CP 438), Scollay Square and the Old Howard were for years "famous for supplementing the curricula of Harvard students. 'Always Something Doing, One to Eleven, at the Old Howard' read its ads in the Boston Globe, followed by the titillating phrase, '25 Beautiful Girls 25' " (Park).
flanging = "to furnish with a flange, a protruding rim, edge, rib,
woolworthian pinnacle = the Woolworth building, tallest before 1931. (See also 111. "at the ferocious phenomenon of 5 o'clock" [CP1 201].)
84. "one April dusk the"
Ο ΠΑΡΘΕΝΩΝ = "O PARTHENON" or "The Parthenon," the name of the restaurant.
89. "spring omnipotent goddess thou dost"
ragging the world --Robert Wegner writes, "I interpreted the words 'ragging the world' as meaning clothing the world, that is, urging the grass to grow, inducing leaves to emerge, buds to bloom. Cummings had no objection to this ancillary reading, but explicitly he wanted me to know that 'ragging, when I wrote the poem meant turning to ragtime(music;)syncopating'" ("Visit" 68). See also EEC's poem "ta / ppin / g" (CP 78).
90. "Buffalo Bill 's"
Buffalo Bill = William F. Cody (1846-1917). Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show enthralled audiences from 1883 to 1910. For criticism of the poem, see Thomas Dilworth's "Cummings's 'Buffalo Bill 's'," Rushworth M. Kidder's " 'Buffalo Bill 's'—an Early Cummings Manuscript," and Etienne Terblanche's "Is There a Hero in this Poem? E. E. Cummings's 'Buffalo Bill 's / defunct'."
96. "conversation with my friend is particularly" (CP1 193)
|110. "i was sitting in mcsorley's.
outside it was New York and beautifully snowing."
McSorley's is an ale-house at 15 East 7th Street in the East Village, founded in 1854 and still in business. The bar used to be for men only—women were first admitted in 1971.
John Sloan, McSorley's Bar
(1912, Detroit Institute of Arts)
EEC goes to the top of the Woolworth building to view rush hour. Milton Cohen writes that "the poem's genius is . . . to find motion in matter, describe matter in motion. Thus, for all its towering verticality and perpendicular solidity, the Woolworth Building is a 'swooping,' 'squirming' 'kinesis'." While Cohen agrees at least partially with Richard S. Kennedy that "Cubism is the poem's rightful source" [see Dreams 181-182], he also notes that its "images (and the speaker with them) swoop, rise, and squirm, they surge with a dynamism closer to [John] Marin's vibrant Woolworth Building watercolors than to Picasso's static Houses at Horta" (PoetandPainter 177). John Marin wrote of his Woolworth Building series:
I see great forces at work; great movements; the large buildings and the small buildings, the warring of the great and small.… Feelings are aroused which give me the desire to express the reaction of these “pull forces” .… while these powers are at work pushing, pulling, sideways, downward, upward, I can hear the sound of their strife and there is great music being played.
For a particulary "swooping" wartercolor in Marin's series, see
Building # 32. See also "as usual i did not find
him in the cafés" (CP 71).
At left: Woolworth Building,
1913. Gelatin silver photograph. New-York Historical Society
139. "Thou in whose swordgreat story shine the deeds"
This poem was first published in late 1917 in Eight Harvard Poets (3).
Froissart = Jean Froissart (1338-1410?), French historian, author of The Chronicles (1369-1410).
144. "this is the garden:colours come and go"
In her memoir, Hildegarde Watson reports that in the summer of 1915, Cummings and her husband "motored to Rochester [N.Y.] to the Watson house, where Estlin wrote the now famous sonnet. . . . Mrs. Watson placed it in her guest book where, later, I came across it. It is arranged—and punctuated—differently from the published version; there is no 'u' in 'color,' and there are capitals at the beginning of each line!" (87). Here is the first stanza of this sonnet as transcribed by Hildegarde Watson:
This is the garden. Colors come and go:
Frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing,
Strong silent greens serenely lingering,
Absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
The poem appears
with the same punctuation and capitalization in Eight
Harvard Poets (1917). When the sonnet was published in Tulips
and Chimneys (1923), Cummings removed most capital letters, retaining
only those in words that begin sentences, along with the two crucial capitals
in the words "Death's" and "They." He also made two simple changes in
punctuation in the first line--substituting a colon for the period after
"garden" and a comma for the colon after "go"--adding more momentum to
a line that nevertheless still lingers slightly.
160. [SONNETS--ACTUALITIES VII] "yours is the music for no instrument" (CP1: 84)
rathe = "quick in action, eager, vehement" or "early" (Heusser, I Am 175).
la bocca mia = "my mouth" [Italian]. Richard S. Kennedy points out that this passage alludes to Dante, Inferno V.136: "Francesca has told Dante that her love for Paolo began when they were reading the story of Launcelot and Guinivere together and suddenly 'la bocca mi bacio tutto tremonte' ([he], trembling all over, kissed my mouth)" (Dreams 237-238). According to Kennedy, like Paolo and Francesca, "the poet and his lady risk all eternity for love" (238). But Heusser sees death as the overwhelming threat in the poem.
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|& [AND] (1925)
The 1994 Complete Poems publishes as & [AND] only those new poems that Cummings added to the poems left over from the original 1922 Tulips & Chimneys manuscript. Privately printed to avoid censorship, this group of poems Cummings titled & [AND], in honor of "the ampersand which Seltzer had denied him in Tulips and Chimneys" (Kennedy, Dreams 252-253). [See the headnote to Tulips & Chimneys above.] At right: cover of first edition of & [AND] (Note capital letters in Cummings' signature)
170. "—GON splashes-sink" (CP1 169)
184. "I remark this beach has been used too.
much Too. originally"
189. "suppose / Life is an old man"
192. "here is little Effie's head"
In Spring 7, Alys Yablon notes that "Effie's name may perhaps be a play on the word 'ephermeral'" (51).
The six subjunctive crumbs may be derived from Gilbert and Sullivan's anti-feminist operetta Princess Ida. In the operetta, the princess of the title founds a college for women and vows that students and faculty will shut themselves off from all contact with men. Lady Blanche, the "Professor of Abstract Science" at the college, expresses her ambition to overthrow Princess Ida in the following way:
Oh, weak Might Be!At the conclusion of the play, when Princess Ida asks Lady Blanche whether she would take her place should she resign, Blanche responds:
Oh, May, Might, Could, Would, Should!
How powerless ye
For evil or for good!
In every sense
Your moods I cheerless call,
Whate'er your tense
Ye are Imperfect, all!
Ye have deceived the trust I've shown
Away! The Mighty Must alone
Shall be! (264-265)
To answer this, it's meet that we consultFor a discussion of Princess Ida in the context of its source (Tennyson's The Princess) and of attitudes towards women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, see volume one of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's No Man's Land: The War of the Words, pp. 3-23. For another possible Cummings borrowing from Gilbert and Sullivan, see "mr u will not be missed" (CP 551).
The great Potential Mysteries; I mean
The five Subjunctive Possibilities--
The May, the Might, the Would, the Could, the Should.
Can you resign? The prince May claim you; if
He Might, you Could--and if you Should, I Would! (293-294)
195. "i will be"
dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g should read "dea d tunes OR s-cra p-y lea Ves flut te rin g"
-- EECis writing "scrapy" not "scrappy."
199. "gee i like to think of dead
. . ."
inti = intimate [adjective].
201. "(one!) // the wisti-twisti barber"
See Louis C. Rus, "Cummings' '(one!)'." Explicator 15 (1957), item 40. Rus notes how the grammatical ambiguities in the poem reinforce its message of oneness.
203. "O It's Nice To Get Up In,the slipshod mucous
kiss" (SP 75)
Richard S. Kennedy notes that the poem quotes from a popular song sung by Harry Lauder in the British music halls:
Oh, it's nice to get up in the morningKennedy quotes a slightly different version of the first stanza in Selected Poems 73. Here's the complete performance (with spoken interlude) of "It's Nice to Get Up in the Morning But It's Nicer to Lie in Bed."
When the sun begins to shine,
At four or five or six o'clock
In the good old summer time.
But when the snow is snowing,
And it's murky overhead
Oh, it's nice to get up in the morning,
But it's nicer to lie in your bed!
207. "the bed is not very big"
et tout en face = "and right in front" [French];
poilu = "hairy, shaggy, furry" [French]. Milton Cohen suggests that the gaslight clothes the crucifix on the wall "in a sensuous, nappy fur" (Poet 131). But the word poilu was also a slang term for French foot-soldiers in World War I.
208. "the poem her belly marched through me as"
a trick of syncopation Europe has refers to James Reese Europe (1880-1919), pioneer bandleader and jazz composer. Gilbert Seldes wrote in The Seven Lively Arts that
216. "a blue woman with sticking out breasts hanging"
Bishop Taylor = probably Mormon Bishop Thomas Taylor (1826-1900). D. Michael Quinn writes: "On 26 July 1886, his sixtieth birthday, the Salt Lake stake high council 'suspended' Thomas Taylor as bishop of the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward. . . . Three teenagers testified that while each was alone in bed with Bishop Taylor, the bishop has used the young man's hand to masturbate himself" (276-277). The polygamous Taylor further testified at the church trial that he had not "practiced" such acts since he was a teenager (presumably before he was married). Quinn notes that "in his autobiography, however, Taylor later described the charges as 'trumped up slander' " (277).
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|is 5 (1926)
On March 1, 1926, E. E. Cummings wrote to tell his publisher that "after some weeks' work" his book is 5 was "finally arranged. . . including . . . poems from my last book(AND)" (Firmage, "Afterword"). In the same letter, Cummings assures Horace Liveright that his personal typesetter S. A. Jacobs would be in charge of setting up the book, since he
understands my arrangement. . . which involves not merely complicated sequential relationships between groups of poems which constitute the whole,but definite numerical relationships—the total number of poems having its precise significance just as the number of poems in each subdivision has its precise significance. (quoted in Firmage, "Afterword")
While Cummings' editor George Firmage has remarked that the book seems to be structured in patterns of 4 and 5, he offers no further elucidation of this statement. (However, see dust jacket at right.) To the new poems in is 5, Cummings added ten previously published poems from & [AND]--eight were from the original 1922 Tulips & Chimneys manuscript, and are printed there in the Complete Poems. Two of the added poems are from the new poems printed in & [AND] (1925).
The poems in is 5 are divided into five sections, numbered straightforwardly enough, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, and FIVE. Since they are already printed in their original places in Tulips & Chimneys and & [AND], the ten added poems are not reprinted in the version of is 5 given in the Complete Poems. Below is a chart listing the numbers of poems in the Complete Poems edition and the numbers in the 1926 edition of the book. (The “+ 4” in each count indicates that Cummings' poem number “ONE I” consists of 5 sonnets, which Firmage counted as separate poems.)
The following is a chart of the ten poems added to is 5 (1926), with a corresponding column detailing their placement in the Complete Poems (1994):
Dust jacket of is 5, designed by S. A. Jacobs
These notes are greatly indebted to Lewis H. Miller's "Advertising in Poetry: A Reading of E. E. Cummings' 'Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal'," Word & Image 2 (1986): 349-362. Cummings' poem was first published in December 1922, in the little magazine S4N (Firmage, Bibliography 48). Cummings' title refers to a poem by Harold Vinal (1891-1965) called "Earth Lover," from his first book, White April (1922), published in the Yale Younger Poets Series:
EARTH LOVERIn the 1920's, Vinal was editor of Voices, a long-lived poetry quarterly that was "radically defunct" only in the sense that it did not publish modernist poetry--at least not in 1922. Cummings himself later published a poem in Voices: “after screamgroa” (CP 656) [Voices 137 (Spring 1949): 18] (cf. Firmage 58). In 1945, when the Poetry Society of America presented Cummings with its Shelley Memorial Award, the prize was announced by the Society's president, Mr. Harold Vinal (Kennedy, Dreams 405).
Old loveliness has such a way with me,
That I am close to tears when petals fall
And needs must hide my face against a wall,
When autumn trees burn red with ecstasy.
For I am haunted by a hundred things
And more that I have seen on April days;
I have held stars above my head in praise,
I have worn beauty as two costly rings.
Alas, how short a state does beauty keep,
Then let me clasp it wildly to my heart
And hurt myself until I am a part
Of all its rapture, then turn back to sleep,
Remembering through all the dusty years
What sudden wonder brought me close to tears.
||230. [ONE-III] "curtains part"
Kirkland Street in Cambridge, Mass., just down the street from Cummings' boyhood home at 104 Irving Place.
Professor Royce = Josiah Royce (1855–1916), Professor of Philosophy at Harvard College in Cummings' youth. In six nonlectures, EEC writes, "I myself experienced astonishment when first witnessing a spectacle which frequently thereafter repeated itself at professor Royce's gate. He came rolling peacefully forth, attained the sidewalk, and was about to turn right and wander up Irving, when Mrs Royce shot out of the house with a piercing cry 'Josie! Josie!' waving something stringlike in her dexter fist. Mr Royce politely paused, allowing his spouse to catch up with him; he then shut both his eyes, while she snapped around his collar a narrow necktie possessing a permanent bow; his eyes thereupon opened, he bowed, she smiled, he advanced, she retired, and the scene was over" (25). See also six nonlectures 29-30. Photo of Josiah Royce, with bow tie, at left.
all the glory that or which was Greece = garbling of E. A. Poe's
lines from "To Helen"--"Thy Naiad airs
have brought me home / To the glory that was Greece,
/ And the grandeur that was Rome."
grandja / that was dada? Dadaism was a nihilistic anti-art movement begun in Zürich, Switzerland during World War I. By 1926, when Is 5 was published, the dada movement was a spent force. For the Dada movement's influence on Cummings, see Tashjian, Skyscraper Primitives (165-187). For doubts about Dada's influence on EEC, consult Cohen, PoetandPainter (48; 248) and Webster, Reading Visual Poetry after Futurism (115-134).
what's become of Maeterlinck refers to the symbolist poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), author of the plays Pelleas and Melisande (1893) and The Blue Bird (1905). In 1922, Maeterlinck published a sequel to The Blue Bird called Les Fiançailles, but in later life his attention had turned increasingly away from drama towards scientific and occult topics. This line and the next also parody the first lines of Browning's "Home Thoughts from Abroad": "Oh to be in England / Now that April's there." (See the note for "MEMORABILIA.")
ask the man who owns one --advertising slogan for Packard automobiles.
232. [ONE-V] "yonder deadfromtheneckup
graduate of a"
nascitur = the third person singular present indicative of the verb nascor, meaning that "he / she / it is being born, arises, originates, begins, is produced, springs forth, proceeds, grows, is found" [Latin]. cf 262. "voices to voices,lip to lip" and Him III.vi (132 / 126).
233. [ONE-VI] "Jimmie’s got a goil"
234. [ONE-VII] "listen my children
listen my children and you / shall hear = the first line of "The Landlord's Tale. Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), popular American poet. The contrast between the intrepid hero Paul Revere and Mr. Do-nothing is evident.
(eheu / fu / -gaces Postu- / me boo // who refers to Horace, Odes, II.14:
Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,"Ah, Postumus, Postumus, how fleeting / the swift years--prayer cannot delay / the furrows of imminent old-age / nor hold off unconquerable death."
labuntur anni nec pietas moram
rugis et instanti senectae
adferet indomitaeque morti:
"(and i imagine"
As Norman Friedman notes in Spring 3 (1994): 124-125, this poem depicts a nativity scene.
angels with faces like Jim Europe = James Reese Europe (1880-1919), jazz bandleader and composer who worked in Paris during World War I. Friedman writes: "Alan Rich, in New York Magazine for June 12, 1978, says James Europe was 'a promising black composer who was murdered (by the drummer in his band) in 1919' (81). . . James Lincoln Collier, in The Making of Jazz (Delta, 1978), says, 'James Reese Europe, the kingpin of the Clef Club,' was among 'the first American black musicians of this period to reach Europe...as military bandsmen accompanying the American Expeditionary Force in the First World War" (314). Collier, readers of this Journal may recall, is a nephew of William Slater Brown, Cummings' companion in The Enormous Room. The plot thickens! Marshall W. Stearns, in The Story of Jazz (NAL Mentor, 1956, 1958), praises Europe: 'The earlier minstrel-concert-vaudeville orchestras of Wilbur Sweatman, Will Marion Cook, and James Reese Europe (the favorite of dancers Vernon and Irene Castle) were gradually supplanted [and diluted] by Vincent Lopez, Ben Selvin, Earl Fuller (with Ted Lewis), and Paul Whiteman, who supplied the 'new' jazz music, polished up for dancing....Lt. James Reese Europe...might have been the Negro Paul Whiteman if he had lived...' (113, 117). Leonard Feather, in The Encyclopedia of Jazz (Crown Bonanza Books, 1960), has an entry on James Reese Europe: b. 1881, d. 1919, 'stabbed to death in a night club altercation' " (211).
Friedman further notes that the poem was first published "in 1922, in Secession (48). This nevertheless also dates the poem after Europe's death in 1919, which gives special poignancy to the reference, if indeed Cummings wrote it after Europe died. The effect remains, however, of the transcendent presence of the angels, in the midst of this coarse and mundane setting, being imaged via the epiphany of Jim Europe."
For more information on Jim Europe, click on the image and links at right, and / or consult Reid Badger's excellent A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe (New York: Oxford UP, 1995).
Jim Europe's "Hellfighters" Band
(with RealAudio clips)
Songs of James Europe
James Europe Biography
Military Music: Sousa and the Hellfighters
Order Jim Europe CD
from Inside Sounds /
PO Box 171282
Memphis, TN 38187
243. [ONE-XVI] "why are all these pipples taking their hets off?"
246. [ONE-XIX] "she being Brand"
Consult Fred Schroeder's "Obscenity and Its Function in the Poetry of E. E. Cummings," as well as Barry Marks, E. E. Cummings (74-75), Karen Alkalay-Gut, "Sex and the Single Engine: E. E. Cummings' Experiment in Metaphoric Equation" [Journal of Modern Literature 20 (1996): 254-258], and especially Lewis H. Miller. Jr.'s "Sex on Wheels: A Reading of 'she being Brand / -new'," [Spring 6 (1997): 55-69].
thoroughly oiled the universal / joint --a necessary operation
with early motor-cars. For a discussion
and illustrations, see Miller 60-61.
slipped the / clutch --like flooding the carburetor and "somehow" getting into reverse, this is a beginner's mistake.
i touched the accelerator --Miller writes that "the reference to the accelerator is not to the foot pedal but to the button-tipped hand throttle," which beginners were advised to use "for the first few days until the other details of driving had been mastered" (62-63).
248. “oDE” [ONE-XXI]
toothless . . . bipeds . . . hairless--EEC may be referring here to a famous anecdote concerning the philosopher Diogenes the Cynic (412-323 BC): "Plato had defined Man as an animal, biped and featherless, and was applauded. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into the lecture room with the words 'Here is Plato's man' " (Laertius 138). The chagrined Plato supposedly then added to his definition, "having broad flat nails."
249. "on the Madam's best april the" [ONE-XXII]
According to Robert Wegner, ["A Visit with E. E. Cummings" Spring 5 (1996): 59-70] Cummings told him that this poem's "words are spoken by an illiterate Irish woman" (64). The woman is apparently a "cook."
252. "than(by yon sunset’s wintry glow"
by the fire's ruddy glow / united--Cummings may be referring to the sentimental Victorian poem "Sitting by the Fire" by Henry Kendall (1841-1882): "Gleesome children were we not? / Sitting by the fire, / Ruddy in its glow, / Sixty summers back— / Sixty years ago."
it isn't raining rain, you know = parody of the refrain of the popular song "April Showers" (1921), with music by Louis Silvers and lyrics by B. G. DeSylva: "Though April showers / May come your way, / They bring the flowers / That bloom in May; / And if it's raining, / Have no regrets; / Because, it isn't raining rain, you know, / It's raining violets." This song was one of Al Jolson's big hits. Gilbert Seldes wrote in The Seven Lively Arts:
254. "MEMORABILIA" [ONE-XXVII]
These notes are indebted to two items in The Explicator both entitled "Cummings' MEMORABILIA": Clyde S. Kilby, 12 (1953), item #15, and Cynthia Barton, 22 (1963), item #26. See also Curtis Faville's blog entry: "Believe You Me Crocodile—Eigner Cummings The Typewriter & A Poem." The title refers to Robert Browning's poem "Memorabilia," which begins, "Ah, did you once see Shelley plain?" This poem was written after Cummings toured Venice with his parents in late July, 1922 (Kennedy, Dreams 242).
stop look & / listen = slogan posted on railway platforms.
Venezia = Venice; Murano = town near Venice where glass objects d'art are made
nel / mezzo del cammin' = "midway in the road [of our life]" --Dante, Inferno I.1.
the Campanile = bell-tower in the Piazza San Marco, Venice.
cocodrillo-- = "a large stone crocodrile which is part of a statue of St. Theodore on a tall column overlooking the Piazza San Marco" (Barton). Baedekers = travel guides.
de l'Europe // Grand and Royal = names of hotels in Venice.
their numbers / are like unto the stars of heaven --After Abraham showed his faith in the Lord by being willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, an angel promised to multiply his "descendants as the stars of heaven" (Genesis 22: 17). See also Genesis 15: 1-6.
Ruskin = John Ruskin (1819-1900), author of The Stones of Venice (1851-53).
thos cook & son British travel bureau with offices throughout Europe: the company issued travelers' checks and organized tours.
(O to be a metope / now that triglyph's here) Parody of the first lines of Robert Browning's "Home Thoughts from Abroad": "Oh to be in England / Now that April's there."
Clyde Kilby writes that a metope and triglyph "are architectural terms and describe a portion of a Doric frieze, the metope being the decorated section between the triglyphs." They are usually placed horizontally in alternation on the lintels of Greek buildings like the Parthenon. The triglyph consists of three vertical lines contained within the two horizontal lines of the lintel. Lou Rus has suggested that the metopes should be seen as the open "space for creating a new art," which exactly corresponds with the etymology of the word. The Greek metope means "between or amidst the opae or tie-beams (rafters)." Vitruvius explains when that ancient carpenters "cut off the projecting ends of the beams" the butt ends flush with the wall "had an ugly look to them, [so] they fastened boards, shaped as triglyphs are now made, on the ends of the beams, where they had been cut off in front, and painted them with blue wax" (107). Vitruvius says further: "The Greeks call the seats of tie-beams and rafters όπαί [opae], while our people call these cavities columbaria (dovecotes). Hence, the space between the tie-beams, being the space between two 'opae,' was named by them μετόπη [metope]" (108). "Seat" must be where the beams cross another member, creating an opening or space between the beams. The Greek word ope, opai means just what it sounds like, "open, openings." These empty spaces were often filled with art--little bas-relief sculptures, for example. So "to be a metope" could mean to be in that space where new art is created, to be alive art and not dead (and misunderstood) history. It could also mean, simply, "to be art"--to be those little sculptures rather than a rigid and decorative triglyph (three stiff virgins?) at the end of a beam. The "marriageable nymph[s]" do seem to approach art as decoration or fashion, knick-knacks for their future homes in "Cincingondolanati": viz. the mention of the tourist-trade glassworks at Murano, and this prattle: "look / girls in the style of that's the / foliage what is it didn't Ruskin / says about you got the haven't Marjorie / isn't this well-curb simply darling" (255). On the other hand, what is a metope if not decoration on a building?
By once again referring to Browning at the end of the poem, Cummings conflates a reverence for past culture (Shelley) with nostalgia for one's homeland. In Browning's "Memorabilia," the unnamed person who once "saw Shelley plain" is moved to laughter at Browning's reverence for such casual contact with the great. Browning's poem ends with an account of the speaker finding a moulted eagle feather on the moor and then saying (perhaps self-deprecatingly or sheepishly), "Well, I forget the rest." As if to say that carrying on Shelley's spirit (the feather) is more important than waxing nostalgic over past greatness? And / or that one can emotionalize too much about items of "memorabilia" (the feather again)? Clearly, the "dollarbringing virgins" are nostalgic for a past that they experience incompletely, much as Browning lacked real experience of Shelley. Perhaps Cummings is saying that the virginal metopes have been penetrated only by useless half-baked knowledge (represented by the upright triglyphs, i. e., "Education," "thos. cook & son"), thus missing real experience and lacking ability to express what knowledge they do have.
256. "a man who had fallen among thieves" [ONE-XXVII]
Refers to the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-42). [leal = "loyal"] Lou Rus (letter, July 22, 1998) suggests we read this poem in the light of a passage from Henry David Thoreau that occurs towards the end of the first chapter of Walden ("Economy"): "I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself."--a statement often quoted with approval by EEC. Cummings usually quotes this passage to Ezra Pound when EP is ranting about the necessity of knowing economics and changing the world (cf. Pound / Cummings 140-143; 145; 364-365 and Selected Letters 243). In a similar vein, Ann R. Morris has suggested that the subject of the poem "is not man's social responsibility but rather every man's potential divinity" (39). Other poems describing homeless people in various states of inebriation are: "a)glazed mind layed in a / urinal" (CP 388), "grEEn's d" (CP 534), "a gr // eyhaie" (CP 705), and "s.t:irst;hiso,nce;ma:n" (CP 710). This list is by no means exhaustive. EEC also wrote at least two poems about panhandlers: "but mr can you maybe listen there's" (CP 314) and "'right here the other night something / odd" (CP 800).
259. "poets yeggs and thirsties" [ONE-XXXI]
yegg = a beggar, lowlife ne'er-do-well, a thief.
See Robert Wegner's "Where are the Yeggs of Yesteryear?" in Spring 5 (1996): 55-58.
262. "voices to voices,lip to lip" [ONE XXXIII]
each dream nascitur,is not made = "each dream is born,is not made." nascitur = "to be born; to rise, begin, originate, be produced, spring forth, proceed, grow, be found" [Latin]. cf. 232. [ONE-V] "yonder deadfromtheneckup graduate of a" and Him III.vi (132 / 126).
265. "the season 'tis,my lovely
lambs," [TWO I]
Sumner may refer to William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), Yale Professor, Social Darwinist, and advocate of laissez-faire economics. More likely, Cummings refers to John S. Sumner, "executive secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice" (Daniels 81). In 1922, fearing seizure and prosecution by Sumner, the publisher Horace Liveright had several phrases and words cut from Cummings' war memoir The Enormous Room without the poet's approval (see Gerber, "Season" 178-179). Sumner is satirized in Act II of Cummings' play Him as "John Rutter, President pro tem. of the Society for the Contraception of Vice" (54).
The Volstead Act was passed to enforce the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, the famous Prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The Act went "into effect on January 16, 1920" (Kennedy, Dreams 211).
Mann's righteousness "U. S. Rep. J. R. Mann gave his name to the White Slavery Act of 1910, popularly known as the Mann Act. It decreed fines and imprisonment for persons transporting 'any woman or girl' across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or 'any other immoral purpose.' Young men at Harvard, which Cummings entered in 1911, saw this law as an impediment to extracurricular romance" (Gerber, "Season" 177-178).
the Honourable Mr.(guess), probably Charles R. Forbes,
one-time deserter and head of the Veterans'
Bureau under President Harding. Forbes was
in charge of the "Government's work for those disabled
war heroes in whose behalf every public man considered
it his duty to shed a public tear. Forbes held office for
less than two years, and during that time it was estimated
that over two hundred million dollars went astray in graft
and flagrant waste on the part of his Bureau" (Allen 124).
Forbes was sent to Leavenworth Prison in 1926, the same year
which saw the publication of this poem in Is 5.
266. "opening of the chambers close"
opening of the chambers = "rentrée des Chambres" [French]. EEC is translating the common phrase for the (re)opening of the French parliament.
microscopic pithecoid President = Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934), in 1923 the "Président du Conseil" or Prime Minister, seen here as pithecoid, or apelike; monkeylike.
tribune = "a raised platform for a speaker; a dais, rostrum, or pulpit," but also in ancient Rome, "any of various administrative officers, esp. one of 10 officers elected to protect the interests and rights of the plebeians from the patricians."
Peacepeacepeace . . . pronounced // by the way Pay = an inter-lingual pun on paix, the French word for "peace." EEC refers to the Ruhr crisis of 1923, when France occupied the Ruhr region of Germany in order to force the Germans to make reparations payments demanded by the peace Treaty of Versailles. Jacques Demarcq notes that the word "Pay" may also be a "translation of the French 'ça paie!' which means 'it's funny/a laugh'."
anthropoid = "belonging or pertaining to the primate suborder Anthropoidea, characterized by a relatively flat face, dry nose, small immobile ears, and forward-facing eyes, comprising humans, apes, Old World monkeys, and New World monkeys."
extremely artistic nevertobeextinguished fla / -me . . . souvenir of the in spite of himself fa / -mous solder minus his na- / me = the eternal flame at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe. The tomb was dedicated on November 11, 1920. The flame was lit and dedicated on November 11, 1923.
||male and female / created He // them
–from Genesis 5:2. [For "then" read "them." Though all editions of this poem
read "then," EEC’s source, the King James Bible, reads "them," which seems
And every beast of the field = Genesis 1:19: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." Jacques Demarcq points out that through a pun on "Elysian Fields," or the Champs Elysées, EEC reduces to "beasts" those upper class men and women strolling along this grandest of boulevards leading to the Arc de Triomphe, site of the French tomb of the Unknown Solder. (See pithecoid and anthropoid above.) Demarcq further comments that the mocking tone of the poem is quite similar to that of "French anarchist newspapers of the time." Many thanks are due to M. Demarcq for his help with this note.
The comic rhyme line-breaks in the poem create several nonce words: "-me" and "me" [EEC strolling among the beasts of the field?] and "-mous" [mouse—a smaller beast of the field] and "-nous" ["mind" (Greek)]. “Beast” [bête] and nous [mind] both seem to fit the cartoon, titled "La Flamme," from the French Communist paper l’Humanité, November 12, 1923. [Plutocrat (pointing to the eternal flame): "Elle sera perpétuelle!" ("It will be eternal!"). Worker to plutocrat: "Oui . . . comme la Bêtise!" ("Yes, like Stupidity!")]
" 'next to of course god
america i / love you = a reference to "America, I Love You" (1915), popular song with words by Edgar Leslie and music by Archie Gottler. See also "Poem, Or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal" (CP 228) and "little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where" (CP 410). The chorus is as follows:
America, I love you!
You're like a sweetheart of mine!
From ocean to ocean,
For you my devotion,
Is touching each bound'ry line.
Just like a little baby
Climbing its mother's knee,
America, I love you!
And there's a hundred million others like me!
oh / say can you see by the dawn's
early = the first words to the
land of the pilgrims' . . . my / country 'tis of = quotations from the patriotic song "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (also known as "America"), lyrics by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895):
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum = near-verbatim quote of a line from the novelty song Oh By Jingo! (1919), with music by Albert Von Tilzer and lyrics by Lew Brown. The first two lines of the chorus are: "Oh! by Gee! by Gosh, by Gum, by Juv-- / Oh by Jingo, won’t you hear our love." Links: a performance of the song by Margaret Young and sheet music (IN Harmony). A jingo is also
Many have pointed
out that they
did not stop to think they died instead echoes
Tennyson's "The Charge
of the Light Brigade":
criticism of " 'next
to of course god america i" (MAPS )
Text and study questions for " 'next to of course god america i" (WMU)
272. "come,gaze with me upon this dome" [TWO-VIII]
this dome / of many coloured glass —Cummings wrote to D. Jon Grossman that this line is taken from Percy Shelley's elegy for John Keats, Adonais, stanza 52, line 3. The first part of the stanza reads:
The One remains, the many change and pass;Amy Lowell, a great admirer of John Keats, titled her first book of poetry A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912).
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.—Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
|273. "16 heures" [TWO IX]
Among Cummings' papers at the Houghton Library at Harvard University are conserved some clippings from the Parisian Communist newspaper l’Humanité (Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28, 1923) that describe a demonstration for the Catalan anarchists "[Lluís] Nicolau and [Pere] Matteu . . . condemned to death by the new Spanish government for their supposed participation in the assassination of [Eduardo] Dato." Saturday's paper appeals to workers to demonstrate at the Spanish Embassy at "16 HEURES" [4 p.m.], publishing a map showing the location of the Spanish Embassy on Ave. Kleber (near the Place de l’Etoile). Sunday's paper reports that a "veritable army of cops [flics] and municipal guards--around 5 to 6,000--were mobilized around the Spanish Embassy." Furthermore, from the Ave. Kleber the cops formed "an uninterrupted chain, all the way to the place du Trocadéro." Dressed "in their workclothes," some demonstrators "wore helmets [and] some were disabled veterans [anciens combatants mutilés]." The paper describes various police charges at the crowd, with many arrests, saying that "a large number of comrades were brutalized." Among the examples of police brutality recounted are: "A child of 13 was literally beaten and trampled to the point of death," and "a handicapped veteran was thrown to the ground and seriously wounded." The article ends with what it calls a "significant detail: not a single soldier among the police!"
16 heures / l'Etoile = 4 p.m. at the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, or "Star Plaza," where 12 streets converge upon a huge traffic circle with the Arc de Triomphe at the center.
flics = cops [French].
"allezcirculez" = "move on, move on" [French].
l’Humanité, 27 Oct. 1923 (from Gallica, the online repository of the French National Library)
305. "along the brittle treacherous bright streets"
[FIVE-III] (SP 66)
"Ici?" French--"Here?"—"Ah, no, my dear, it's too cold."
chevaux de bois = "wooden horses."
Back to the list of books
|W [ViVa] (1931)
309. W [ViVa]
An online exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center Library in Austin, Texas, catalogues the signatures on a door that used to be in the Greenwich Village Bookshop, circa 1920-1924. The signature page of S. A. Jacobs, Cummings' personal typesetter, reproduces a July 16, 1931 letter from Jacobs to Cummings about printing the title page of ViVa. Those patient enough to figure out how the slide show on this page works will be rewarded with a photo of the letter from Jacobs to Cummings and with the photo of the title page of W [ViVa] reproduced here. Jacobs' letter complains bitterly of the difficulty in getting this title page to look right: "the photo engraver has failed me utterly: for three times in succession he made the reversed plate of VV wrong--not as ordered by you or me or [with] any sign of intelligence in himself. . . . I am rejecting the work as not satisfactory." (The writing in pencil at the top of the letter is Cummings' draft of a telegram responding to Jacobs.)
The curious title of this collection of poems, W, represents two overlapping V's, which refer to "a graffito commonly found on southern European walls, meaning 'long live,' as in 'Viva Napoli' or 'Viva Presidente Wilson' " (Kennedy, Revisited 76). In critical and in ordinary discourse, the title is pronounced "Viva" and is written as "ViVa"--with two capital V's. When both titles are used, the pronounceable title is written in brackets: [ViVa]. In her article "The Modernist Sonnet and the Pre-Postmodern Consciousness," Gillian Huang-Tiller notes that the VV slogan "probably stems from 'Viva V.E.R.D.I.' or Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia, [Long live Victor Emanuel, King of Italy], slogan for patriotic Italians of the nineteenth century" (170).
In Dreams in the Mirror, Richard S. Kennedy says that ViVa "contains seventy poems; every seventh poem is a sonnet, except that the last seven poems are all sonnets" (319). This description is in general quite correct, but, as Huang-Tiller points out, Kennedy then makes an interesting and perhaps productive error. He writes: "That makes a total of fourteen sonnets, corresponding to the fourteen-line stanza of the sonnet" (Dreams 319). Actually, as Huang-Tiller astutely notes, "the structure of the collection is not a neat 7 + 7—there are nine embedded sonnets, not seven." She further comments: "Kennedy apparently follows what his experience of the sonnet tells him should be in the text, rather than what is really in the text" (164). So the order of the poems in the text follows this mathematical pattern: 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 6 -1 - 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 6 - 1 - 7 = 70 poems. Or: 7 x 9 = 63 + 7 = 70.
What might this not-quite-sonnet pattern of sonnets tell us about Cummings’ intentions? Huang-Tiller speculates that perhaps "Cummings has another design in mind, as the nine embedded sonnets (each the seventh poem) along with the final set of seven sonnets could signal a perfect ten: 9 sonnets + 1 set = 10" (164). In the afterword to his translation of No Thanks, Jacques Demarcq sees ViVa as having a structure of ten weeks, "six poèmes et le dimanche un sonnet" [six poems and the Sunday of a sonnet] ("Un tournant" 112). This would make the final seven sonnets of ViVa a week of Sundays. In EIMI (published two years after ViVa), Cummings tells us that he was born on a Sunday (91/89), and several commentators have noticed that EIMI begins and ends on a Sunday (May 10 and June 14). Each chapter narrates one day, so the chapters follow a pattern similar to the one in ViVa, except that the implied days of the week metaphor is made explicit. EIMI has six Sundays with six days between each of them, making a total of five weeks and 36 days. [See EIMI note 91 / 89.]
For more on Jacobs and Cummings, see Walker Rumble's short piece "Reclaiming S. A. Jacobs: Polytype, Golden Eagle, and Typographic Modernism" as well as Rumble's recent article from Spring "The Persian Typesetter: S. A. Jacobs, E. E. Cummings, and the Golden Eagle Press."
A slightly expanded version of this note has been posted on the EEC Society Blog.
Title page of W [ViVa], designed by S. A. Jacobs.
311. [I] ",mean-"
Robert Beloof and Barry Marks see this poem as portraying "the experiences during one evening and one morning of children and adults who live in an apartment hotel [a pension]" (Marks 49). The reader should look within the text for the fragmented words "humanity" and "putrescence." The word credo is better read as an English noun than as a Latin verb. The phrase fais do do is French baby-talk for "go to sleep." Perhaps also fais do can be taken to mean to "make dough" or "make money" (Marks 51).
Rather than a colon, the punctuation mark at the end of the last line should probably be a semicolon (as in the first edition, the typescript edition, and in Poems 1954).
312. [II] "oil tel duh woil doi sez"
An American soldier in a French bar, sometime after World War I. For an excellent exposition and interpretation, see Larry Chott, "The Sight of Sound: Cummings' 'oil tel duh woil doi sez'," Spring 6 (1997): 45-48.
"oil tel duh woil doi sez," transliterated into more-or-less standard English:
I'll tell the world I saysNotes:
do you understand me as he's pulling his moustache,I
don't give a shit I says. Tom
I don't want to do it, but I got to
break youse,that's what he says to me. (Now I ask you
wouldn't that make your arse turn
green? I'll say so.)—Who'll
spare a Lucky? Thanks kid. Merci.
My jack's all gone. For Christ sake
yousewiththepermanentwave and theukeorsomethingorother
313. [III] "the surely
Richard S. Kennedy writes that in this poem, "Cummings describes one of his own Futuristic canvases, such as 'Noise Number 13' " (Dreams 319).
314. [IV] "there are 6 doors"
smokes three / castles = British cigarette brand.
317. [VII] "Space being(don't
forget to remember)Curved" (SP 159-160)
Among other topics, the speaker of this poem discusses the curvature of space, one aspect of Einstein's theory of relativity. See Richard B. Vowles, "Cummings' 'Space being . . . Curved'." Explicator 9.1 (1950), item 3. At the end of The Explicator 9.5 (March, 1951), after item 37, the editors print this interesting response from Cummings:
please let your readers know that the author of--thank you
"Space being(don't forget to remember)Curved"
considers it a parody-portrait of one scienceworshipping
supersubmoron in the very act of reading(with
difficulties)aloud,to another sw ssm,some wouldbe
explication of A.Stone&Co's unpoem
E. E. Cummings
December 11 1950
earth's most terrific / quadruped = the elephant, Cummings' favorite animal, his "totem." See the cover of Spring 4 for a characteristic Cummings sketch of an elephant. Also reproduced on the Cummings Images page. [See also "pity this busy monster,manunkind," (CP 554) and "noone and a star stand,am to am" (CP 721).] For on-line criticism of this poem see "On 'Space being(don't forget to remember)Curved'" at the MAPS site.
319. [IX] "y is a WELL KNOWN ATHLETE'S
The protagonists of this poem, y and z, (the "2 boston / Dolls") are Josephine Rotch (Mrs. Albert Bigelow) and Harry Crosby, a minor poet and patron of the arts who spent much of the 20s in Paris. On December 10, 1929, after meeting Mrs. Bigelow at the New York apartment of a friend, Crosby shot her and then himself. See Geoffrey Wolff's biography of Crosby, Black Sun (1976) and chapter VIII of Malcolm Cowley's Exile's Return. William Carlos Williams also wrote a poem, "The Death of See," about this sensational murder-suicide (see Collected Poems Vol I, 416-417). Link: "Harry Crosby" page at the MAPS site, including "A Biographical Essay."
hoe tell days are // teased = the Hotel des Artistes on
322. [XII] "poor But TerFLY"
This poem presents a satiric, fictionalized account of the career of EEC's first wife Elaine Orr (also from Troy, New York), leaving out her involvement with the poet. (See Kidder, Introduction 88-89).
poor But TerFLY = popular song, with music by Raymond Hubbell and lyrics by John Golden. The song was first performed on Broadway in the musical revue The Big Show, August 31, 1916. William Slater Brown (who is "B" in The Enormous Room) remembered meeting Cummings in 1917 on a boat to France where both were going to serve in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps: "Cummings found a piano somewhere and sat down and played "Poor Butterfly" with all sorts of trills in a rather satiric way" (quoted in Collier 128). This song seems to have been a staple of Cummings' repertoire in those years. Richard S. Kennedy reports on a late night outing in 1916: "At one point, [S. Foster] Damon went to the piano and rolled out a polonaise and Cummings followed the act with "Poor Butterfly" (Dreams 89). The lyrics of the song tell of a Japanese woman (the "Butterfly") who learns from a visiting sailor to "how to love in the 'Merican way." The sailor leaves her, but she waits faithfully for him, for "once Butterfly gives her heart away, / She can never love again; she is his for aye." To view a reproduction of the sheet music and complete lyrics of "Poor Butterfly," click on the image above.
(flesh is grass) = Isaiah 40:6: "All flesh is grass / and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. / The grass withers, the flower fades, / when the breath of the Lord blows upon it."
the way of(all / flesh is grass) refers to satirical novel The Way of All Flesh (1903) by Samuel Butler. See 390.  "sonnet entitled how to run the world)" (SP 104).
eloping to Ire(land = EEC's first wife Elaine, who announced that she wanted a divorce after meeting the Irishman Frank MacDermot on board ship to France. See Kennedy, Dreams 249-265.
grass widow / er A "grass widow" is a woman who is divorced or separated from her husband, or a woman whose husband is temporarily absent. The phrase was also used for the mother of an illegitimate child. In its earliest sense of "unwed mother," the phrase may allude to the site of illicit liaisons: a bed of straw or grass. Here, however, the "grass widow / er" is male--Frank MacDermot (cf. Cohen, "The Lily Maid" 144).
my // MotH . . . (Er / camef / romth / AIR —The end of the poem quotes from another popular song of 1916, "Ireland Must Be Heaven, for My Mother Came from There" (Fred Fisher, music; Joe McCarthy, Howard Johnson, lyrics). The chorus (as sung by Charles Harrison in this recording from the Library of Congress) is as follows:
Ireland must be Heaven,323. [XIII] "remarked Robinson Jefferson"
For an angel came from there,
I never knew a living soul
One half as sweet or fair,
For her eyes are like the starlight,
And the white clouds match her hair,
Sure, Ireland must be Heaven,
For my mother came from there.
Injustice Taughed = Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former
President William Howard Taft, appointed
to the court in 1921 by Warren G. Harding.
Wouldwoe = President Woodrow Wilson.
Lydia E. McKinley = conflation of Lydia E. Pinkham, marketer of patent medicine for women, and President William McKinley.
Buch = James Buchanan, President who preceded Abraham Lincoln.
C.O.D. abbreviation for "cash on delivery" or "collect on delivery." Formerly, the term "cod" meant "bag," and by extension, "scrotum" (cf. "codpiece"). It is also British schoolboy slang for "joke."
inley = "in [Robert E.] Lee."
Clever Rusefelt = conflation of Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore Odysseus Graren't = "Theodore Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant are not Odysseus."
he ant = "he is an ant" or "he ain't" --has no rights, is not considered human.
Sitting Bull's T.P. = "teepee and toilet paper" (Read 32). Sitting Bull (1831-1890) was a noted native American (Lakota) chief, holy man, and war leader.
duckbilled platitude refers to the duckbilled platypus, a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal.
Lays aytash unee = "les États-Unis" [French] or the United States. As Read points out, "lays" no doubt has a sexual connotation here. Perhaps unee = "un-E. E.," or "not E. E. Cummings"?
325. [XVI] "tell me not how electricity or"
ludendorff = Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), German general in World War I, later a Nazi party member and fervent anti-communist. In 1925, he was dumped by Hitler as candidate for President in favor of an even more illustrious general, Paul von Hindenburg. See also http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWludendorff.htm.
Krassin probably refers to Leonid Borisovich Krassin (spelled also Krasin, 1870-1926), early Bolshevik, revolutionist, bomb-maker, counterfeiter, engineer, and later diplomat for the nascent USSR. His wife published his papers posthumously in English as Leonid Krassin, His Life and Work (London, 1929). See Timothy Edward O'Connor, The Engineer of Revolution: L. B. Krasin and the Bolsheviks, 1870-1926 (
327. [XVII] "FULL SPEED ASTERN)"
m // usil(age)ini = Mussolini + musilage [a kind of glue] + age.
hutchinson says = Whoever he is, Hutchinson is quoting some additional lyrics to Cole Porter's 1928 hit tune, "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)":
Sloths who hang down from the twigs do it"religion is the opium of the people"
Though the effort is great
Sweet guinea pigs do it
Buy a couple and wait
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"
332. [XXII] "Lord John Unalive(having a fortune of
Lord John Unalive remains (as yet) unidentified. Any suggestions?
keltyer = "culture."
333. [XXIII] "buncha hardboil guys from duh A.C. fulla"
hardboil-- In EIMI, while translating the phrase "spare nothing" from Louis Aragon's poem "The Red Front," Cummings comments: "Nyet. Hardboiledness is dull" (146/143).
A.C. Rushworth Kidder writes that the poem depicts "a bunch of rowdies from the Athletic Club beating up a sentimental drunk" (Introduction 91). However, Larry Chott once mentioned in conversation that "A. C." stands not for "Athletic Club," but "Ambulance Corps." Certainly “A. C.” seems a more usual abbreviation for the former. The speaker's mention of a "busted harmonica" may remind readers of another scapegoat who is tormented by thugs, Surplice, who in The Enormous Room is able to play a harmonica that no one else can (194-195). However, the speaker of this poem glories in war in a way in which Surplice surely would not.
334. [XXIV] "from the cognoscenti"
In a letter to Norman Friedman, dated "June 25 1955" and published in Spring 14-15 (2006), Cummings notes that the last two words of the poem are an anagram for "charles darwin" ("Letter" 148). Combining the first and last lines forms the statement "from the cognoscenti of charles darwin," thus making the poem some sort of comment on evolution. What sort of comment is up to the reader to decide.
cognoscenti = "those in the know" [Italian].
pseudo . . . podia = Literally, "fake foot" [Greek]. In his Critique of Love (1929) psychiatrist Fritz Wittells observes:
Wittels was Cummings' psychoanalyst, and EEC owned and annotated a copy
of this book.
radarw leschin = anagram for "charles darwin."
335. [XXV] "murderfully in midmost o.c.an"
336. [XXVI] "ohld song"
In a letter to Norman Friedman, dated "June 25 1955" and published in Spring 14-15 (2006), Cummings says the poem presents "the 'problem of' human 'identity' via one housefly. Compare Him Act I Scene 4(mirror speech)" ("Letter" 148).
337. [XXVII] "the first president to be loved by
them Yapanese Craps-- On his way back from a trip to Alaska, President Warren G. Harding fell ill "from eating crab meat on the presidential boat" (Allen 112). Further stricken at San Francisco, the president "died suddenly--on August 2, 1923--of what his physicians took to be a stroke of apoplexy" (Allen 111). After Harding's death, numerous members of his administration were revealed to have engaged in graft and corruption. (see notes for 265 "the season 'tis,my lovely lambs,"). Knowledge of these impending scandals probably hastened the president's death. A journalist later quoted Harding as having said, "My God this is a hell of a job! I have no trouble with my enemies. . . . But my damn friends, my God-damned friends . . . they're the ones that keep me walking the floors nights" (quoted in Daniels 102).
Cummings' criticism of presidential solecism was not limited to Harding.
In 1927, EEC told a man on the street interviewer
from the New York Daily News that "The
most wonderful thing that President Coolidge did was
to confuse the whole country about the true meaning of
a simple English sentence. 'I do not choose to run' sounds
simple, but nobody in the country except the President
knows what it means" (quoted in Norman 230).
345. [XXXV] "what is strictly fiercely and wholly dies"
This poem is a portrait of Scofield Thayer, former owner and editor of the Dial and Cummings' patron, mentor and friend, who suffered a mental breakdown in 1926. The sonnet was probably written shortly after Cummings' October 1930 visit to Thayer in Worcester, MA (cf. Sawyer-Lauçanno 308). Cummings often drew pencil portraits of Thayer, and like his drawings, the poem emphasizes Thayer’s “tiny, bow mouth” (Cohen, Poet 41). [See for example, this pencil portrait or this oil portrait now at SUNY Brockport.] Cummings writes that Thayer's mouth "reacts . . . to dreamings more than truth untrue" while the "illustrious unknown" hovers at his "lean lips" as Thayer's spirit stoops and examines "fearingly and tenderly // a recent footprint in the sand of was)".
Moving from "is" to "was," from head to foot, from Thayer's parrot-like "preening solemnity" to his effort as Crusoe to connect with another's or his own humanity, the poem sees the death of Thayer's (or someone's or anyone's) "IS" or "i" as isolating and lonely, like Crusoe on his island.
Compare to an earlier Cummings poem about Thayer (also a portrait, also
mentioning his aesthetic mouth): "conversation
with my friend is particularly" (CP 96). [For
Thayer's views on Cummings' poetry, see James Dempsey's
The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer (65-67).]
346. [XXXVI] "sunset)edges become swiftly"
inverno = "winter" [Italian]. The word may also suggest inferno, "hell" or "fire."
349. [XXXIX] "An(fragrance)Of"
An opening flower seen as music or perhaps music seen as a flower. The words inside the parentheses refer to "fragrance," while the words outside the parentheses stress the visual rather than the olfactory aspect of the flower.
un deux trois = "one, two, three" [French].
der / die = masculine and feminine definite articles in German--also puns in English: "there" and "die."
Given the phrases "one, two, three" and the "quickly Not," perhaps the music stops briefly. Perhaps also the repeated "An" refers to Cummings' wife at the time, Anne Barton Cummings. (Contrast the lower case definite German articles with the uppercase indefinite English article "An.")
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|No Thanks (1935 Manuscript)
No Thanks is dedicated to the 13 publishers who rejected the volume. The names of the publishers are arranged on the page so that they form the shape of a loving cup--or perhaps a funeral urn. The book was privately published by Cummings' personal printer S. A. Jacobs, with Cummings' mother Rebecca Haswell Cummings providing the funds for publication. Cummings acknowledges her help with this notice at the end of the book: "AND THANKS TO R. H. C."
383.  "moon over gai"
gai = Ge = “Earth” [Greek]. See Him, Act
gai / té = "gaieté" or "gaîté," French for frivolity or gaiety. The poem depicts the moon rising over the Paris neighborhood of Montparnasse. The Rue de la Gaîté, long the site of theatres and variety shows, runs just to the west of the Cimetière de Montparnasse, between the Avenue du Maine and the Boulevard Edgar Quinet.
the moon over death over edgar = the moon over the cemetery and the Boulevard Edgar Quinet. To the east, at denfert, or the Place Denfert-Rochereau, is an entrance to the catacombs, where the bones of millions of dead Parisians were relocated when the cemeteries became too crowded. The square is commonly referred to as Place Denfert, a pun on its old name, the Place D’Enfer (Hell Square).
the liontamer nearby hieroglyphs / soar dip / dip: Jacques Demarcq notes that until 1939 the Place Denfert-Rochereau hosted a Festival of the Lion de Belfort, with horse-riding, lion-taming, and other animal acts. The "Lion of Belfort" refers to a statue in the square, honoring Pierre Denfert-Rochereau, the French general who led the defense of the town of Belfort during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Perhaps Cummings indicates that the changing now of Parisian sub-lunar life tames memories of war and death?
387.  "i / (meet)t(touch)"
The "jeff dick / son" mentioned at the end of this poem was a boxing promoter in Paris. Unscrambled, the last lines read "jeff dickson fecit mcmxxxii" or "Jeff Dickson made [promoted this fight in] 1932." See Kidder, Introduction 107. A misprint appears in the newest Complete Poems (1994): lines 3-4 of stanza nine should read: "iS ar(ise)wi / lt(wit(hprettyw)ith)mr." (Cummings is writing "wi / lt"--not "wi / it.")
388.  "a)glazed mind layed in
a / urinal"
Notice the parentheses around the first and last letters of the poem.
stetti = "steady."
390.  "sonnet entitled how to
run the world)" (SP 104)
Here is Cummings' "paraphrase" of lines 6-8:
G . . . never be guilty of self-pity;if you once had a little but now have least,forget the earlier time gladly;& when you have least,remember gladly the time when you had mostgrass is flesh --inversion of Isaiah 40:6: "All flesh is grass / and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. / The grass withers, the flower fades, / when the breath of the Lord blows upon it." Cummings writes:
H . . . treat your true(highest)self as something sacred--never flaunt it in public,like a flag,for everyone to see (Letters 271).
lines 9 10 11 say that the subject of the sonnet's 2nd part is not "flesh is grass"(i.e. living is dying)as the Bible tells you, but dying is living("grass is flesh") (Letters 271).Interested readers will want to consult Cummings' entire commentary on this poem (Selected Letters 270-271). (See also 322. [XII] "poor But TerFLY")
392.  "o pr"
unde negant redire quemquam = "whence, they say, no one returns" [Latin]. Catullus, poem 3, in which the poet mourns the death of his mistress' pet sparrow, who has gone to the underworld, never to return. Sheridan Baker notes that the missing "o" refers not only the baseball but also very probably to "the little white ball that used to bounce along from word to word of the songs flashed-on at the lower edge of moving picture screens, a line at a time, marking the beat for the audience to join in the chorus" (232). See Sheridan Baker, "Cummings and Catullus" Modern Language Notes 74 (1959): 231-234. See also Richard D. Cureton's "Visual Form in E. E. Cummings' No Thanks" and Cummings's discussion in i: six nonlectures (50).
393.  "little man"
For a reading of this poem, see Etienne Terblanche, " 'The plum survives its poems:' Meditative Space in the Poetry of E. E. Cummings and Wallace Stevens" (163-164).
394.  "ci-gît 1 Foetus(unborn to not die"
ci-gît = "here lies" [French].
Jacques Demarcq suggests that the "Foetus" is Elaine’s second husband Frank Mac Dermot, and the "Ghost" (despite being referred to as "himself") is Elaine--or perhaps Love--("come summer puts on fur"), and the "Man" is Cummings, who gave his consent to an annulment of his first marriage--another failure, but he has nothing else to give these undead people. (For the story of the break-up of Cummings' first marriage, see Kennedy, Dreams 249-280.)
395.  "why why"
Martin Heusser sees this poem and "one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:" (CP 556 ) as alluding "to Aristophanes' myth of the split sexes" (I Am 61--cf. Plato's Symposium 189a-193e). In a letter to Norman Friedman, dated "June 25 1955" and published in Spring 14-15 (2006),Cummings writes:
this poem says(if I remember my zoology)that nothing is more,or less,significant than if I pick up the You of an angleworm from the ground where he-she squirms(instead of e.g. stepping on him). Vide dictionary "metameric","homonomous","heteronomous" ("Letter" 149)who's myself's Antimere = "a term used in biology to designate 'a part or division corresponding to an opposite or similar part in an organism characterized by bilateral or radial symmetry.' An antimere forms, in other words, a natural correspondence or complementary part to a given body or part of a body; a natural opposition or half. In the context of Cummings' question, the term is synonymous with the 'soul-mate' or 'other' which the self needs in order to achieve its potential completeness" (Heusser, I Am 62). Heusser further comments: "The issue of the relation self-other as an enactment of the myth of Aristophanes is taken up again in lines thirteen and sixteen in 'metameric me' and 'metameric You.' The term 'metameric,' like 'antimere' is culled from biology. A metamere is defined as 'one of s a series of homologous body segments' . . . . In variation and elaboration of the notion of the other as a natural correspondence, self and other are here treated as inherently identical elements of the same body. In addition, however, the self is characterized as 'heteronomous,' the other (the 'You') as 'homonomous.' Both these terms are also biological termini technici. In a strictly etymological sense, the latter means 'subject to the same or a constant law,' the former the opposite, i.e., 'governed by a different law'" (62-63).
398.  "one nonsufficiently inunderstood"
Norman Friedman translates the last lines as "I want to say right here and now that my jack [money] rides with you—Very Sincerely, I" (Art 77).
401.  "this little / pair"
This poem is a modern Mother Goose rhyme, complete with magical transformations. It parodies two nursery rhymes:
a) There was a little man,where / flesh is heiry montparnasse = combination of "the thousand natural shocks / that flesh is heir to" (Hamlet III, i, 62-63) and "flesh is [hairy] grass" (Isaiah 40:6). See 322 [XII] "poor But TerFLY" and 390  "sonnet entitled how to run the world)" (SP 104).
Who wooed a little maid,
And he said, "Little maid, will you wed, wed, wed?
I have little more to say,
So will you, yea or nay,
For least said is soonest mended, -ded, -ded, -ded."
The little maid replied,
"Should I be your little bride,
Pray what must we have for to eat, eat, eat?
Will the flame that you're so rich in
Light a fire in the kitchen?
Or the little god of love turn the spit, spit, spit?"
b) Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
403.  "go(perpe)go"
Norman Friedman, Nat Henry, and Rushworth M. Kidder have all pointed out that this poem parodies Proverbs 6: 6, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." See Friedman, Art 117-121, Kidder, Introduction 110 and Nat Henry, The Explicator 20 (1963), item 63. The reader might also note the incremental build-up of the phrase from Proverbs and the bi-lateral symmetries in the letters and spacings of many individual lines. These symmetries are least partially explained by the root meanings of the words "sinister dexterity," which both stem from Latin and mean, respectively, "left" and "right."
To be sure, Billy's action was a terrible breach of naval decorum. But in that decorum he had never been instructed; in consideration of which the lieutenant would hardly have been so energetic in reproof were it not for the concluding farewell to the ship. This he rather took as meant to convey a covert sally on the new recruit's part, a sly slur at impressment in general, and that of himself in especial. And yet, more likely, if satire it was in effect, it was hardly so by intention, for Billy, though happily endowed with a gaiety of high health, youth, and a free heart, was yet by no means of a satirical turn. The will to it and the sinister dexterity were alike wanting. To deal in double meanings and insinuations of any sort was quite foreign to him.The idea of the loss of rights when entering into a collective and the use of the term "sinister dexterity" makes me believe that
409.  "what does little Ernest croon"
(SP 154; see also Kennedy's note, SP
The poem satirizes Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon (1932) by parodying lines from two Victorian poets. The first line, what does little Ernest croon, is a send-up of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Cradle Song": "What does little birdie say / In her nest at peep of day?" Line three, (kow dow r 2 bul retoinis, echoes the second stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life":
Life is real! Life is earnest!In a short article in the old series of Spring, Richard S. Kennedy notes that Cummings was probably "set off" by reading this passage in Hemingway's book:
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
410.  "little joe gould has
lost his teeth and doesn't know where"
Joe Gould (1888-1957) was a Harvard graduate who hung out on the streets of Greenwich Village, depending on handouts for sustenance. Though he was supposedly writing / compiling An Oral History of Our Time, according to Rushworth M. Kidder, Gould was actually "doing nothing of the kind, but cadging drinks" (Kidder 112). Joseph Mitchell's 1965 book Joe Gould's Secret explores Gould's life and the secret of his non-existent Oral History. Kidder says that the line "a myth is as good as a smile" indicates that Cummings may have guessed at Gould's secret. However, it is undeniable that Gould did a lot of scribbling in many notebooks. In April 2000, the Village Voice reported on the re-discovery of eleven of Gould's notebooks in the archives at NYU. Charles Hutchinson and Peter Miller's article, "Joe Gould's Secret History: The Diary of a Legendary Village Bohemian Surfaces at NYU," shows that Gould was writing something, if not exactly an oral history. For more on Joe Gould, see Kennedy 269 and Norman 133-138, 174-175. See also Sewell Chan's "Revisiting Joe Gould's Secret," Joshua Prager's article in Vanity Fair, "The Patron and the Panhandler" (on Gould and his mysterious patron), and Jill Lepore's New Yorker piece "Joe Gould's Teeth: The Long-lost Story of the Longest Book Ever Written," which re-examines Joe Gould's life and argues for the possible existence of his Oral History. Lepore consults many letters and archival documents that were unavailable to Mitchell. For an interpretation of "little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where" (with a short consideration of Gould's published writings), see Michael Webster's "Notes for Cummings: A Resource for Students and Teachers." A site called Kooks Museum hosts many of the writings that Gould published in modernist little magazines and journals. For the movie that was made based on Mitchell's book, see the IMDB page for Joe Gould's Secret. Gould probably appears in more Cummings poems than any other person. EEC's poem "no time ago" (CP 648) is about Gould. And Cummings quotes Gould's misogynist views in "as joe gould says in" (CP 700). The posthumously published "April'/ this letter's dated/ '23" (CP 1019) also mentions Gould.
The first line and a half of "little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where" is a pastiche of the nursery rhyme "Little Bo-Peep":
nude eel = "New Deal."
In his essay on Gaston Lachaise (1920) Cummings wrote of a critic who could
"comfort himself with the last line of that most popular wartime song, America I Love You,
which goes, 'And there're a hundred million
others like me' " (Miscellany
23). In 1940, the song was revived in the movie Tin Pan Alley.
See also "Poem, Or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal"
(CP 228) and " 'next to of course god america
i" (CP 267).
it may be fun to be fooled: In a 1960 article on the tobacco industry, Time magazine reported on the tobacco advertising wars of the 1930s: "George Washington Hill . . . dreamed up the slogan 'It's toasted' for Lucky Strike—even though all tobacco went through the same toasting process. Reynolds struck back with 'I'd walk a mile for a Camel,' [and] scoffed at Luckies' 'toasted' claim with ads showing a magician sawing a girl in half and captioned, 'It's fun to be fooled; it's more fun to know.' " Links [1933 advertisements for Camel cigarettes]:
Writings of Joe Gould in Modernist Periodicals and on the Web
Gould, Joseph. "Art." The Exile 2 (Autumn 1927): 112-116.
---. "Excerpts from Joe Gould's Oral History of the Contemporary World." Ed. O. Nenslo. Kooks Museum (n.d., before 2005) [Also at the Internet Archive.] Web. [Reprints "Social Position," "Insanity," "Freedom," "Marriage," and "Civilization."]
---. "From Joe Gould's Oral History: Marriage. Civilization." The Dial (April 1929): 319-321.
---. "ME TEMPORE: A Selection from Joe Gould's Oral History: 'Insanity' and 'Freedom'." Pagany 2.2 (April-June 1931): 96-98. Rpt. A Return to PAGANY: The History, Correspondence, and Selections from a Little Magazine 1929-1932. Ed. Stephen Halpert and Richard Johns. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. 299-301.
---. "Social Position." Broom 5.3 (October 1923): 147-150.
413. "kumrads die because they’re told)"
kumrads = "comrades," or communists.
414.  "does yesterday's perfection seem not quite"
The capital letters in the last line spell "IS," a key Cummings term. In his essay on Gaston Lachaise, Cummings writes, "to appreciate child art we are compelled to undress one by one the soggy nouns whose agglomeration constitutes the mechanism of normality, and finally to liberate the actual crisp organic squirm--the IS" (Miscellany 19). For an interpretation of this poem, see Kidder 113-114.
415.  "numb(and"
A very obscure poem that depicts how snow and ice cling, hang, and droop from a large iron structure (possibly the Eiffel Tower). The snow and ice look like "w / ar / pin / g dre // ams whichful sarcasms / papery deathfuls"—but under its winter coating this structure is an "alive secretly i" that "awaits / yes" (spring). Cummings' consistent satire of the pomposity of public statues (CP 408 and CP 636) makes unlikely Kidder's suggestion that the poem describes snow sliding off the statue "of a nineteenth century industrialist . . . in Washington Square Park" (112).
423.  "as if as"
This poem depicts how the rising sun gradually reveals the world.
|425.  "out of a supermetamathical
croons canned / à la vallee refers to Rudy Vallee, the most popular pre-Bing Crosby crooner.
preserved goldfishian gestures in films produced by Samuel Goldwyn (originally Goldfish), founder of Goldwyn Pictures, which later became MGM Studios.
sally rand = fan-dancer of the 30s, whose motto was "the fan is quicker than the eye" (Daniels 244). Photo: Sally Rand and her feathered fans (from Daniels fig. 21).
fand = hand, rand, fan. No doubt the word "fly" has multiple
χαίρετε = "chairete" = "rejoice!" or "greetings" in Greek [pronounced "ki - ray - tay"— Cummings rhymes it with “entirety.”]. Root-word for English "charity." A variation of this word is the title for Cummings' 1950 book of poems, XAIPE.
recent world's fair celebrating
"A Century of
b.o.fully speaking "b.o." = "body
odor" and/or “box office.”
430.  "ondumonde'"
In his book Americans in Paris (1969), George Wickes writes: "The subject of this poem is a Negro [bantamweight] boxer named Panama Al Brown who was a familiar figure in the Paris ring between 1926 and 1938" (117). Wickes continues: "The most astonishing part of Al Brown's career came years later when he lost his title, and [Jean] Cocteau--of all people--managed his comeback campaign. 'Al Brown was a poem in black ink,' wrote Cocteau, unwittingly describing the poem Cummings had written. The composition not only outlines the boxer in action but reports the whole scene through scraps of conversation and incidental details" (117-118). According to Tyler Stovall's Paris Noir, Brown was managed in Paris by the promoter Jeff Dickson, who is mentioned in "i / (meet)t(touch)" (CP 387). Brown was known for his "grace of movement" in the ring, and after his brief Cocteau-inspired comeback in 1938, he was featured at the Cirque Médrano "in a shadow-boxing dance act to a jazz accompaniement" (Steegmuller 433). Stovall offers a brief account of Al Brown's life in Paris on pp. 67-68 of Paris Noir. Links: Panama Al Brown's record and a brief biography (with photo).
ondumonde" = "[champi]on du monde" = "champion of the world" [French].
"(first than carefully poised now then why sprig slinkily strolling (precisely) dynamite yearns swoons & is dense killing whip alert floats corruptingly)"
ça y est = "that's it" [French].
qu'est-ce que tu veux = "what do you want" [French].
il est trop fort le nègre = "he's too strong, the Negro" [French]. 5, 7, 8,
"dropped writhes nothingish sprawl, TO 9 & (musically-who? // pivoting) / SmileS"
c'est fini . . . allons "it's over . . . let's go" [French].
"ahlbrhoon = "Al Brown"
431.  "floatfloafloflf"
A poem about the dancer Paul Draper (1909-1996). See Richard Crowder, The Explicator 16 (1958), item 41. A misprint appears in the newest Complete Poems (1994): line 11 should read “irlErec” instead of “irlEric”. Both the typescript edition of No Thanks and the HBJ Complete Poems of 1980 read “irlErec”. (Cummings is writing the word “Erec / , / t,” not the name “Eric.”)
cupidoergosum = "cupido ergo sum" = "I desire
therefore I am" [Latin]. See 494.  "the Noster was a ship of
omiepsicronlonO-- / megaeta? = scrambled Greek letters: omicron [O, o], epsilon [Ε, ε], omega [Ω, ω], eta [H, η]. In Greek, these four letters represent the vowels O and E, two long (omega and eta) and two short (omicron and epsilon).
438  "Jehovah
a Five Year Plan = The Soviet
to kiss the mike . . . “kiss the microphone (or Irishman) if Jews become objects of / creations of prejudice.”
Cummings wrote: “argument:man fancies himself god but has become base;what's needed is a(god who dares to be a)man” Houghton Library,
440.  "this mind made war"
This poem is most likely a portrait of Ezra Pound. After receiving a copy of No Thanks, Pound wrote to Cummings: "damn it all, 56 worth more than the prix nobel, from 17 non conformist parsons" (P/C 65). (The word "parsons" refers to the Swedish Nobel Committee.) The next line of the letter tells Cummings not to talk about Pound valuing the poem higher than the prize, since Pound's daughter might have need of any future Nobel money for schooling.
444.  "sh estiffl"
In the latest Complete Poems, delete the extra "g" in line 5: for "epouting(gWh.ono:w" read "epoutin(gWh.ono:w" (Cummings is writing "the pouting who now"). Also, line 15 is out of place and should be moved flush left with the other lines. The line should also have three question marks, thus:
In addition, for line 19, both the typescript edition (1978) and a fair copy at the Houghton Library [bMS Am 1892.5 (477)] read ".grIns"—while the 1935 edition of No Thanks and the 1954 and 1994 Complete Poems read ".grins". The former reading seems preferable.
||Cummings (CP 436)|
|Love’s not time’s fool||love may
not care / if time totters
with the remover to remove
bears it out even to the edge of doom
dying least;and less,that death should
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464.  "kind)"
YM&WC conflates YMCA, YWCA and W.C., "water-closet" or toilet [chiefly British].
professor . . . shapley = Harlow Shapley, celebrated Harvard astronomer who actually compared the universe to neither a biscuit nor a cookie, but to a watch. In his popular science text The Universe of Stars (1929), Shapley wrote, "the whole [Milky Way] is disk-shaped like a watch" (168). Manuscripts at the Houghton Library at Harvard University [bMS Am 1892.7 (108), folder 4] indicate that Cummings read Shapley and knew of the watch comparison, so the distortion here is deliberate ridicule. See also Paul O. Williams, "Cummings' 'kind)'," Explicator 23 (1964) item 4 and Guy Rotella, "Cummings' 'kind)' and Whitman's Astronomer," Concerning Poetry 18 (1985): 39-46.
466.  "(of Ever-Ever Land i speak" (SP
Barry Marks writes that the last two lines of the poem are a pastiche of a line from Rudyard Kipling: "A woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke" (57). The line comes from Kipling's poem "The Betrothed," first published in Departmental Ditties and Barrack Room Ballads (1886). Link: Stephen Scotti singing his own setting of "(of Ever-Ever Land i speak"
471.  "so little he is"
A poem about Jimmy Savo (1896-1960), vaudeville entertainer "whose fluttering hands strewed the stage with bits of paper in gestures extremely birdlike" (Norman 146). John T. Ordeman's "Two Portraits by E. E. Cummings: Jimmy Savo in Poem and Painting," Spring 6 (1997): 49-54, unearths more information about Savo and reproduces an EEC oil painting of the comic actor. Lloyd Frankenberg's comments on this poem are quite perceptive: "The interrelationships are so deftly numerous that only a few can be pointed out. 'So' begins and concludes the poem. The latter 'so' encloses 'AV' (a root form for 'bird'), thus confirming in Savo's name the bird-like quality expressed in the poem. Savo's 'pert' expertness consists in expanding littleness, but not by blowing up its dimensions. He grOws in a series of circular elations, as the miracle ('L . . . O') of a 'wi?ng' causes a bird to grow through space. They grow by what their motion encloses. Savo is a 'childlost'; yet like a poet recovers original impulses of living: the child, lost to most of us, is found in poet and clown. 'AV' may also allude to another of Savo's expansions, when he suddenly releases a torrent of song in 'River, Stay Away from My Door.' The trailing punctuation at the end recalls the floating particles of paper Savo can incredibly cause to flutter off from his fingers, with infinite lassitude. And of course Savo began as a juggler; a precisionist at balance" (157-58).
472.  "nor woman"
Nat Henry suggests that the poem depicts "the body of a young girl violated and left dead in a park." See Henry's "Cummings' 303 (nor woman)," The Explicator 22 (1963), item #2. Rushworth Kidder offers a less lurid interpretation: "the 'he' is a bum and the propped-up bundle is his drunken companion" (Introduction 129). However, it is more likely that this is simply a poem about a homeless man who died in the snow and cold. He himself is the "bundle." Note the subject of the next poem, "my speciality is living said" (CP 473).
474.  "The Mind's("
The poem depicts a Hollywood sound-stage. (Cummings visited Hollywood in 1935.) Lines 10-15 translate to: "And you can tell Finklestein it stinks. / You ready? All right, let's go. Action! / Camera. They're tur- / ning." See Kennedy, Dreams 363-369, Kidder, Introduction 129, and Nat Henry's "Cummings' 305.["The Mind's("] Explicator 20:6 (Feb. 1962), item 49.
484.  "you shall above all
things be glad and young."
that you should ever think —Kidder says this line echoes Peter Quince's confused recitation of the Prologue in the Pyramus and Thisbe interlude in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "That you should think, / we come not to offend / But with goodwill" (V, i, 109-110).
that way knowledge lies —echoes King Lear's "that way madness lies" (Lear III, iv, 21; Kidder 131-132).
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|50 Poems (1940)
488.  "fl // a / tt / ene"
This poem depicts coughing men standing "more o / n than in" their shadows. The doubled letters in the lines depict the men and their shadows. The men are probably homeless denizens of the Bowery.
esse = "to be" [Latin].
490.  "nobody loved this"
gentlemen poeds = W. H. Auden (1907-1973), British-American poet, and Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), British-American novelist, who arrived together in New York in January 1939. On April 6, 1939, Cummings may have attended Auden and Isherwood's reading at the League of American Writers, a group described by a biographer of Auden as "one of those left-wing organizations that were popular in the thirties" (Farnan 18). Ironically, both Auden and Isherwood were moving away from left-wing politics and towards more personal forms of belief--Anglicanism and pacifism. And though they were, as Cummings says, "thoroughly bretish," both became American citizens in 1946. Carl Van Vechten photographed Isherwood and Auden on February 6, 1939.
coeds = male and female students. In a 1941 letter to Ezra Pound, Cummings refers to William Carlos Williams as "your excoed Billy the Medico" (P/C 159).
(neck and senecktie refers to Horace, Odes, II.14:
Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,"Ah, Postumus, Postumus, how fleeting / the swift years--prayer cannot delay / the furrows of imminent old-age / nor hold off unconquerable death." As far as I know, Norman Friedman was the first to point out the reference to Horace (Art 52). For an interpretation of this poem, see Michael Webster's "'hatred bounces'" in Spring 7 (1998).
Title page of 50 Poems
(Note capital letters in Cummings' signature)
494.  "the Noster was a ship
of swank" (SP 110; see Kennedy's
note SP 108)
See Luther S. Luedtke, "Cummings' 'the Noster was a ship of swank'." The Explicator 26 (1968), item #59.
Noster = "Our" [Latin].
mine = besides an explosive device, the possessive pronoun; also, "mind."
Sum = "I am" [Latin]; also, "some" and "sum," the result of mathematical calculations.
Ergo = "Therefore" (as in philosopher René Descartes' famous maxim, "Cogito ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am").
Pater = "Father" (i.e., God the Father). Pater may also refer to English aesthete Walter Pater (1839-1894). In addition, "when joined to Noster [Pater] becomes Pater Noster, not only 'our [Walter] Pater,' 'our [literary] Father,' but also the Lord's Prayer" (Luedtke).
497.  "red-rag and pink-flag "
red-rag and pink-flag = Communists.
blackshirt and brown = Fascists.
Norman Friedman (Art 81) points out that each stanza of the poem parodies a different nursery rhyme:
Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark,Stanza 2:
The beggars are coming to town.
Some in rags,
And some in tags,
And one in a velvet gown!
Pease porridge hot,504.  "ecco a letter starting'dearest we'"
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.
song was influenced by Shakespeare's
In 1967, George Lucas, who was to become the creator of Star Wars,
made a short (6 minute) film visualization
of this poem. For some stills from the film
and a short clip, see "anyone
lived in a pretty (how) town" (University
of Southern California).
On-line criticism of "anyone" (MAPS site)
Kris Delmhorst: "Pretty How Town"
531.  "hate blows a bubble of despair into"
The second stanza was probably influenced by these lines from stanza 12 of Emerson's "The Sphinx":
Eterne alternation532.  "air,"
Now follows, now flies;
And under pain, pleasure,--
Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre
536.  "mortals)"
Cummings wrote of the acrobats depicted in this poem that they are "transformed from 'mortals' to 'im'mortals because they risked their lives to create something beautiful. Finally they disappear into the place from which they appeared;just as the last syllable '(im' of the my poem goes back to the first word 'mortals)'" (Letters 259; see also Letters 221).
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|1 x 1 [One Times One] (1944)
At right: "Self-portrait by E. E. Cummings"
(back of dust jacket to the 1944 edition of 1 x 1)
543. [III] "it's over a(see just" (SP
its hoi in its polloi "hoi polloi" = "the people" or "the inhabitants of the polis [city-state]" [Greek]. The basic meaning here appears to be that the individual, represented by the definite article hoi, disappears into the masses (polloi). The reference is somewhat complex, however, since the Greeks contrasted the people of the polis, hoi polloi, with the barbarians, hoi barbaroi. So in that sense hoi polloi may mean all the members of the political ethnocentric in-crowd. As a further irony, we might note that in Greek the definite article is forced to be plural because it modifies polloi. The hoi can only "preexist" within its own multiplicity (polloi).
545. [V] "squints a blond"
551. [XI] "mr u will not be missed"
mr u = Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977). Charles Norman quotes a contributor's note from Secession 2 (July, 1922): "E. E. Cummings. Candidate for the mayoralty of Paris, the present literary capital of America. Indorses Secession campaign against Louis Untermeyer, an anthologist best known for the omission of William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore from his Modern American Poetry." Norman notes that Untermeyer's third edition (1925) did include poems by Williams, Moore, and Cummings (179). According to Kennedy, Jean Starr Untermeyer "was more amused than offended by Cummings' little rhyme about her husband" (Dreams 405).
In his article "missing mr u (not)" [Spring 10], Philip Gerber notes that the basis for Cummings' comic poem was probably the song of the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado:
Gerber notes that an avid theatre-goer like Cummings would have had ample opportunity to see The Mikado: "in 1938 a jazz production opened on Broadway, and in 1939 audiences enjoyed a Hollywood moving-picture Mikado in which the popular crooner Kenny Baker sang the role of its wandering-minstrel hero" ("missing" 40). For another possible Cummings borrowing from Gilbert and Sullivan, see "here is little effie's head" (CP 192).Ko-Ko: As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,Here the cast joins in with its refrain of general commendation:
I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs?
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs--
They'd none of ‘em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed!Chorus: He's got 'em on the list—he's got 'em on the list;Ko-Ko's "little list" is a lengthy one. It continues:
And they'll none of 'em be missed—they'd none of 'em be missed!To all of which the cast assents. No, they'd not be missed. None of these natural enough targets, those on the remainder of the list, or even those yet to come, none of them would be missed, not even a little bit.Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And "who doesn't think she dances, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist—
I don't think she'd be missed—I'm sure she'd not be missed! (Gilbert, Librettos 10)
—And if the lady novelist, why not the great anthologist? Indeed, why not? ("missing" 44).
552. [XII] "it was a goodly co"
The company in question is the Ex-Lax corporation.
bishop budge from kew--An undated note by Cummings reads as follows:
"No man ever has suffered, or ever will suffer, from living cleanly; all arguments to the contrary are a mere pretext to cover immorality" – THE BISHOP OF LONDON [Houghton Library, Harvard University, call number bMS Am 1823.7 (23), sheet 221]
The bishop in question is Arthur Winnington-Ingram (1858-1946; Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939). The journal Social Hygiene [1.3 (Jan. 1917)], which Cummings' father the social reformer probably owned, quotes Bishop Ingram:
"There is unfortunately in England a tendency
to regard vice and licentiousness as a
necessary evil. I have heard men who lead perfectly
moral lives say they suppose these things are inevitable.
In other words, public opinion has countenanced prostitution.
Men with so-called advanced views declared that morality
and health did not go hand-in-hand. What utter nonsense! No
man ever has suffered or ever will suffer, from living cleanly;
all arguments to the contrary are merely a pretext to cover
may also be referring to a passage from James
Joyce's Ulysses that comes at the end
of Stephen's lecture on Shakespeare:
lao tsze = legendary founder of Taoism, a Chinese philosophy.
general . . . sherman = Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), famous for his devastating march to the sea in 1864. At his graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879, he is reported to have said: "War is at best barbarism . . . Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."
nipponized = "japanized" and refers to the sale of scrap metal to Japan before World War II. The el refers to an elevated train or subway line.
568. [XXVIII] "rain or hail"
sam = Sam Ward, handyman and caretaker of EEC's Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. See Margaret Foerster, "A Note on Cummings and My Family at Silver Lake," Spring 6 (1997): 22-24. Ward's letters to the Cummings family (particularly his use of the lower case "i") may have influenced EEC. Charles Norman quotes EEC: "I remember once he wrote: 'we had a Big snow' . . . He'd write 'i'—not 'I'—because 'I' wasn't important to him. Sam Ward's way is the only way. Instead of being artificial and affected, it's the conventional way that is artificial and affected" (309). Kennedy quotes part of a letter from Sam Ward on page 110 of Dreams in the Mirror. For more on Cummings at Silver Lake and Joy Farm, see Michael Webster's "Silver Lake Revisited" [EEC Society Blog (24 Aug. 2016)].
570. [XXX] "Hello is what a mirror says"
Cummings comments: "true wars are never won;since they are inward, not outward, and necessitate facing oneself" (Letters 247). EEC's other comments (in the same letter) on this poem are equally illuminating. This poem may refer to these lines in Marianne Moore's "In Distrust of Merits": "There never was a war that was / not inward; I must / fight till I have conquered in myself what / causes war, but I would not believe it. / I inwardly did nothing. / O Iscariot-like crime!" (Complete Poems 138). Both poems were written during World War II. According to Firmage (56), Cummings' "Hello is what a mirror says" (CP 570) was first published in Accent 3.4 (Summer 1943), while Marianne Moore’s "In Distrust of Merits" was first published in The Nation 156 (May 1, 1943): 636.
577. [XXXVII] "we love each other very dearly"
synbeams = a typo for "sunbeams."
In his "Dante and E. E. Cummings," Allan Metcalf contends that the line "before God wished Himself into a rose" refers to Dante, Paradiso 23.73-74: "Quivi è la rosa in che 'l verbo divino / carne si fece" ("There is the rose [Mary] in which the divine word / became flesh"). Cummings quotes a similar passage (Paradiso 33.7-9) in nonlecture five (97).
585. [XLV] "i think you like' "
Narrating a typical Cummings walk around Greenwich Village, Charles Norman writes: "Turning left on Tenth Street, and headed for Sixth Avenue . . . [Cummings] passes the florist shop on the corner where he and the proprietor, Mr. S. Psomas, have often bowed to each other among the blossoms; for flowers are a necessity to him, and he thinks his friends--and sometimes strangers who have been charming or kind--should have them, too" (Magic-Maker 4).
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Dust jacket of the first editon of XAIPE
The title: χαίρε = "chaire" = "rejoice!" or "greetings" in Greek [pronounced "chi - ra" with an aspirated "h"]. Root-word for English "charity."
605.  "we miss you,jack--tactfully
you(with one cocked"
the round / little man = Paul Rosenfeld (1890-1946), music and literary critic who wrote several articles on EEC. In his fine portrait of Rosenfeld, Edmund Wilson wrote: "his affectionate and generous nature had to spend itself mainly in the sympathy that he brought to the troubles of his friends, and in the tireless encouragement of talent" (113).
611.  "chas sing does(who"
616.  "a(ncient)a"
The drunk is visible, but gripped by the invisible Fist of Fate, smiling while Aeneas is crying, old while Aeneas is middle-aged, floating and "weigh / tless" while Aeneas is carrying the weight of the fall of Troy, his ancestral gods, and his mission to found Rome. Both, however, may be said to be "treadwatering." Aeneas is in a new city, on a new street, while the old drunk is in Conway, New Hampshire, a rural place with no art or even what one could call a street. The old man is already an ancestor, an ancient "puppet" in the grip of drink, fate, and old age, while Aeneas is a sort of puppet of the gods and the ancestors, and of the Roman imperium.
617.  "out of the mountain
of his soul comes"
aristide maillols = sculptures by Aristide Maillol, French sculptor, 1861-1944.
624.  "who sharpens every dull"
Norman Friedman notes that this poem is about a neighborhood scissors and knife grinder, a common site in New York at the time (Art 89-90). (See the New York Times article, "Bells Clanging, a Tradesman Comes Home." See also Don Freeman's sketch of a knife grinder.)
635.  "F is for foetus(a"
Many have commented that the capital letters in this poem spell "FDR," the initials of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
it's / freedom from freedom / the common man wants —a reference to Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms," first enunciated in the State of the Union address, January 6, 1941. They are: 1) freedom of speech, 2) freedom of worship, 3) freedom from want, and 4) freedom from fear. Norman Rockwell painted a popular series of posters illustrating the freedoms. Cummings may also be referring to Vice President Henry A. Wallace's famous "common man speech" (1942), whose actual title is "The Price of Free World Victory." In the speech, Wallace warned that the "demagogue is the curse of the modern world," and that in countries "where the people have had no long experience in governing themselves on the basis of their own thinking, it is easy for demagogues to arise and prostitute the mind of the common man to their own base ends."
honey swoRkey mollypants = "Honi soit qui mal y pense" [French] = "Shame to whomever thinks evil of it." The motto of the order of the Garter, also known as St. George's motto. William Harmon notes that quite a few "writers in the 1930s and 1940s played variations" on this motto. Harmon also thinks he remembers some criticism being leveled at Roosevelt for having one of one of his sons working at the White House during World War II--to which someone responded, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (71). Can anyone confirm or deny Harmon's memory? See his "Cummings' Caprice in 'F'," Spring 7 (1998): 68-72.
643.  "when your honest redskin toma"
Norman Friedman notes that the punctuation marks in this poem are meant to be pronounced out loud (Art 115).
648. "no time ago"
According to Charles Norman, Cummings wrote this poem after a late night walk in Greenwich Village. EEC recalled encountering "a little person who now is dead and who lived by begging." The "person" was Joe Gould (Norman, Magic-Maker 174-75).
655.  "(im)c-a-t(mo)"
Cummings writes that this poem "tells me in its own vivid way that an immobile cat suddenly puts on an acrobatic act:& fall-leaps,becoming drift-whirlfullyfloat-tumblish;& the wanders away,exactly as if nothing had ever happened" (Letters 268). See also Letters, p. 231. For disscussions of this poem, see: Michael Webster's "E. E. Cummings and the Reader: Technique as Critique" (1997), Milton Cohen's "Disparate Twins: Spontaneity in E. E. Cummings' Poetry and Painting," Spring 4 (1995), John Pollock's "Appreciating Cummings' '(im)c-a-t(mo)'." Spring10 (2001), Aaron Moe's "Autopoiesis and Cummings' Cat" [Rupkatha Journal 3.1 (2011)] and pages 124-125 of his Two Converging Motifs: E. E. Cummings' l!ook. See also "Drafts of '(im)c-a-t(mo)' (CP 655)" on the EEC Society Blog.
656.  "after screamgroa"
Cummings notes that this poem is about "a farmer sharpening a bush-scythe on a grindstone" (Letters 232).
"pud-dih-gud" = "pretty good."
663.  "i thank You God for most this amazing"
Link: Stephen Scotti singing his own setting of "i thank You God for most this amazing"
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|95 Poems (1958)
677.  "crazy jay blue)"
crazy jay blue = the blue jay.
678.  "spirit colossal"
Charles Norman writes that this poem is about the black-capped chickadee: "Both the chickadee and phoebe say 'phoebe,' hence the play on alter ego. But here all comparisons end, for the phoebe is gross, the chickadee crisp and bright-eyed; and 'darling' is the correct word" (Magic-Maker 322).
phoebeing alter = the other bird whose song sounds like "phoebe." (Also: a pun on "being.")
682. "maggie and millie and mollie and may"
685.  "So shy shy shy(and
688.  "in
time of daffodils(who know"
Link: The vocal group Chanticleer performing Steven Sametz's choral setting of the poem, "in time of" (from the CD Colors of Love, 1999).
Dust jacket of 95 Poems
697.  "that melancholy" (SP 133)
"paw?lee" = Polly or Paulie, name of the organ-grinder's cockatoo. See John Logan's "The Organ Grinder and the Cockatoo," Modern American Poetry: Essays in Criticism. Ed. Jerome Mazzaro (New York: David McKay, 1970), pp. 249-271.
699.  "jack's white horse(up"
jack's white horse —Possibly an illuminated advertisement for White Horse Scotch Whisky, visible at the end of West Fourth Street. Or perhaps EEC refers to theWhite Horse Tavern, 567 Hudson Street.
jack may be Peter Monro Jack, a book reviewer, friend of Cummings, and lover of whiskey. He is the subject of the sonnet-elegy "we miss you,jack—tactfully you(with one cocked" (CP 605).
706.  "ADHUC SUB JUDICE LIS"
The title quotes line 78 of Horace's Ars Poetica: "Grammatici certant et adhuc sub judice lis est" which Kidder translates: "Grammarians dispute, and the case is still before the courts" (Introduction 206).
707.  "so you're hunting for ann well i'm looking
Two parents dispute about a couple of wayward teenagers, who may possibly be Ann Hathaway and Will Shakespeare.
In line 23, for "rasberrypatch" read "raspberrypatch"
714.  "from spiralling ecstatically
When this poem appeared first in the Atlantic Monthly 198.6 (Dec. 1956), it was titled "CHRISTMAS POEM" (Firmage 62).
721. "noone and
a star stand,am to am"
millionary wherewhens distant = many light years apart. [wherewhens = "space-time units." See also "Space being(don't forget to remember)Curved" (CP 317) and "pity this busy monster,manunkind," (CP 554).]
Though this poem concerns a lone man standing "am to am" with a star, Cummings made quite a few paintings of a lone figure "worshiping" the moon. For example, compare this poem to "Man in Landscape with Moon" or "Surrealistic Landscape" (both at SUNY Brockport). The latter is similar to "blue trees."
725.  "n // ot eth"
Note also the arithmetic pattern formed by counting letters and spaces in each line. See John Logan's "The Organ Grinder and the Cockatoo," pp. 268-269.
726.  "ardensteil-henarub-izabeth)"
The first word of the poem combines Helena Rubenstein's and Elizabeth Arden’s beauty treatments with hens, henna, rubs and style (Kidder 208).
740.  "the(oo)is"
Cummings sees the eyes of a child "who is(reminds me of)myself" (Letters 268). Interested readers should consult Cummings' complete explication of this poem in the Selected Letters.
754. "now comes the good rain farmers pray for(and"
old frank = Frank Lyman, farmer in Silver Lake, New Hampshire, whose wisdom is voiced in "old mr ly" (CP 567).
rej and lena = Frank Lyman's son Reg and daughter-in-law Lena.
For more on Cummings at Silver Lake and Joy Farm, see Michael Webster's "Silver Lake Revisited" [EEC Society Blog (24 Aug. 2016)].
Link: A drawing of the Frank Lyman's house and barn: "Frank Lyman's place."
765.  "unlove's the heavenless hell and
An earlier version of this poem (said by the editors to be from the 1920s) was published in Etcetera. See "love's absence is illusion,alias time" (CP 1006).
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|73 Poems (1963)
Rushworth M. Kidder notes: "Unlike earlier volumes, the contents were not arranged by Cummings but by his bibliographer, George Firmage. 'In early December 1962,' Firmage recalls, 'Marion handed me a folder containing typescripts for 28 hitherto unpublished poems and asked me to make fair copies of these as well as any other poems I knew of that had been published but had not, as yet, been collected in one of Estlin's books. . . . I made no attempt to imitate Estlin's previously published volumes in arranging the . . . poems; I merely tried, as best I could, to find a pleasing reading order' " (219).
Charles Norman states that in April of 1963, Marion asked him "to edit the poems Cummings had been putting together before he died" (Poets 304-305). Norman suggested the title Last Poems and Marion agreed. Norman writes: "I worked on the manuscript from April 19 to April 24. It was arranged in a manner Cummings himself might have followed: three sections comprising 'Portraits,' 'Impressions,' and 'Sonnets.' Mrs. Cummings sent the manuscript to Harcourt, Brace & World" (Poets 305). However, after Marion disapproved of a new last chapter for Norman's biography of Cummings, The Magic Maker, she sent Norman a letter saying that the publisher "had found it 'too difficult' to set up" the text in Norman's arrangement, and the book appeared with its present title and format (Poets 306). According to Norman, Marion especially objected to a remark Cummings whispered to him in May, 1961 when Marion was out of the room: "All I ask is one more year" (Poets 301). (See also Kennedy, Dreams 512, note 15.)
773.  "O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening"
Link: Stephen Scotti singing his own setting of "O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening"
774.  "for any ruffian of the sky"
your kingbird = the eastern kingbird, a "large dark flycatcher" with the scientific name Tyrannus tyrannus.
790.  "nobody could / in superhuman flights"
WE-WE-WE echoes the counting-toes nursery rhyme "This little piggy":
This little piggy went to market.
Dust jacket cover of 73 Poems
796. “insu nli gh t” 
insu = unknown, without [one's] knowledge [French].
799.  "in the heavenly realms of hellas dwelt"
Cummings retells Homer's story of the affair between the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the god of war, Ares. Aphrodite's husband was Hephaistos, the lame god of fire and the forge. For Homer's version, see the Odyssey, 8.266-369. For an extensive reading of the poem as a reaction to and reworking of the classical tradition and the epic pretensions of John Milton and William Blake, see Alison Rosenblitt's E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics (231-244).
800.  " 'right here the other night something"
Charles Norman reports that this poem is a combination of three incidents that occurred to him over a span of 25 years. In the first, Norman was about to enter an apartment in Greenwich Village to survey it as a possible living place when a man in "a rustling dressing gown" began speaking to him. Thrilled when Norman mentioned that he wrote poetry, the man exclaimed, "Just think! . . . a real poet!" and knelt down and kissed the palm of Norman's hand. Norman fled.
In the second incident, Norman was approached on 9th Street by a man who asked him, not for money, but for an overcoat. Norman took off his own coat and gave it to the man. The third incident occurred "on Seventh Avenue near 13th Street" when "a well-dressed man asked me for a quarter. It was bitter cold. I said I did not have any change and handed him a dollar. He stared at me in the light of the street lamp; then tears filled his eyes, and I hurried on" (Poets 307).
803. "POEM(or ‘the divine right of majorities, that
illegitimate offspring of the divine right
of kings’ Homer Lea)"
Homer Lea (1876-1912) wrote two books, The Valor of Ignorance (1909) and The Day of the Saxon (1912), in which he expounded a social Darwinist vision of the future of the global military powers, arguing in the former book, for example, that the United States was vulnerable to a Japanese invasion of the west coast. The quote about the "divine right of majorities" comes from a section of The Valor of Ignorance that maintains that immigrants who came the United States after the Civil War would soon be a majority of the population, yet were too foreign to be "imbued with the true spirit of American institutions" and thus would lack the morality and fervor to defend "those primitive rights upon which the great but fragile edifice of this Republic was builded" (132). The full sentence reads: "Republics, governed by the divine right of majorities, that illegitimate offspring of the divine right of kings, are controlled, not by rural districts nor sparsely settled states, but by centres of population, where radiate not alone political predominance, but the moral and social tendencies of the nation" (132-133).
In his pacifist essay "The Moral Equivalent of War" (1910), William James briefly discusses Lea's theories, finding the scenario of a Japanese invasion "not unplausible," at least to a militarist mind. But James concludes that however great "Fear" may be, "it is not, as our military enthusiasts believe and try to make us believe, the only stimulus known for awakening the higher ranges of men's spiritual energy" (328).
Cummings' poem shows no awareness of the context of this quote, and so far research has turned up no evidence that EEC owned copies of Lea's book or of James' essay. (Cummings was certainly no militarist and no social Darwinist.) Most likely EEC simply saw the quote somewhere and applied it to his own individualist concerns.
816.  "Now i lay(with everywhere around)"
EEC refers to the nursery rhyme, "Now I lay me down to sleep; / I pray the Lord my soul to keep, / And if I die before I wake, / I pray the Lord my soul to take."
820.  "t,h;r:u;s,h;e:s"
Robert Wegner sees the punctuation marks in the first line as "thrushes on the branch of a tree, clustered perhaps, but at any rate spaced as separate little beings" (Poetry and Prose 44). Martin Heusser adds that the punctuation marks may also represent the "distinctively spotted breast" of the American wood thrush (258-259).
827.  "i / never"
This shape-poem depicts not the nest, but the head of a ruby-throated hummingbird, seen from above. For discussions of this poem, see Gudrun Grabher's "I paint (my poems), therefore i am: The Visibility of Language and Its Epistemological Implications for the ‘i’ in E. E. Cummings' Poetry," Etienne Terblanche's "The Osmotic Mandala: On the Nature of Boundaries in E. E. Cummings' Poetry," and Michael Webster's "Magic Iconism: Defamiliarization, Sympathetic Magic, and Visual Poetry (Apollinaire and Cummings)."
833.  "one"
Martin Heusser notes that his poem is shaped like one half of a snowflake. See I Am My Writing, pp. 247-248.
839.  "enter no(silence is the blood whose flesh"
o come,terrible anonymity--Milton Cohen suggests that "the speaker grimly welcomes deathly winter in a distinct echo of the Lutheran hymn (and Bach chorale) 'Komm, süsser Todt' ('Come, sweet death')." A partial translation of the German text is available here.
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|Etcetera (First collected in
Firmage, George James and Richard S. Kennedy, eds.
Etcetera: The Unpublished Poems of E. E. Cummings.
New York: Liveright, 1983. At left: cover of the first paperback
908. "THE PAPER PALACE" [Etcetera 4]
In line six, for "either" read "ether"
912. "FAME SPEAKS" [Etcetera 9]
In line 12, for “more” read "nor" [So the sentence reads: "The sweets / Of earth I know not,nor the pains . . ."] (See Kennedy, Dreams 76.)
913. "HELEN" [Etcetera 10]
from some sty // Leers even now—After quoting the ending of "come,gaze with me upon this dome" (CP 272) ["the son of man goes forth to war / with trumpets clap and syphilis"], Alison Rosenblitt comments: "Cummings' early Harvard poetry does not have this same sarcastic bite, but the realism about sex in warfare is already anticipated in Helen's leer" ("a twilight" 247).
925. "T.A.M. Sailed July, 1914" [Etcetera 23]
T.A.M. = "Theodore A. Miller, Cummings' Greek teacher and his closest friend during the first two years of college; the occasion was his departure on a trip to Europe" (Firmage and Kennedy 1). (See also Kennedy, Dreams 54-55.)
926. "S.F.D. In Memory of Claude o'Dreams" [Etcetera 24]
S.F.D. = friend and mentor S. Foster Damon (1893-1971). Cummings told Charles Norman: "Practically everything I know about painting and poetry came to me though Damon" (Magic-Maker 38).
Claude o'Dreams = Claude Debussy, French composer. (See Kennedy, Dreams 78-79.)
928. "S. T." ["O friend who hast attained thyself in her"] [Etcetera 26]
S. T. = friend, mentor, and patron, Scofield Thayer. The poem was sent to Thayer and Elaine Orr during their honeymoon (Kennedy 190). On September 13, 1916, Thayer wrote to Cummings: "The poem is really corking . . . and Elaine and I thank you from the bottom of our heart. It is not to have lived in vain, to have occasioned beauty" (qtd. in Kennedy 191). Thayer singled out for special praise the lines "Whose smiling is the swiftly singular / Adventure of one inadvertent star, / (With angels previously a loiterer,)." See Cummings' wedding poem for the couple, "Epithalamion" (CP 3-7). See also "conversation with my friend is particularly" (CP 96), "what is strictly fiercely and wholly dies" (CP 345), and "W. H. W., Jr. In Memory of 'A House of Pomegranates' " (CP 877). For more on Thayer's views of Cummings' poetry, see James Dempsey's The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer (65-67).
959. "chérie/ the very,picturesque,last Day"
[Etcetera 63] (SP 65-6)
Paolo —an allusion to Dante, Inferno V.74-142. Paolo fell in love with Francesca, his sister-in-law. Both were murdered by Francesca's husband, who caught them in the act.
966. "the comedian stands on a corner,the sky is"
,letergo/ Professor! = instruction given by a vaudeville or burlesque performer to the piano player or conductor, who was often called "professor." See Him, Act I, scene iv (20) as well as the end of Act II, scene xiii (74).
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
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." (See notes to
CP 234 and CP 492.)
what daisy knew = conflates two Henry James titles, Daisy Miller and What Maisie Knew. Another James title follows shortly: The Turn of the Screw.
all men kill —from the last stanza of Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol:
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
child of Homer —Pound's father
was named Homer. Of course, Cummings also
refers to the author of the Odyssey.
The opening portion of book 11 of the Odyssey
is translated in Pound's Canto I.
The Dial Cantos —According to Nicholas Joost, Pound contributed versions of Cantos 4 (June, 1920), 5, 6, and 7 (August, 1921), 8 (May, 1922), 22 (February, 1928), and part of Canto 27 (January, 1928) to The Dial (Joost 172).
Tears,idle Tears! = a reference to Tennyson's poem, but also to T. S. Eliot, since Cummings was in the habit of calling him "Tears Eliot."
the stiff dishonoured nightingales = parody of the last lines of T. S. Eliot's "Sweeney Among the Nightingales" (1919):
are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,
And sang within the bloody
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid siftings fall
To stain the stiff dishonored shroud.
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?