Tom: A Ballet (1935)

Tom is a ballet scenario based on Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Published by Arrow Editions in 1935, the book consists of Cummings' "synopsis" (pp. 7-9) and his description of the four episodes of the ballet (pp. 10-37). The frontispiece is by Ben Shahn. Though David Diamond wrote the music for it, the ballet remained unperformed until high school student Michelle Skiba choreographed and directed a performance in May 2015. Richard S. Kennedy tells the story of the ballet's inception, scoring, and non-performance in chapter 15 of Dreams in the Mirror. The ballet has been re-published in Three Plays and A Ballet (ed. George J. Firmage, New York: October House, 1967) and more recently in The Theatre of E. E. Cummings (ed. George J. Firmage, New York: Liveright, 2013).

In the "News, Notes, Correspondence" section of Spring 11 (2002), we published the dust jacket blurb from the first publication of Tom:

[John T.] Ordeman sent us the following: "Tom, the book Cummings wrote for a ballet based on Uncle Tom's Cabin, which has never been produced, was published in 1935 in an edition of 1500 copies. As the paper of the dust wrapper has become brittle with age, the book is rarely seen with its wrapper. Few people have, therefore, had an opportunity to read the interesting text printed on the inner flap of the wrapper, a text which, if not written by Cummings, was certainly used with his knowledge and approval. This is that text":

By E. E. Cummings
This latest work of Cummings will be welcomed, by admirers of The Enormous Room, as a transcendental commentary on Jean le Nègre. Whoever is irritated by poetry will be irritated anew. Anyone who reads HIM will appreciate this second (and equally original) contribution to theater; anyone who saw the play will eagerly await this ballet’s production. The starting point of EIMI immediately suggests Tom: in each case, a humanitarian idée fixe serves as the springboard for a plunge into actuality. Here, again, a poet speaks; here again, a partial and cowardly epoch is fearlessly and completely challenged. Vividly (as the spectacle of man's imperfection becomes the drama of man's salvation through imperfection) we are reminded of two lines from No Thanks
"this mind made war
being generous"

Bibliography, Discography


1. A Tom Performance:

"Excerpts from the world premiere of E. E. Cummings' Tom: A Ballet. Directed and staged by Michelle Skiba. Presented on May 1, 2015 at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago." See also: "Senior Michelle Skiba Brings a Forgotten Ballet to Life."

2. David Diamond: Tom Suite / Symphony No. 8 / This Sacred Ground | Seattle Symphony Orchestra
[℗ 2004 Naxos. Released on: 2004-04-05]

1. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Fanfare: 

2. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Prelude to Episode I:  

3. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Introduction and Dance of the Benevolent Master & Mistress:  

4. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Eliza's Supplication:  

5. Suite from the Ballet Tom: The Mortgage:  

6. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Dance of the Slavetraders and Human Bloodhounds:  

7. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Dance of Thankfulness for Freedom:  

8. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Dance of New England and New Orleans:  

9. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Entrance of Eva:  

10. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Tom's Dance of Revelation through the Eternal Word: 

11. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Music Accompanying Eva's Departure and Ascent into Heaven Accompanied by Angels:  

12. Suite from the Ballet Tom: Choral Spiritual – Conclusion:  

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