About Two French Verses in The Enormous Room
Thierry Gillyboeuf

[Spring 8 (2001): 67-69]

In the fourth chapter of The Enormous Room, E.E. Cummings quotes two verses in French. Those verses are extracted from a poem by the French poet, critic, and philosopher, Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915). The whole poem, called Le Verger ("The Orchard") follows:

Le Verger

Simone, allons au verger
Avec un panier d’osier.
Nous dirons à nos pommiers,
En entrant dans le verger :
Voici la saison des pommes,
Allons au verger, Simone,
Allons au verger.

Les pommiers sont pleins de guêpes,
Car les pommes sont très mûres :
Il se fait un grand murmure
Autour du vieux doux-aux-vêpes.
Les pommiers sont pleins de pommes,
Allons au verger, Simone,
Allons au verger.

Nous cueillerons la calville,
Le pigeonnet et la reinette,
Et aussi des pommes à cidre
Dont la chair est un peu doucette.
Voici la saison des pommes,
Allons au verger, Simone,
Allons au verger.

Tu auras l’odeur des pommes
Sur ta robe et sur tes mains,
Et tes cheveux seront pleins
Du parfum doux de l’automne.
Les pommiers sont pleins de pommes,             [end page 67]
Allons au verger, Simone,
Allons au verger.

Simone, tu seras mon verger
Et mon pommier de doux-aux-vêpes ;
Simone, écarte les guêpes
De ton cœur et de mon verger.
Voici la saison des pommes,
Allons au verger, Simone, 
Allons au verger.

This poem, written in 1897, was first published in 1901 in the book Simone, poème champêtre in Paris (Mercure de France editor) and then in Divertissements, Poèmes en vers in 1914 (Georges Crès editor). Remy de Gourmont was one of the most important writers and thinkers in France during the early twentieth century. Guillaume Apollinaire, André Gide, Blaise Cendrars admired him. He took part in the Symbolist movement—with Sixtine, roman de Ia vie cérébrale, he wrote a masterpiece novel of the genre. And his Litanies de la rose had a tremendous influence upon the Imagists. Poets such as Ezra Pound (who considered the French writer one of the greatest of all time), T.S. Eliot, and Richard Aldington admired him.

Cummings discovered the writings of Gourmont two years after the French writer died, in 1917, when he first went to France with his friend William Slater Brown. It was after he read Amy Lowell’s Six French Poets: Studies in Contemporary Literature, as Richard S. Kennedy explains in his Dreams in the Mirror:

They browsed among the stalls of the bouquinistes along the river, bought prints by Cézanne and Matisse, and when Brown told Cummings about Amy Lowell’s Six French Poets, which he had been reading in New York, they searched for books of poetry by Remy de Gourmont, Henri de Régnier, and Paul Fort. (140)

Such a reading had actually influenced Cummings’ writing. In his book Remy de Gourmont: His Ideas and Influence in England and in America, Glenn S. Burne in a note, wrote: [end page 68]

Regarding e.e. cummings’ Sunset (" ... chants the litanies the great bells are ringing with rose"), Laura Riding and Robert Graves observe: "The title might undergo some amplification because of a veiled literary reference in lines five and six [above] to Remy de Gourmont’s Litanies de la Rose: it might reasonably include some acknowledgement of the poet’s debt to French influence, and read "Sunset Piece: After Reading Remy de Gourmont." (A Survey of Modernist Poetry, 1928).

It would be interesting, some day, to study the real influence of Gourmont upon Cummings, and the tribute of Cummings to Gourmont. 

Works Cited: 

Burne, Glenn S. Remy de Gourmont: His Ideas and Influence in England and in America. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

Cummings, E .E. The Enormous Room. Typescript edition. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1978.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror. New York: Liveright, 1980.

[end page 69] 

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