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You might know E.E. Cummings as the guy who never capitalized any of his poetry, but that's only the beginning of the story. Cummings once described himself as "small eye poet"—pun intended (get it, "eye" and "I"?). He tried to capture the minutest details of the world's sounds and people's most intimate emotions. And he revealed these emotions by playing with just about everything that could be played with in poetic sounds and forms.
Edward Estings Cummings was born the son of a Harvard professor, but he grew up to be one of the most playful, nonconformist poets to be writing at the turn of the century. Tulips & Chimneys, the first complete book of poems that Cummings published, came out in 1923 with a series of poems that included "all in green went my love riding."
Like "all in green," many of the poems play with meter, form, line, sound, rhyme—and pretty much everything else that you could think of. Although Cummings often wrote about love (and didn't shy away from the sentimental stuff), "all in green went my love riding" is one of his most famous poems. The combination of imagistic language, alliterative word choice, and repetition builds to create a poem that creates a surprising metaphoric language for love as a grand chase.
Like many great experimenters, Cummings didn't often get the respect that his innovation might have merited. He was writing on the heels of (and occasionally alongside) some seriously great Modernist poets like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. And where they were writing about war and death and destruction—like, say Eliot's The Waste Land—Cummings was writing about children at the seashore and romantic myths of love (as he does in "all in green").
It's easy to see why people might not have taken him super-seriously. Despite the innovations of "all in green," however, it's far from Cummings' most experimental poem. Instead, it builds on traditional mythic imagery and a traditional balladic structure (both of which we'll explain in lots of detail later on). Still, with this poem Cummings manages to turn the very traditional into the surprising and delightful.
We here at Shmoop think that the formal innovation that Cummings brings to the poetic community is lighthearted, but also incredibly inventive. Sure, he might have had problems finding a publisher for his later works, but he also gave the world poetry that delights kids and poetry professors alike. And in the case of "all in green," who else could take the dusty stuff of old English syntax and hunting—two things that are, let's face it, rather yawn-worthy—and turn them into a surprise-filled, action-packed game of high-stakes chase and swoony romance? Just E.E.—that's who.
Have you ever been sucker-punched by love? You know, when you're walking down the street and all of a sudden, bam? There they are—your One True Love, and you feel like you've been hit right between the eyes. It's just like in The Princess Bride: once you're love, that's it. You're done for.
Well, that's exactly the feeling that motivating E.E. Cummings to write this poem. Sure, it seems to be all about hounds and hunting and everything that you've only heard about on stuffy British period dramas, but at its center it is a poem about falling in love—about feeling like you've been hit by something moving faster than you can possibly catch. Cummings' poem stalks its subject the way a hunter stalks prey—with one catch. As it turns out, the subject matter is the speaker's own heart.
Besides, Cummings manages to craft a playful, inventive, extended metaphor that manages to make even the most devastating of hits from Cupid's arrow sound like an adventure in an Arthurian legend. What's not to like?
All About Cummings
The Academy of American Poets is a go-to place for information about any poet, including Cummings. Check out their page on him here.
Check out this blow-by-blow account of how Cummings's name should appear (capitalized, thank you very much) in a website that includes evidence and letters!
Cummings and Computers = BFF's
Just for fun, check out this "interview" of E.E. Cummings, in which html uses Cummings's poetry to create a "conversation."
Cummings's Descendants: Visual Poetics
Cummings's meticulous spacing of words on the page often looked as much like art as it did a poem. Remember those 8-syllable lines broken into two 4-syllable lines? He was participating in (and some say founding) a school of visual poetics. Check out other examples here.
Unfortunately, no tape of Cummings reading "All in green" exists, but here's a recording of "anyone lived in a pretty how town," a later poem.
Lawrence. Fishburne. Recites. Cummings.
We're so excited that we're jumping. Here's Fishburne on a late show… and he's reciting poetry!
Joan Baez Sings Cummings
The queen of sixties folk music loved Cummings so much that she put his poem to verse.
And if Baez is too hippie for you….
Check out the William and Mary's college choir singing the same song.
Love and Poetry! Poetry and Love!
Who doesn't love to learn about love? Check out this audio recording for some all-time romantic hits (poetry-wise, of course), featuring E.E. Cummings himself.
Bjork Digs Cummings (Really)
The Icelandic music genius has been the coolest of the cool (or the weirdest of the weird) for the last decade or so. And she has plenty of things to say about Cummings:
Cummings was a Cool Cat
Check out his 1950s swagger (complete, of course, with an artist's cigarette).
The Pensive Poet
As an elder statesman of the poetic world, it's probably fitting that he looks so thoughtful here.
Diana, Goddess of the Hunt
Huntresses and deer and arrows? That sounds an awful lot like the makings of our poem. Here's a Roman statue depicting the goddess herself.
Sick of academic lectures? So was Cummings. That's why he delivered six "nonlectures" at his alma mater, Harvard, in 1953.
Poets on Poets
Billy Collins (former Poet Laureate) writes about William Carlos Williams discussing Cummings. It's a poetry party.
Want to know all the dirt on Cummings's three wives, his imprisonment as a conscientious resistor, or how he came up with the idea to never capitalize anything? Shmoopsters, look no further. This biography is for you.
The Inside Scoop on Analysis
The cranky grandfather of English literary criticism, Harold Bloom, wrote a whole book on Cummings. You can check it out here.
Cummings, the Grandfather of Star Wars
Before there was Star Wars, there was… E.E. Cummings? Yup, you got it. Long before Luke Skywalker was a glimmer in George Lucas's eye, the director made a video short of Cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town."
Love Poems, Hollywood-Style
In Her Shoes features three major leading ladies (Toni Collette, Shirley Maclaine, and Cameron Diaz) and some poetry from Cummings. What's not to love?