No doubt about it, E. E. Cummings was a rebel. Even before he made his name as a poet, he was rubbing authority figures the wrong way. One famous story happened during World War I when Cummings was volunteering as an ambulance driver in France. Cummings got annoyed with all the rules and started sending coded messages back home just to see if anybody would notice. They noticed, alright, and Cummings got locked up in an internment camp under suspicion that he might be a traitor and a spy. Hardcore, right? He actually wrote a novel about the whole experience called The Enormous Room.
Cummings's wartime rabble rousing was nothing compared to what he was soon to unleash on the literary world, though. See, our rebel-poet was also a painter and became really inspired by Modernist art movements like Surrealism and Cubism, which exploded the rules of traditional painting. Cummings didn't see any reason why poetry couldn't recreate itself just as radically as the world of art was doing at the time. So, he brewed up a signature style—also inspired by Modernist poets like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound—that thumbed its nose at traditional rules of poetry and took the form into new dimensions. Of course, you can't expect to go around breaking a bunch of rules without ticking some people off. Some critics accused Cummings of being weird for weird's sake, while others seemed to think that he just had no idea how to write a "real" poem.
With "my father moved through dooms of love," first published in 50 Poems (1940), Cummings pulls from his favorite grab bag of stylistic eccentricities. You've got crazy uses of punctuation, capitalization, syntax, and spacing—all that good stuff. Though it has a bunch of Cummings's trademark rebellions, this is one of those poems that most every critic is down with. Even Cummings's detractors are like, "Okay, that one's pretty good." It's widely known that Cummings wrote the poem in honor of his father, Edward Cummings, who was killed when a train slammed into his car. Edward Cummings was a Harvard professor and later a Unitarian minister, who preached a Transcendental version of Christianity. Some have theorized that the shock of his father's sudden death pushed Cummings's poetry into new and more sophisticated realms. We don't know if that's true or not, but there's no doubt that this is one of most beautiful expressions of a son's love for his dad ever written… ever.
Death. It's a depressing word. Just look at it: "Death." Ugh. Just... ugh.
Still, ugh or not, death is something that we all have to deal with. The chances are high you know somebody who's died, even if it was your pet goldfish. Sooner or later every living thing's life will end. But just because death is inevitable doesn't mean we have to go around moping about for our whole lives.
If this poem is any indication, E. E. Cummings would tell you that the most important thing is to live your life and live it on your own terms. The poet wrote it not long after his father died, but instead of moping about how horrible death is for the whole poem, the speaker holds up his father's brave life as an example of how to live. So the poem is not only good for people who are wrestling with the idea of death, it's also inspirational for people who are looking for ways to rock out the life they're living. And hey, who isn't looking to rock out their life, right?
E. E. Cummings Society
Take a tour of the website of this group dedicated to Cummings and all his awesomeness.
The great Cummings bio that this link takes you to is only the tip of the iceberg for this site, which is packed with awesome information on poets and their poems.
Jack Palance on E.E. Cummings
Yes, you read that right. This is a bit too awesome for words.
This is a pretty cool visual interpretation of another of Cummings's poems.
Some dude who likes to post recordings of himself reading poems on YouTube does it here. We kid, but he's good.
Dig this version of the poem, with musical accompaniment.
The Man Himself
Here's a picture of our poet.
Yeah, he was an artist too. This is what he thought he looked like.
Lookin' Good, E. E.
We asked him if we could borrow this outfit, but he said no.
Cummings Interviews Himself
Not only is this "interview" a riot, it's also a good look into Cummings's opinions about the ways that, in the end, poetry, art and life are all really the same thing.
Cummings: Rebel with a Cause
Check out this great biographical article on Cummings from Harvard Magazine.
Make sure to check out the collection that the poem was originally published in. (Man, couldn't Cummings have come up with a more creative title?)
Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967)
Star Wars fans, take note! George Lucas once directed a movie based upon a Cummings poem.