In this elegy, the speaker takes us on surreal journey through his father's seemingly awesome life. As we discuss over in "Form and Meter," the singsong rhythm of a lot of the poem gives us the feeling of marching forward with the speaker's father as he boldly deals with all the craziness of life like a champ. Cummings pulls out all the stops here, opening his poetic toolkit to sometimes smooth the ride and sometimes jolt us just when he wants us to wake up and see the scenery.
Our ears perk up right from the start of this poem. The very first line is a great example of assonance (repeated vowel sounds within words). Read them out loud and see if you can hear it: "my father moved through dooms of love" (1-2). You heard it, right? We've got the "ooh" sound in "moved," "through," and "dooms." The speaker uses this "my father moved through" thing throughout the poem. The repetition of this assonance-laden phrase helps move us smoothly through the poem, giving the whole thing a sense of momentum and helping to bind the pieces together sonically (while also making us think of cows—moooooo).
The poem is also chock full of alliteration (repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words). One good example is "drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates" (11). You probably didn't even have to say that one out loud to hear the repeated S sounds in "sleeping," "selves," and "swarm." In a bit of consonance, notice how the line also ends with an S sound with "fates." (This Cummings guy sure is sneaky.) Another great example of alliteration is "maggoty minus and dumb death" (63). Notice how the repeated consonant sound hammers home the dark and graphic imagery of the lines.
These techniques pop up throughout the poem, if you turn an attentive ear. In each case, the sounds of the poem bind the ideas together and add a punch to the content that catches our attention. Hear what we're saying? (Yeah… sorry about that one.)
Like a ton of other poets, Cummings never gave his poems titles, so editors just use the first line as the title of each poem. But "my father moved through dooms of love" totally works as a title, since the poem is an elegy for the speaker's dad. The first line-title announces the subject of the poem (the father), the focus on that subject (how he "moved" through life), and the celebratory nature of the poem to come ("through dooms of love"). If we had to pick one line to stand as the title for this poem, we don't think we could have done much better than numero uno here.
"my father moved through dooms of love" doesn't have a specific setting, but if we had to dream one up, it would probably be a funeral. We imagine the speaker standing by his father's grave as the coffin is being lowered into the ground. There are lots of images in the poem that remind us of graves. Lines like "newly as from unburied which" (9) and "as earth will downward climb" (2) give us a sense of a gravesite.
It would make sense for this elegy to be the eulogy at the father's service. Some might imagine the speaker proclaiming it to a sniffling crowd, hiding in their tissues. But the sentiments are so intimate and the style is so stream of consciousness that we imagine it as being all in the speaker's head. The speaker's head, in fact, may be the most identifiable setting for this poem. These are the splintered thoughts racing through his mind, and we get to trace their paths as he imagines all the seasons of his father's life, and with his father's soul as it soars into the great big whatever that lies beyond the dark of the grave.
It's widely known that Cummings wrote this poem as an elegy to his father, Edward Cummings, who died in a car accident. But it's hardly ever a good idea to think of the author as the speaker in a poem, since authors like to embellish and push past themselves even when writing about very personal subjects. So, we're just going to assume that our speaker is some unnamed son who's grieving for his dad.
So what do we know about this guy? Well, one thing is obvious: he really has a lot of respect for his father. He makes his father seem like the absolute man in this poem, claiming that his dad inspired people wherever he went, was bursting with generosity, and made a point of challenging conformity throughout his life. The fact that the speaker thought these things made his dad cool tells us that he thinks these things are cool too. We're guessing that our speaker was a guy who "lived his soul" just the way that his father did (67).
You probably ought to dress warmly before you set out for a hike through these "dooms of love" (1.1). Cummings's avant garde techniques, especially his weird syntax, definitely make you have to read some of these lines a couple times before you get it. It's totally worth the trip, though. In the end, the poem is a beautiful ode to a father who's died. Ultimately, it's about something simple and poignant, which makes it a piece that anybody can understand.
Most people know Cummings as the guy who got really creative with capitalization. If you see a poem that's almost all in lower case, chances are you're looking at something by our buddy E.E., or you're looking at somebody who's coppin' off his style. The poem "my father moved through dooms of love" is definitely a good example of this, with almost the entire thing being free from the tyranny of forced capitalization. When Cummings does choose to capitalize something, the dude really means it, and whatever he's talking about has an emphasis that it just wouldn't otherwise. For example, when the speaker describes his Father as "Scorning the Pomp of must and shall," we can feel the father's contempt in a very real way (33).
Cummings is also famous for his funky syntax. He had tons of fun warping words into his own weird world. He said "whatevs" to typical logic and made up a logic all of his own, which reinvented what words can do. Some cool examples from this poem are when he transforms the months of September and October from nouns to adjectives with a flick of his magic... um... typewriter. We read cool stuff like "septembering arms" (37) and "octobering flame" (41), and suddenly the qualities of these autumnal months are used to describe something else. And we're like, "Aw, man, we didn't know words could do that." In a Cummings poem, however, anything is possible. Just check out "in Just-" or "[i carry your heart with me (i carry it in]" for more examples.
Cummings has all kinds of fun with form and meter in "my father moved through dooms of love." He never quite commits to one thing or another, but put together it makes for a very interesting whole.
At a glance, the poem looks pretty tame structurally. You've got seventeen stanzas with four lines each, making them quatrains. Cummings must've been really into multiples of four, because almost all of the lines in the poem have eight syllables. In fact, a whole bunch of the lines actually follow a straight up regular meter that's dependent on fours. It's got a fancy name and everything: iambic tetrameter.
Like its more popular cousin iambic pentameter, iambic tetrameter is a series of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. An iamb is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one (it sounds like daDUM). "Tetra" means "four," and "meter" refers to a regular rhythmic pattern. So "iambic tetrameter" is a kind of rhythmic pattern that consists of four iambs per line. Check it out:
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give (1-2)
Feel the rhythm? It's kind of like a heartbeat (daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM), and it really helps us move into the poem.
Of course, Cummings doesn't always stick with this singsong rhythm. In fact, he switches back and forth pretty frequently to emphasize the various words. For example:
scorning the pomp of must and shall (33)
See how he punches the first word of the line? It's a great poetic technique for when you want to hammer a word home for the reader. We guess this Cummings guy knew what he was doing or something.
What's more, not all of the lines in the poem follow this pattern of eight syllables per line, or iambic tetrameter at all. In fact, the third line of the first stanza veers off on its own:
singing each morning out of each night (3)
So, though Cummings adds an extra syllable and changes up his rhythm, his choice really makes "singing," "each morning," and "each night" pop. In fact, the whole line probably stands out more because of the changes.
There's actually only one other line with nine syllables in the whole poem:
singing each new leaf out of each tree (50)
Notice that the lines show a bit of parallelism here and echo each other's structure. Here again, Cummings changes up the rhythm to emphasize the things he wants to hit. The dude might be a mad scientist, but there definitely seems to be logic behind his experiments.
There's definitely tons of rhyming in this poem, but a rhyme scheme? Not so much. At first, Cummings fools us into thinking there's going to be a regular pattern, with a combination of slant rhymes (words that almost rhyme) and perfect ones. Check it out (the letter at the end of each line represents the end rhyme):
my father moved through dooms of love A
through sames of am through haves of give, A(ish)
singing each morning out of each night B
my father moved through depths of height B
this motionless forgetful where C
turned at his glance to shining here; C(ish)
that if(so timid air is firm) D
under his eyes would stir and squirm D (1-8)
Cummings makes us think the whole poem is going to follow the scheme, with the first two lines of the quatrain being connected by slant rhymes and the last two lines being perfectly rhyming couplets. This is not the case, however, as the next stanza shows:
newly as from unburied which E
floats the first who,his april touch E(ish)
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates F
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots F(ish)(9-12)
After this point, it's a rhyming free-for-all, with slant rhymes and perfect rhyming couplets being used throughout. So, why does Cummings choose to do this? Hey, with a poem about a great man struggling to do right in a very complex and unpredictable world, it just might feel reductive to make the language too predictable and simple. The variations of the rhyme scheme really help to reinforce the complicated content of a speaker conducting his father's life-in-review.
Oh, the seasons—those shifting annual weather patterns that all you Californians have forgotten about. Being an east-coaster, Cummings saw plenty of seasons come and go and seemed to be totally obsessed with them. A bunch of his poems make use of them as symbols, with spring being one of his faves. In "my father moved through dooms of love," the speaker seems to use the seasons to symbolically track the stages of his father's life, from the youth of spring to the death of winter.
To hear the speaker tell it, his father just couldn't stop singing. His singing also apparently gave him amazing super-powers, with which he could control the very forces of nature. (Wow, he should've been in The Avengers or something.)
Okay, okay, we're guessing the speaker doesn't want us to take the way he talks about his father's singing literally. Instead, he uses it as a way to describe his father's joy for life and the way that the father had the ability to inspire others.
This poem is an elegy, meaning it's written in honor of someone who's died. So, it's no shocker that it includes some imagery that reminds us of funerals. The piece never gets too on-the-nose with this stuff, but it's cleverly woven into several stanzas. There's a good amount of imagery that relates directly with death. too. Check of our "Theme: Death" section for more on these good times.
There's no sex in this poem at all, though some might find the talk about death to be a little scary (definitely not sexy, though).