Study Guide

my father moved through dooms of love Form and Meter

By E. E. Cummings

Form and Meter

Iambic Tetrameter (Kinda Sorta)

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.

Fun with the Rule of Four

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.

Fun, Breaking the Rule of Four

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.

To Rhyme, or Not to Rhyme?

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.

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