my father moved through dooms of love Summary
In this beautiful elegy, the speaker takes us through his father's life in all its seasons. We don't use the word "seasons" lightly either; the speaker spends a boatload of time talking about spring, summer, fall, and winter—with an extra dose of spring. Throughout the poem, we hear all about how the speaker's father was incredibly generous, fought conformity, and inspired all those around him to be the best that they can be. (Trust us: it sounds way less cliché when the speaker says it all poetically.)
Though the poem definitely doesn't shy away from the difficulties of life, it has a pretty inspirational feel. It gets a little dark when the speaker seems to be describing his father's soul leaving behind the evils of the world. In the end, however, the speaker wraps it up with the positive idea that his father's life was awesome because he lived it as hard as he could. And even better, he lived for love, which is the only thing that really matters after all.
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
- Are you ready for this? Buckle up; it's going to be weird ride.
- The speaker starts off talking about his father in the past tense, so we're going to assume that daddy is dead (our condolences).
- The fact that this poem is addressing someone or something that's no longer in the world of the living makes it an elegy.
- So, what's up with this "dooms of love" that Father is moving through. Isn't love supposed to be happy?
- Nope, not all the time, and the speaker seems to be telling us that his father lived a life in which he dealt with the pain that love brings, as well as the joy.
- In the next line, we get some patented crazy Cummings syntax.
- Notice that Cummings turns "same," which is usually an adjective, into a noun, and he turns "am," "have," and "give" into nouns, too.
- There are probably other ways to think about it, but "sames of am" makes us think of the mediocrity that society can sometimes cause individuals to sink into—everyone has the same, boring life, or "am."
- Could the speaker be saying that his father fought against this in his life?
- The phrase "haves of give" reminds us of all the necessary sacrifices that any parent has to make.
- We also notice that these first lines actually have a specific meter, which isn't always a regular thing for our buddy E. E.
- It's a meter called iambic tetrameter, and (spoiler alert!) a lot of the poem follows something close to this rhythm. We break it down for you in detail "Form and Meter."
- It's all also worth pointing out that these first two lines end with slant rhymes: "have" and "give." See how they don't rhyme exactly, but sort of sound the same?
- Cummings uses this all through the poem too, so we won't point it out every time. For more on this technique, check out "Sound Check."
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height
- Now, here's a cool turn of phrase. It's as if the father somehow takes the substance that night is made of and turns it into morning through song. (Too bad he didn't record that one. Billboard Top Ten—guaranteed.)
- Could this be the speaker's way of saying that his father found ways to find hope in despair?
- It would kind of go along with the "dooms of love" thing, right (1)?
- The speaker puts a cap on the stanza by bringing the phrase he opened his elegy with, and plunking down a little paradox to boot.
- How can "depths" have "height?" That's kind of weird thing to say, right?
- Oh well, life is weird sometimes (have you been to a bus station lately?), and the speaker seems to be saying that his father dealt with it like a champ.
- The statement kind of reminds us of how we can all feel small, even when we're at the top of our game.
- We also notice that we've got a rhyming couplet with these last two lines: "night" and "height."
- While a lot of the poem uses slant lines, you'll see some exact rhymes like this one along the way too.
- You'll find more on this in "Form and Meter."
this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
- Ah, more cryptic syntax. Thanks, E.E.
- Here we get the adjectives "motionless" and "forgetful" to describe the word "where," and then "shining" to describe "here."
- The speaker may be getting across the idea in a weird way, but it seems like what he's getting at is a pretty familiar. He's saying that his father really made the most of each moment. He brought things to life wherever he went.
- How did we come up with this?
- Well, "motionless" kind of reminds us of something that's dead or at least sedentary.
- And then you've got "forgetful," which makes us think of something that's just not with it.
- Then those words are used to describe "where," which makes us think of somewhere distant, or at least a vague place.
- So, we've got some vague place that doesn't move and just isn't with it. In the next line, though, we're told that all the father has to do is look at terrible "where," and turn it into a "shining here."
- It's bright. It's alive. It's present.
- Get it?
- The idea actually totally reminds us of that singing-morning-from-night business in the first stanza.
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm
- The speaker continues that same figurative thought from the previous two lines and confirms our suspicions about the meaning of this stanza.
- The father can look at air that is "firm," which reminds us of the motionless thing before, and with only a glance he can make it "stir and squirm."
- "It's alive!" says Dr. Frankenstein... and the speaker's father, apparently.
- This is a guy that brings life and an excitement for living wherever he goes.
newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
- Okay, this one gets the award for weirdest so far. To understand it, we have to kind of zoom out first to get a general feeling of what the words bring to our minds.
- We notice the word "unburied," which manages to make us think of someone who's alive, while still bringing up the image of a grave. Then we have the idea that Father's "april touch" is affecting someone.
- It seems like we're back to similar ideas from the previous stanzas about the speaker's father living life to the fullest. But now it seems like he's helping others do the same.
- The phrase "april touch" especially makes us think of this, because we imagine the hand of spring touching the ground and making new flowers sprout.
- The seasons—and spring in particular—are a big deal in a lot Cummings poems, so we wonder if that's going to be true of this one.
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots
- Now, the speaker continues this idea of his father inspiring others.
- The phrase "sleeping selves" makes us think of people who don't know who they want to be yet.
- When the speaker describes them "swarm[ing] their fates," we imagine these sleepy people seizing their lives for the first time.
- In the next line, the speaker now seems to be talking about the "sleeping selves" again, but now calls them "dreamers."
- He continues the idea of his father inspiring them to live their life by saying that he "woke" them. What's interesting, though, is that he "woke" them to "their ghostly roots," which immediately makes us think of death again.
- If the speaker's father was in the business of making people feel alive, why was he going around reminding them of death?
- Could it be that the speaker is saying that his father reminded people of their spirituality? Or maybe he's saying that his father inspired people to really live before they died.
- Let's read on…
and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
- Now we hear about how the father was not only good at inspiring people, but was good at comforting people as well.
- Interestingly, the woman who's weeping in these lines is described as a "why."
- Here again, we see Cummings using words in unique ways. Describing a person as a "why" makes us think of a person who has a lot of questions. Maybe her questions are so deep and troubling that they define who she is.
- Never fear, Ms. Why, the speaker's father is here to bring you comfort and let you sleep for a while.
- Notice how in the previous stanza father woke people up, but now we learn he knocked people out (in a good way) when it was needed as well.
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.
- In these lines, it seems like Ms. Why is crying because she feels so small.
- Maybe her questions about the universe make her feel unimportant or meaningless sometimes. It seems like some of the comfort that the father brings comes from the fact that he's in touch with the bigger picture somehow.
- Anybody who can "feel the mountains grow" has got to be hip to something pretty awesome, right?
Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
- Whoa, check it out: we've got our first capital letter of the poem so far, which really lifts the word "Lifting" from the poem and emphasizes the idea.
- We also dive into some more nature imagery here when the speaker talks about his father "Lifting the valleys of the sea." (We guess the father wasn't that concerned with saving the whales.)
- This image brings us back to the idea of the father raising the spirits of those around him.
- It also seems to be playing with the mountain imagery from the previous stanza.
- In the next line, Cummings echoes his first stanza by bringing back the whole "moved through" thing. This time, however, the father is moving through "griefs of joy," which sounds very similar to "dooms of love" to us.
- The speaker could be saying that his dad dealt with happiness, sadness, and everything in between.
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin
- The speaker is once again aligning his father with something that's high in the air.
- Before he was listening to mountains and raising sea valleys, now he's praising the moon. (Maybe his father was a werewolf?)
- It's interesting that he describes the moon as a "forehead." Is it possible that the speaker is equating the moon with human thought with this description? Get it? "Forehead" = the brain that lurks behind it (that's called metonymy in the poetry biz).
- Maybe the speaker is saying that his father was always pushing himself intellectually.
- With the last line of the stanza, we hear more about the father's singing. (Man, this guy really ought to get on The Voice or something.)
- This time, instead of singing morning out of night, he's singing "desire into begin."
- It sort of sounds we're going back to that whole thing about inspiring people here.
- The father shows people how to stop wanting to do something, and he helps them to get started already.
joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
- Man, the father is still singing. We're cool with it, though, because it sounds like this song is pretty amazing. For one, it's full of joy.
- How do we know? Because Cummings uses a little repetition and says it twice.
- We're also told that it's so joyful and bright that even somebody whose heart was already a star could see where they were going at night by the light of the father's song.
- This image is drawing on the days when sailors used the stars to get where they were going.
- Notice how we went from talking about the moon in the last stanza to talking about the stars here. It looks like we're going higher and higher, along with the speaker's father.
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice
- We hear more about how awesome the song is. Once again we're told it's pure, which we interpret to mean that the speaker's father had nothing but good intentions.
- The repetition of the word "now" hammers home the idea of the father really living in the moment and helping others to do the same.
- The phrase "wrists of twilight" makes us think of bands of stars running across the sky, which continues the star imagery of the stanza.
- The father is so awesome that even the stars are celebrating him. Go, Dad.
keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
- Remember when we were wondering if the seasons would come back? Well, it looks like they have with mention of midsummer.
- Notice that the word "sun" is used.
- In all, the words seem to bring about the idea that we're in the prime of the father's life.
- Get it? If spring = beginning of life, then summer = the prime of adulthood.
- It seems like the speaker is saying that his father's mind was really sharp, since he uses the word "keen" twice.
- There's a play on words here, too, because keening is also a word for an Irish funeral song or a wailing sound.
- So, once again the specter of death haunts the father—even at the prime of his life.
- But whatever, his father's "conceiving mind of sun" is still rocking out.
- The fierce intellectualism that we heard associated with the moon is now connected with the blazing of the sun.
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream
- When we see the word "strictly," it makes us think that the father tenaciously pursued his goals.
- The phrase "(over utmost him / so hugely)" gives us the idea that maybe the father's dreams loomed largely over him because they were so big. But despite all this, the father soldiered on.
- Also notice the weird line break here, where Cummings breaks up the words in parentheses.
- It does a cool thing with the meaning of the line because you can associate it with the rest of the phrase in the parentheses, "over utmost him," but you can also connect it with "stood my father's dream.
- Overall, it brings to our minds the image of a giant dream-thing, looming in the horizon for the father.
his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
- This stanza kicks off with a little parallelism with the way the words "flesh" and "blood" are repeated similarly.
- At first we look at this line and we're like, "Well, we hope his flesh and blood were his. It would be gross if he stole somebody else's."
- But then we read on, and the speaker starts talking about "hungry men" wanting the father to have food. So, it could be that with all this flesh and blood talk, the speaker is saying that his dad was really human—you know, like he was a humane guy.
- He was so generous and good that even people who were starving wanted to make sure he got his three square meals.
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.
- The idea of how generous the father was continues through the end of the stanza.
- He was so awesome that people would crawl up a hill just to see him smile. That's pretty intense.
- Sheesh, we hope the father would help them back down the hill or something.
Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
- The speaker seems to be saying that his father looked down on ceremony for ceremony's sake. Or maybe he wasn't into traditions that people just did because they were traditional.
- We get this from the first line here. "Pomp" means ceremony, so if it's the ceremony of "must" and "shall," it could be the pomp of things that have to be done only because people say they have to.
- Notice that Cummings makes words into nouns that aren't normally, like "must" and shall," which makes their inherent meanings more powerful.
- And, oh wow, we've got some more capitalized words here: "Scorning" and "Pomp." The capitalization of these words makes them pop for the reader.
- It's like we can feel the father's scathing glance at these pompous ceremonies and pompous people who insist on them.
- With the second line, Cummings again brings back the "moves through" thing and even adds "dooms" again from the first stanza. This time it's "dooms of feel" instead of love, but it reminds us of the first line a lot.
- Feel could = love, right? At least, if we think about it as referencing feelings it could.
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain
- Cummings has fun with a popular saying here: "right as rain," which means that everything's alright. He saves it from cliché, though, by using in to describe the father's anger.
- The way the phrase is used makes us think of the father's anger at all that "Pomp" as being totally right on.
- We get a bit more parallelism in the second line, echoing the structure of the first, but making a much more obscure statement.
We get that he's contrasting the anger of the father with the pity, but why is it "green as grain"? Is he saying that it was good and wholesome like fresh grain?
- Or did he just want something that rhymed with rain, making a rhyming couplet?
It's not entirely clear, but we're guessing that E.E. had a definite meaning in mind.
- Oh, before we move on, don't miss the alliteration here, with the repeated R sounds in the first line and Gr sounds in the second. Check out "Sound Check" for more on this.
septembering arms of year extend
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend
- It looks like that seasons thing is coming back again with the word "septembering."
- The month, of course, makes us think of fall, September being the first month of autumn. So, we're going to say that the speaker's father is now in the later years of his life, getting ever closer to death (a.k.a winter).
- We're sure you noticed also that September, which is usually a noun, is turned into an adjective describing "arms." This makes us think of the aging of the father's body.
- Still, even though the speaker's father is aging, he's an all-around awesome guy, who gives generously to people he's cool with and people he's not so cool with.
- He's just that nice, like a real-life Ned Flanders.
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is
- These lines take us back to the idea that the father really helped wake people up to being alive.
- Notice how the poem turns "is," which is usually a verb, into a noun. "Is" is a "to be" verb, so it kind of makes us think of existence itself. So the father is giving people a giant batch of life itself. (Dude, we want some.)
- He gives this to people who are smart enough to know what it is, and he even tries to give it to people who are too dumb to see it.
- It's just the right thing to do.
proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
- Oh, snap, we've got another month of the fall mutated to Cummings's liking: "octobering."
- Just like with the month of September in the last stanza, the poem mutates October into an adjective. But what does all this gobbledygook mean?
- Well, the bad news is that we think the speaker's father is approaching death. October is later in the year than September, so we're getting closer and closer to the dead time of winter.
- The speaker's father isn't a baby about it though. He walks "proudly," and the "octobering flame" of his later years draws him closer.
- The last part, "as earth will downward climb," reminds us again of the grave, and seems to play off of this whole high-low thing we've been hearing about.
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark
- Yeah, it definitely looks like dear old dad is getting closer to death. The phrase "immortal work" makes us think of the afterlife.
- It's like the speaker is saying that his father is ready for the work he'll do in Heaven. We wonder why he's "naked" for it.
- Could it be some reference to the idea that we come into the world naked as babies and, in a way, return to that state when we die?
- Or could it mean that the father has stripped all the pretenses of life away and is ready to meet his maker?
- Whatever it is, he marches bravely toward it.
- Line 44 presents a great image that really helps us feel the fearlessness of the father.
- The phrase "his shoulders marched" makes us envision the father marching toward death, a.k.a. "the dark," almost like a soldier. He's determined and unafraid.
his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
- Well, it looks like the speaker's father isn't totally happy about dying (can't blame him there).
- Here, "his sorrow" is described as being "true as bread." This is kind of a weird line—no surprise—but to us it brings up the idea that the father's personal grief over dying was honest and pure, like bread.
- It actually reminds us of "his pity was as green as grain" from line 36. (Huh, we guess the speaker really respected various carbohydrates.)
- The next line counters the idea of the father's bready truthiness with the fact that "no liar looked him in the head."
- Could it be that the father's pure sorrow over his death turned him into a human lie detector? We've heard people say that you can arrive at a certain kind of clarity as you approach death. Maybe this line is echoing the sentiment that he's "so naked" (43).
- As the father marches toward death, he's stripped of all pretensions, and he can see through everybody else's too.
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.
- Dude, this father is seriously tough.
- The speaker claims that if every one of his friends stabbed him in the back, he'd just laugh at them. Not only would he laugh, he'd go play in the snow. (Take that, foes.)
- Well, this "build a world with snow" thing is probably a little deeper than that. For one, it brings back the seasons thing. It's snowing, so we must be in winter, right? Death is very near.
- Notice, too, that the father isn't just out there building snow dinosaurs or whatever. He's making a whole "world."
- Not only that, but he's building it out of snow, a thing which can represent death. This guy doesn't just laugh in the face of death; he creates new things with its substance. It's kind of like the amazing singing-morning-out-of-night ability we heard about back in line 3.
My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
- Even at death's door, the speaker's father is still moving and singing. This time, he's moving "through theys of we."
- To us, this could be a way of expressing the distance that inevitably grows between the dying and those around them. "They" sounds a lot less personal than "we," right?
- So it's kind of like "we," the speaker and the other people close to his father, are gradually becoming "theys," people that are more distant.
- Despite all that, the father is still singing, and creating life all around him by making the trees bud.
- Again, we see him bringing life out of death with song, like with morning out of night thing.
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)
- The father might be old, but children can still see the youth in him.
- It says a lot that the young can sense the youth that still lives in the older man. In fact, he's so vital that spring itself dances when he sings. (Now that's pretty vital.)
- Also, we're sure you noticed that another mention of a season just popped up. We've gone through spring, summer, fall, winter, and now, with the father at death's door, we're at spring again.
- It reminds us that the speaker's father lived his life as hard as he could right up until that last second.
then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
- In a poem that has been generally positive, we suddenly get a swirl of dark images.
- We've got dudes who kill people because they're selfish, and then images of "blood and flesh" becoming "mud and mire."
- You could interpret these two lines as being about the wars of the world, some of which blow up when one country marches into another country and is like "Give us your stuff."
- This muddy, bloody, fleshy thing definitely reminds us of bodies piling up in the muck of a battlefield.
- Why is the speaker bringing this up now, though? Could it be that he's trying to get across the idea that his father is leaving the evils of the world behind?
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold
- It looks like we're hearing more about the evils of the world here.
- "Scheming" isn't a very nice thing to do, but lots of people do it to get what they want. What's worse is these guys are scheming for "imagine,passion," which we take to mean desires that aren't even real.
- Notice how Cummings takes the space out after the comma, making one of his patented squished words. The effect kind of blends the meanings of both words in our minds.
- So, it's a passion, but it's imagined, so it's not real. See?
- Man, what a stupid thing to scheme and backstab for.
- Next, we hear about "freedom" being "a drug that's bought and sold." Could this be some kind of comment on America?
- The idea of personal freedom is an essential part of American identity. Of course, our economic system of capitalism goes right along with that, and some accuse that system of being unfair, because the rich inevitably control it. These people say that the idea of personal freedom is just a sham used to control the lower classes, and it's sold through various clever marketing schemes.
- At the time Cummings wrote the poem, there was a ton of debate between leftists who were more into communist ideas and right wing people who were more staunchly capitalist.
- Whatever the case, the father is moving beyond all this debate; he's leaving the contentious world behind.
giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
- Yeah, this chunk is a little obscure, but we're going to go with the idea that we're hearing more about the bad stuff of the world.
- So, these lines could be saying that the generous spirit of giving has turned into stealing and kindness has turned into cruelty.
- Hearts are filled with fear, and they fill the mind with doubts.
- Ugh, we're getting depressed.
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am
- These last two lines seem to be about one of Cummings's favorites topics: the dangers of conformity.
- The "disease of same" seems to be getting at the idea that everybody trying to be alike is some kind of awful plague. Those who "differ" are all being infected.
- We think the image of the "pinnacle of am" is just the jam—what a great way to describe the power of the individual.
- Cummings is having fun with "to be" verbs again, and has his speaker use "am" to embody the self.
- So, if it's a "pinnacle of am," it's kind of putting the power of the individual on a pedestal.
- Unfortunately, these lines seem to be saying that this "disease of same" is out to "conform" this tower of individualism and make it like everything else.
though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
- Well, we guess it's good that everybody's tasting "bright."
- Oh, wait, the line seems to be saying that we're actually dull, and only taste bright. Tasting better is than nothing, we guess.
- Notice that the poem is playing with the senses here. You can't actually taste something that's bright, right? Right. But we kind of get the idea.
- Line 61 continues with the taste thing, saying that things that are sweet are tasting bitter.
- Is it us, or is this poem getting dark?
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath
- Mmm… "maggoty": one of the grossest adjectives ever? We think so.
- Here, we get a lot of intense death imagery. "Maggoty," of course, makes us think the little squirmy baby flies that feed on the bodies of all dead animals, including humans if they get half a chance.
- The word "minus" here is also a way of talking about death. Death is a taking away of something, right?
- So, put "maggoty minus" together, and you get a really intense image of the dark realities of death.
- The phrase "dumb death" could be using the old school version of the word "dumb," meaning a person who can't talk. When you're dead you can't talk (natch'), so you're dumb.
- Oh, and don't miss the alliteration here. You've got the repeated M sounds and then D's. Check out "Sound Check" for more.
- In the last line of the stanza, the speaker seems to be pointing out the fact that all humans are bound to die. It's just part of being human.
- We "inherit' our mortality from our parents, and we "bequeath" it to our children. The squished word, "inherit,all" highlights this idea that mortality is something that we all share.
and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
- This first line seems to be getting at the idea that the world is full of lies by implying that the truth is a small thing.
- The next bit seems just as much of a downer, saying that the only reason humanity even exists is to hate.
- Speaker, dude—you're bumming us out. We hope the end of this poem brightens up a bit.
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all
- Oh, sweet. Well, this is nicer.
- The speaker sums up the point of the poem in these last lines. By saying that his "Father lived his soul," he seems to mean that his dad really lived the dickens out of his life.
- The "dooms of love" (1), the "griefs of joy" (18)—this guy dealt with it all, and the whole time he struggled to fight the nasty "disease of same" (59).
- Ultimately, the speaker tells us that "love is the whole and more than all," which we take to mean that love is the thing that binds us all together.
- Since it's this awesome binding force uniting everything, it's got to be bigger than all of us, right?