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Biography of E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings

Poems by E.E. Cummings

The Dial (January 1920) The Dial (May 1920)
  • into the strenuous briefness
  • O sweet spontaneous. There is always spring.
  • but the other
  • in Just-. The celebration of spring.
  • spring omnipotent goddess Thou

E.E. Cummings (Edward Estlin) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 14, 1894 to Edward and Rebeca Haswell Clarke. Cummings' father was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University before becoming a Unitarian minister. Cummings was raised in a liberal family, allowing him to write poetry at the age of 10. His only sibling, Elizabeth, was born six years after he was.

Cummings attended Cambridge Latin High School, where he published early stories and poems in the Cambridge Review, the school newspaper.

After working for a mail-order publishing company, Cummings' volunteered to serve for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance group in France in 1917 as a driver. While there, Cummings' and a friend were imprisoned for three months suspicion of espionage in a French detention camp (which is recounted in his novel, The Enormous Room).

Cummings' later went back to Paris to study art at the end of WWI. After his return to New York in 1924, Cummings' found himself a celebrity. Although showing clear resemblance to Amy Lowell and Gertrude Stein, Cummings' The Enormous Room and Tulips and Chimneys were seen as an original way of describing senses.

In 1926, Cummings' father was killed in a car accident. Although severely injured, Cummings' mother survived. Cummings' detailed the accident in Richard S. Kennedy's biography, Dreams in the Mirror:

"... a locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing – dazed but erect – beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head. One of her hands (the younger added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to discover why it was wet. These men took my sixty-six year old mother by the arms and tried to lead her toward a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father's body, and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then) she let them lead her away."

After the accident, Cummings began focusing on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He began by paying homage to his father in the poem my father moved through dooms of love.

Cummings was born into a Unitarian family, which influenced his poetry and artwork. His journals are filled with religious references as well as prayers. He prayed for strength and relief of spirit in times of depression.

In his work, Cummings experimented with form, punctuation, spelling and syntax to create a new means of expression. Later in his career, Cummings was criticized for not furthering his method. Nevertheless, the critics never outweighed the supporters, especially amongst young persons. At the time of Cummings' death, he was the most widely read poet in the United States, after Robert Frost.

Cummings died on September 3, 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire after having a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 67. He is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.

ee cummings on poetry
...so far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality...poetry is being, not doing. If you wish to follow, even at a distance, the poet's calling (and here, as always, I speak from my own totally biased and entirely personal point of view) you've got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasurable house of being...Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can ever be you. There's the artist's responsibility; and the most awful responsibility on earth. If you can take it, take it--and be. If you can't, cheer up and go about other people's business; and do (or undo) till you drop.