Today is the birthday of writer-poet e. e. cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings). Cummings, like so many who have had wide influence, had a lifetime of experiences before he turned 30. After graduating from Harvard (majoring in classics), he worked for a mail-order bookseller, quit after a few weeks and volunteered to serve in the ambulance corps in France during World War I. In 1917, he and his co-worker (William Slater Brown) wrote anti-war letters professing sympathy for the Germans. Some say they did this as much to irritate the censors as to express their views. The French censors intercepted the letters and were not impressed. They imprisoned Cummings and Brown and they were held on suspicion of espionage for more than three months (this became the basis for Cummings’ novel, The Enormous Room published in 1922).
Most know only of Cummings’ poetry, but he was accomplished in a number of fields. In the 1920s He published four collections of poetry, got a job as a traveling correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine and became a successful artist (in fact, he displayed his paintings in New York showrooms up to the 1950s). Since his evenings were free, he spent them writing. His body of work consists of approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings.
His father, Edward, was his great role model. In 1900 Edward left a professorial post at Harvard to become pastor of the South Congregational Church of Boston. In 1926, Edward was killed when his car was struck by a locomotive. Cummings wrote in homage of his father:
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height
He described his father as “the handsomest man I ever saw. Big was my father and strong with lightblue skies for eyes.”
As far as writing his name in lower case, there is no indication that he preferred it that way — it may have been intended simply as a gesture of humility rather than a preference since he wrote his name both with and without capitals.
Cummings was (apparently) no Christian, though he often expressed Christian and biblical perspectives. Like so many others, he was “Christ-haunted” if not “Christ-owned.” Here are a few quotes which give some insight into the man:
“At least the Pilgrim Fathers used to shoot Indians: the Pilgrim Children merely punch time clocks.”
“Knowledge is a polite word for dead but not buried imagination.”
“The earth laughs in flowers.”
“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
Amen. Happy birthday, e e.
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