It’s Columbus Day, when the banks and post offices are closed, and the government is shutdown (!?) in order to commemorate the anniversary of the arrival in the Americas of Christopher Columbus, who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and never copped to discovering a new land, but rather stubbornly maintained he had reached the East Indies he’d set out for, which is why he named the Indians “Indians.”
But today, I’d like to tip my hat to a man who discovered Somewhere he had never traveled gladly beyond, an epic explorer of language, that idiosyncratic navigator on the ocean of poesy – e.e. cummings. It is the 119th anniversary of his birth.
At one time, e.e. cummings was, next to Robert Frost, the most widely read poet in America. His “[in-just] spring” was the first poem I read that really suggested the possibilities of poetry to me. I think I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, and I loved the way the words were un-capitalized, run together, out of order, and arranged so unusually on the page. He has been a favorite ever since.
He wreaked havoc with the form of poetry and the structure of the sentence, he fractured spelling, ect&ect. Influence his on poets modern immense is
since he was an irreverent kind of guy, it seems only fitting confronted as we are with the absurdity of government closed for a Federal Holiday in the midst of the Republican shutdown, to present a couple of his short poems on the subject of politics:
From Collected Poems:
rity” is a cu
use among pu
nks) for pu
tting the arse
before the torse
From 1 X 1:
a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
Cummings was not passionately political, however both during and following World War I, he was an outspoken pacifist, and in the 1920’s he was among the left-leaning literati of Paris’ Left Bank. By the 1930’s he became disillusioned with anything that smacked of socialism. He offered up a stark critique of the Soviet Union (calling it “Hell”) in EIMI, his 1931 prose account of a visit there. And although he shifted to the right, he was not flag-waver. He was at heart an iconoclast, a rebel poet driven to agitate against convention. A patriot, yes, but his patriotism was as unorthodox as his poetry.
In spite of the fact that his father was a Unitarian minister, or perhaps because of it, Cummings became more the ‘spiritual but not religious’ type. He almost certainly maintained a belief in some sort of God, yet as a staunch individualist, he was wary of organized religion. I don’t know if he had any encounters with Buddhism, but here is a final poem, also from 1 X 1, that has always struck me as having a somewhat Buddhist tone:
life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose:higher than have
– but beauty is more each than living’s all
multiplied with infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)
or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete;pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing’s more than everything)
death,as men call him,ends what they call men
– but beauty is more now than dying’s when