e.e. cummings (on love and funky sonnets)

Poetry is where you find it, I’ve heard, but this “found poem” is one I was wonderfully predisposed to be warmly attracted to at first sight. It came from a member of my own family, a family not generally known for its poetic enthusiasms, a member with no previous convictions about verse that I knew of. In a way yet unexplained — and I’m thinking that I very well may not want to know whence it came to her — life brought her a piece of cummings. Her routinely warm and generous heart sent it to me as a birthday tribute to my wife, the same impulse that led me to murder a Paul Simon song for the glory of love.

I do love Mr. Cummings, and while I don’t (not yet, anyway) consider this among his best or my favourites, that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty darned marvellous. He was 26 when he wrote “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)”; he generally didn’t title things, so they’re called by their first lines. Here ’tis: 

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

 Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)
wrote this as a classic sonnet. Really, it is. His punctuation is funky, but with purpose. His rhymes are often slanted, near-rhymes, so that while his rhythms are very musical, they don’t sound “too sing-songy” because of this aural stealth. So-called Shakespearean sonnets — here, the writer gets nerdy, but don’t be afraid! — have three 4-line stanzas that rhyme ABAB, as do these: in/where/done/fear; want, true, meant, you; knows, bud, grows, hide. They conclude with a

A sketched self-portrait from 1920, the same year as this poem was made.

rhyming couplet (apart, heart), for a total of 14. (You passed!) It is not accidental that “i fear” gets a line of its own, though I’m not sure why he does that. Though he writes on a familiar, even hackneyed subject, it is fresh and feels new; no “love/dove”, “together/weather”, “fire/desire” rhymes, EE B PRAISED! So now, class, please read the poem again. Aloud is best. (Don’t pause at the end of lines unless the words tell you to.) Class dismissed. (Does any teacher actually say that?)

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