e. e. cummings and the Critics

e. e. cummings and the Critics

e. e. cummings and the Critics

e. e. cummings and the Critics

Excerpt

Forty years ago E.E. Cummings began to go his own literary way. Today, twenty-nine books later, it is impossible for any critic of contemporary American literature to ignore or belittle his presence. Like it or not, he is an established fact--ineluctable and unique.

With the publication of Poems 1923-1954, Cummings reached a halting place where he might look back over the road traveled. Critical reviews of this volume, which were of necessity evaluations of the poet's sum of work, struck several attitudes: some reviews were buoyantly enthusiastic while others, politely praising, were freighted with reservations. Such mixed response may be thought a curious compliment to be paid to a literary figure for his lifetime of effort. Yet the very diversity of this critical reception, its bots and its colds, is of a piece with the commentary which has been skeined around Cummings. That Cummings today can excite as much disagreement as he did in the 1920's is a sincere tribute to his essential vitality.

Unruly and unyielding, Cummings has from the beginning resisted hyphenation with the corps of twentieth-century poets who focused their artistic sensibility upon the metaphysicals and the French symbolists. Their poetry, lean and spare, striated with intellectual muscularity, has been tagged "difficult" and "obscure." Indifferent to the poetic disposition of his time, Cummings ventured back to the poetry of full-blown emotion--that, especially, of the Elizabethan lyricists and of the nineteenth-century romantics--and began to write poems of lush and sometimes overripe sensuality. This is the youthful period when Hymen is celebrated with all his vivid troupe. "All in green went my love riding" and "Puella Mea," "fashioned very curiously/ of roses and of ivory" are the unashamed offspring of a young man's lyric involvement with love. As such, Cummings' first book of poems in 1923, Tulips and Chimneys, won the approval of Harriet Monroe , then editor of Poetry, who derived from the poet's naked exuberance that "He is as agile and outrageous as a faun, and as full of delight over the beauties and monstrosities of this brilliant and grimy old planet."

But in her opinion the outrageous faun deserved sharp rebuke as well. Harriet Monroe found some of Cummings' poetic manner extremely irritating, and she was quick to define her exasperation. "An eccentric system of typography" she called it. A later review of Tulips and Chimneys called it "the puzzle of his punctuation." For with skittish disregard for the practiced niceties of language, Cummings had initiated a poetic technique . . .

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