“Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door, let’s go.”e. e. cummings
by e. e. cummings
structure,miraculous challenge, devout am
upward deep most invincible unthing
-stern sexual timelessness,outtowering
this noisy impotence of not and same
prouder than all mountains,more than all
.. … and while everywhere
beneath thee and about thyself a small
(moult beyond difficult moult)amazing doom
who standest as though has hast stood and thou shalt stand.
Nor any dusk but kneelingly believes
thy secret and each morning stoops to blend
her star with what huge merciful forms presume
In 1931, Cummings decided to travel by train from Paris to Moscow, a lengthy complicated undertaking. Upon arrival he was interrogated by a Russian customs official on the nature of his trip? Cummings reproduced the essence of that discussion in Eimi, the book he published based on that experience in 1933.
Why do you wish to go to Russia?
because I’ve never been there.
(He slumps,recovers). You are interested in economic and sociological problems?
Perhaps you are aware that there has been a change of government in recent years?
yes(I say without being able to suppress a smile).
And your sympathies are not with socialism?
may I be perfectly frank?
I know almost nothing about these important matters and care even less.
(His eyes appreciate my answer). For what do you care?
Which is writing?
What kind of writing?
chiefly verse;some prose.
Then you wish to go to Russia as a writer and painter? Is that it?
no; I wish to go as myself.
e. e. cummings, Eimi – 1933.
Cummings experience in Russia was difficult and drab, yet he found even that exhilarating in some ways. Upon arrival, Soviet officials placed him in the most expensive hotel in Moscow, possibly knowing that would be the quickest way to get rid of him or at least shake some money out of his pockets. Of course, Cummings could not afford it and so promptly checked out. He found alternative arrangements through a chance meeting of an old Harvard acquaintance., who had a friendship with a couple that were leaving Moscow. The accommodations proved to be so vile, (because of the odor from the common latrine for the building that was right outside the door of his room), it made sleep almost impossible. Cummings did what he did best, make additional friends and get by, in some ways couch surfing as best he could during his trip.
Cummings would spend five weeks in Russia, most of that time in Moscow but also some time in Odessa. He attended the theater, met with painters and writers and generally tried to absorb the social experiment of the Soviet Union at that time. But other than his time in Odessa, in which he experienced some of the best of the communist ideal, he found the conditions of the country distressing, overly censored, grimy, gray, uninspiring in both its propaganda and his surroundings. As time went on he began to have the distinct feeling that he was being followed and watched, everywhere he went. It may have been just the paranoia that he was hearing from the Russian intellectuals he was meeting with in private, but it was none the less real. In the end Cummings felt a tremendous relief when he left Russia, traveling back through Turkey and eventually back to Paris. It could be that it was exactly that aspect of dealing with adversity and at times a tangible sense of fear, and then the resulting relief when the adrenaline drops and it is over, that was the main purpose of his trip.
When he got back to Paris, Anne had already left and was back in New York City. Cummings departure for his long journey to Russia, had not coincided at a good time for Anne and its unclear whether Cummings was even aware of her circumstances, except from letters post marked after the start of his trip. Anne was pregnant with Cummings child, it was early in her first trimester. Anne did not want another child. With Cummings gone, she was left to find an abortionist in Paris on her own. Also, it was during this time that Anne found out that her father had killed himself, (the stock market crash and the start of the depression having wiped out his wealth, and his fourth wife divorcing him, the cause of his despondency). Anne sadly realizes that her back up source of financial support from her father was gone. With this as context, Anne, with the aid of a former boyfriend, takes Diana and leaves for New York City. Upon arriving she promptly sets about terminating the pregnancy.
By the time Cummings returned to the United States, things with Anne were complicated. Initially Cummings, Anne and Diana went up to Silver Creek, the farm in New Hampshire, that had been a place of happiness for both. Anne and Cumings called it Joy Farm. She had invested a considerable amount on repairs and furniture in their brief marriage, even though it was still owned by Cummings’ Mother Rebecca, with the understanding that it would pass to Cummings upon her death. Anne felt some fair bit of ownership in the property, both because of her fondness for it and the money she had spent. But that happiness didn’t last long and they soon returned to 4 Patchin Place in New York City and things went sour quickly in their marriage.
As Cummings caught up with his New York City friends, Anne would drink too much and publicly insult Cummings in front of them. Anne was verbally abusive both in public and private. Cummings wanted the marriage to work, but Anne was back to her old ways of sleeping with multiple boyfriends and Cummings was decimated by her unabashed adultery.
Anne soon ran off to Mexico with a new surgeon boyfriend, and got a Mexican divorce. He was a big brute of a man. Anne humiliated Cummings by comparing not only their difference in height but other statures as well, financial and otherwise. Cummings was at a loss as to what to do. Anne came back from Mexico demanding a return of all the furniture and additional funds for her financial investment in the farm. Cummings didn’t have it and he was not going to ask his Mother for it and flatly refused.
It was 1931 and some of Cummings sources of income had dried up. He had fallen out of favor with Vanity Fair and was scraping by. The Dial was in the process of going belly up and no longer buying Cummings’ work. He had a one person show in a gallery in New York, his first, which showcased his paintings. It got good reviews, and generated a few sales, but times were tough. He was getting by with occasional gifts from his Mother, doing odd bits of writing, while working with a new publisher, whom he had met in Paris. His new benefactor was like Scofield Thayer, in that he was a wealthy publisher and used that wealth in part to support the arts. He genuinely believed in Cummings artistic dreams and was buying and publishing some of his work on a limited basis.
The smartest thing that Cummings did at that moment in time was not panic. He had grown more savvy having gone through the ringer with Elaine, and this time, through Morie Werner, found a lawyer and got some legal advice regarding his divorce and the demands made by Anne. The lawyer said; don’t agree to anything, don’t put anything in writing with Anne, and tell her you are not agreeing to her terms. As the new wife of a prominent surgeon, Anne needed respectability in the circles she now ran. It was not clear if the Mexican divorce was legally valid in New York. So Cummings decided to play offense and filed for divorce, on the basis of adultery, in the county Anne was now residing. Anne quickly realized this was not going to turn out in her favor and disgraceful publicity was going to create problems for both her and her wealthy new husband. Anne quickly agreed to Cummings offer that in exchange for settling the divorce quietly in the United States, she would get exactly nothing. Anne relinquished all claims to any aspect of the property Silver Lake and would receive zero financial support from Cummings moving forward. The Anne Barton era in Cummings life was over.
Even though this is a poetry blog, I wanted to showcase some of Cummings paintings today. Cummings was a prolific painter his entire life. He painted on his travels, he painted in Paris, he painted at the farm, he painted in New York City. Cummings artistic and poetic experience of life was more than just words, it is an expressive imagery, that is characterized by bright colors and swirling lines.
Today’s poems are both from his 1931 book W (ViVa). An interesting title that shows Cummings positive attitude in his poetry, despite the continued challenges in his life. The first poem stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. It is one of the few poems of Cummings in which you will find a punctuating period. Take notice of it’s placement and what it portends in your mind. Look at the language throughout. Although Cummings frequently deploys religious terminology in his poetry and with common references to god (usually lower case), his biographer describes him mostly as an atheist or at least having significant doubts about the Christian version of God (uppercase). The first poem is complicated, there is lots to unpack, and it required a few readings even to generate solid impressions in my mind.
The second poem I think is building on similar themes in Cummings imagination. Pick out a color in the surf or in the ocean from the painting above or the video. Hold that color in your mind as you read the poem below. Then let yourself not think in words as you reread each poem and try on a Cummings pallet of colors instead. I am not sure I can really interpret either of these poems logically, and I am definitely sure I don’t want to. I know that Cummings is beaming something into my brain the more I read them. And I have complete trust in Cummings poetic vision, of his universe of his own creation, that where ever it is that he is taking me, whatever it is he is sharing with me, its going to be great.
when hair falls off and eyes blur And
thighs forget(when clocks whisper
and night shouts)When minds
shrivel and hearts grow brittler every
Instant(when of a morning Memory stands,
with clumsily wilted fingers
emptying youth colour and what was
into a dirtied glass)Pills of Ills
(a recipe against Laughing Virginity Death)
then dearest the
way trees are Made leaves
open Clouds take sun mountains
stand and Oceans do Not sleep matters
nothing;then(then the only hands so to speaak are
they always which creep budgingly over some
numbered face capable of a largest nonglance the
or whatever weeds feel and fish think of)