“You are my sun, my moon, and all of my stars.”e. e. cummings
by e. e. cummings
love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
Beauty is not attracted to the beast as a rule, beauty begets beauty. Is that the reason we remember most the beautiful people of the period when we ourselves were the most beautiful? I couldn’t name one superstar model of the past 20 years, but I can name at least 5 off the top of my head from the 1980s; Cindy Crawford, Iman, Brooke Shields, Christie Brinkley, Faye Dunaway, Susan Surandon, etc. I name drop these superstars, because in 1932, the top model of the day in New York City was Marion Morehouse. No model was more sought after for fashion house coture, or fashion photography than Morehouse. She may have been the original superstar model, without the financial rewards of today, but she set the standard by which all other models were judged from then on.
Morehouse was taller than Cummings, with graceful lines of her face, neck, arms, hands and legs. Cummings was instantly smitten when he met her through mutual friends who had given him some assistance during his negotiations with the divorce from Anne. In the summer of 1932, Marion was living on Long Island, while Cummings was digging out of the emotional basement again at 4 Patchin Place. Cummings did not have a telephone, so their budding romance is documented in letters and cards and drawings that they sent back and forth to each other.
Marion was 12 years Cummings junior, born in Indiana out of wedlock, her parents having gotten married, divorced and remarried during her childhood. She had a sister, Lillian, nearly equally as beautiful. Marion was unlike any woman that Cummings had been in a relationship before; hard working, self sufficient, dedicated, competent in her own affairs, and not particularly impressed with Cummings Harvard education, which she found at times a bit too much. But she was completely charmed by his poetic vision of the world. Cummings pursued her singularly, completely in love with her from the very beginning.
And so its fitting, in successful relationships to keep it simple and skip to the end of the story. Cummings and Marion wrapped their hearts around each other and never let go. Although I find no reference that they formally married, Estlin within months of their meeting, would introduce her as his wife everywhere they went and would continue to do so for all their years they were together up until his death in 1962. The two of them were contented domestic partners for the next 30 years. Marion was the perfect partner for Estlin; lover, muse, housekeeper, cook, model, travel companion, gardener, secretary, hostess and accountant, leaving Cummings the mental free space and the time to paint, to write, to breathe. Marion continued to work early in their relationship. She quickly joined Cummings in his modest studio at 4 Patchin Place and would remain by his side where ever he went, trips to Paris, travels in Europe, summers at Silver Lake, time spent in New York City from there forward. They each had found their true love.
Rebecca, Cummings mother, was overjoyed that her son was so happy after the tumultuous previous 10 years. Now in her 70’s, she moved to New York City to be closer to Estlin, volunteering at a Traveler’s aid station in Grand Central Station. Marion and Rebecca formed a deep emotional bond, which had to be satisfying for all three of them. Rebecca was terribly proud of her son and was pleased that a woman finally loved him as much as she did.
The boost of energy that comes with stability and emotional security improved Cummings confidence. He had been encouraged by several friends to apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship as a means for financial support and also recognition. His application was accepted and in fall of 1932 Cummings received notice that he would receive a Guggenheim grant for the next year, but at half the normal amount because of the depression. Still, $1500 in 1933, was a considerable sum and combined with some financial assistance from his Mother, he had the resources to go to Paris, where the standard of living was even lower than New York. And so only months after they met, Estlin and Marion departed for France.
Lots of things happened while in Paris, Estlin continued to work on his manuscript about his experience in Russia, which was in some ways is a complicated reworking of Dante’s Inferno, linguistically ambitious, lengthy and doomed to be a dismal commercial bomb because of its overly academic literary styling. Though a tough read, even for the most dedicated Cummings fan, it would eventually be published in 1933 and the process of working on it kept Cummings writing and confident.
Marion had been in the theater in New York, as well as a model, and she was completely taken by Paris life. The two of them took in shows, met with fellow poets and painters and generally had a marvelous time. Estlin took Marion on a long trip throughout Europe, even going across the straight of Gibraltar to North Africa, into Tunisia, and then back through Italy to France. Estlin wrote and painted along the way. Marion found all of it compelling and invigorating. Cummings and Marion would live abroad for a good portion of 1933.
Something else happened while he was in Paris during this period. Estlin and Marion bumped into Elaine and her Irish husband, by chance, at a cafe. The meeting was cordial, but Cummings was thrilled to make Elaine a tiny bit jealous of the incredible beauty on his arm. Elaine followed up that chance encounter with a series of notes and requests. She was pregnant with her new husband’s future son, he was running for a prestigious elected office, and the societal expectations of Catholic Ireland demanded a Cathedral wedding between the two. For that to occur, both of Elaine’s prior marriages had to be annulled and it needed to happen fast. Scofield was only too happy to oblige, but Estlin saw a moment of leverage to get back what he still wanted, the right to be involved in Nancy’s life. Estlin dug in and only agreed to meet with the requisite Priest to sign the annulment papers, if he could get first in writing, a signed statement from both Elaine and her husband with the promise that he and Marion were welcome to visit Nancy anytime they came to Ireland. It was not legally binding, but it was a tangible agreement based on honor, the very thing Elaine was wanting as well. Elaine had placed Nancy in a series of boarding schools in recent years, with scant news of her ever available to Cummings and his Mother. None the less, it felt like a long over due victory for Cummings, though in the end not much changed, other than Elaine confirmed that the packages, gifts and letters that Estlin and his Mother sent each year to Nancy, and would continue to send, were in fact given to her, though she had no idea why these nice friends of her Mother were so generous.
This period into 1934 and 1935, although establishing the happy foundation of Cummings personal life, did not improve his finances nor his professional success. His publisher, Covici-Friede, had sold less than 10 copies of the 1391 printings of the edition of Eimi the previous year, all 1391 of which Cummings had been required to sign with ink and pen. In the previous 12 years he had published 5 volumes of poetry, countless articles, a screenplay, 2 books and a smattering of commercial writing, yet despite this impressive body of work, he got 14 rejections for his current manuscript. which he eventually titled No Thanks. When he finally found a publisher, he dedicated it to the 14 publishers who had declined it, by name and in the order they had rejected the manuscript. Cummings was undeterred.
In reading through No Thanks, it is strangely stern in nature, given how settled his personal life had become. It lacks the tender love poems that one would almost expect, given how much in love he was with Marion. It wildly bounces from his version of sonnets, many of which are slightly pugilistic in nature, to experimental dissections that go to great lengths to place words, or parts of words in a highly schematic nature on the page, using them almost to create diagrams as much as poems. It was a major flop.
Our two poems today come from this volume of poetry. There is a surprisingly few poems in No Thanks that reflect on Marion as his muse overtly. In several of the biographies about Cummings, there is mention that Cummings consciously realized he had maybe intertwined his poetic vision of his artistic life a bit too closely with his personal life and in doing so undermined his previous failed relationships. Cummings right from the start with Marion, is a bit more protective of her, still sharing privately his artistic life and world with her, but preferring to keep an element of privacy of their intimacy in his art, thereby giving their relationship time to mature, so that it could withstand the rigors that making that type of poetry public in the future.
Many of Cummings most iconic love poems will be written in the next 30 years with Marion at his side. But only one of them in my opinion is included in this volume and it is my favorite short poem of Cummings. I read it at my Mother’s funeral, because Cummings distilled the essence of my Mother’s outlook on love, in love is a place. Cummings lived in a Yes world and invited all of his readers to join him. Yes is a powerful place to inhabit, in our minds, in our bodies, in our relationships. For all of the confusion that Cummings creates in some of his poems, there is a clarity in this poem, that combines his personal style with the content perfectly.
The poem below after many careful readings, I don’t believe is about Marion. I can’t interpret its context. I included it because its is another example of Cummings talking about this concept of us being our most beautiful yes. I liked the poem on the basis of that one line alone, setting my imagination free, to wonder, will anyone ever bestow on me so great a compliment?
by e. e. cummings
ecco a letter starting “dearest we”
unsigned remarkably brief but covering
one complete miracle of nearest far
“I cordially invite me to become
noone except yourselves rsvp”
she cannot read or write,la moon. Employs
a very crazily how clownlike that
this quickly ghost scribbling from there to where
-name unless i’m mistaken chauvesouris—
whose grammar is atrocious:but so what
princess selene doesn’t know a thing
who’s much too busy being her beautiful yes.
The place is now
… … let us accept
… … (the time
forever,and you’ll wear your silver shoes