i am a little church (no great cathedral)

E. E. Cummings (1894 – 1962)

the great advantage of being alive

(instead of undying)is not so much

that mind no more can disprove than prove

what heart may find and soul may touch….

e. e. cummings, 66 XIAPE (1951).

i am a little church (no great cathedral)

by e. e. cummings

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

It feels a shame to wrap the final 12 years of Cummings life up in one post.  But like most of us, Cummings had settled into such a routine that the remaining years were in some ways unremarkable other than for their consistency.   I think it is hard to look at Cummings today, revered and successfully published and understand that throughout his entire lifetime, his publishers made nothing or next to nothing.  Cummings book XIAPE in 1950 added to the list of publishers who saw the promise, but not the rewards. It contained two very controversial poems, one seen as racist and one was widely criticized as antisemitic.   His editors had strongly objected and warned him not to go forward with either.  But Cummings was blinded from how his work was interpreted by others, by his almost childish views on the world.   He stubbornly moved forward with his vision of the book and it cost him.   Long time literary friends left him, critics attacked him and publishers turned their backs.  Like is usually the case the bad poems reflected more than the good. 

Fortunately, a multitude of windfalls began to be set in motion to keep Marion and Cummings financially in the black.  His mother’s estate had left him around $7,500, his Aunt Jane’s several years later, $17,000, the Poetry Foundation gave him the honor of a fellowship and with it $5000.   Unbeknownst to him, and before all the controversy around XIAPE, a good friend of his had submitted his nomination for a Guggenheim on his behalf and it was granted in 1950.  Cummings realized he could make more money doing poetry readings and lectures in the 1950’s than he could from publishing his poetry, and so began a series of lectures, at Harvard and elsewhere around the country that paid well enough.   He was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1957 and with it his demand, and fee, for speaking increased. His painting had always provided a modest source of income.  That along with some other financial grants, and friends largess, some coming just in the nick of time, kept Marion and Cummings afloat.

In his private life, Nancy embraced Estlin lovingly in her heart, although their time together was more infrequent.  Nancy’s first marriage ended and she met the love of her life, Kevin Andrews, a kind of real life Indiana Jones, a Harvard educated, globe trotting archaeologist, academic and writer, with which she would have two more children.  As their lives took them around the world, the opportunities for Estlin and Nancy to see each other declined.  And although their letters and correspondence remained positive and loving, they only saw each other face to face a few more times in the remaining years of his life.

Cummings would publish one final book during his lifetime, 95 Poems, in 1958.  It contains one of the greatest love poems ever written, a testament to the incredible relationship between Estlin and Marion.  Though there were aspects of their relationship that could be interpreted as co-dependent to outsiders, there is no question that they loved each other deeply and were completely committed.  The poem of course is the following, a sonnet no less, in Cummings unique style:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

by e. e. cummings

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)
There is nothing more that needs to be said about Cummings as a man, as a partner, as an artist, in my opinion.  
January has gone by much to quick, mostly with the help of Cummings.   Cummings has grown on me throughout the month and even with my rose colored glasses on I have to admit I have learned some lessons spending a month with him.
  • Persevere, believe in yourself and your art no matter how it is received.   
  • Be original.  Be yourself, even if its painful and clunky, for a long, long time, even for a lifetime.  Originality wins over brilliance in the end, because the basis of what is considered brilliant changes with time, but originality is always original and genuine. 
  • Feed your passions.  Love your family, as best you can.  Stand by your friends.  
  • Worry less about making money and worry more about making art.  Somehow things tend to work out. 
  • A life measured by art alone, can be a pretty lonely life.  

The last 12 years of Cummings life distill the dichotomy of who Cummings was as a man and as an artist.  Some January’s I have written a poem in honor of the retrospective with the poet as muse, having spent so much time with them.   That didn’t happen this year, mostly because I can’t figure what I would say that Cummings hasn’t said better already.  I think the biggest tribute I provided was I made Cummings fun again, for a month, for not only myself, but also for lots of you who joined me on this journey. 

Cummings died from excessively embracing life,  having smoked too much, drank too much.   I don’t think it was his goal to grow old at Silver Lake, like Frost at his farm.   Cummings didn’t leave much left in the tank.  He died of a brain bleed after chopping wood at the farm.  He was 67.  Marion was devastated and never fully recovered dying just a handful of years later. 

It may feel odd that I selected two spiritual poems on this final post.  Cummings had returned to his religious roots late in life.  After his Freudian long time therapist passed in  the early 1950’s, he turned to Jung, and with it his little g – god, became a big G – God once again.  Each of us manages our own relationship with the unknown and the universe.  Cummings seemed at peace with his place in it when he died. God Bless you Edward Estlin Cummings.  Thank you for the poetry you sent out into it this incredible world we all inhabit. 


by e. e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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