“The doom lies in yourself, not in your name.”J. R. R. Tolkien
in spite of everything…
which breathes and moves,since Doom
(with white longest hands
neatening each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
through the morning)kiss
where our heads lived and were
One of the things I really enjoy about the January retrospective is the opportunity to focus over 30 days on a single poet. Each year, I buy the collected edition of the author in November, along with some older used copies of single volumes of their poems and a biography (or biographies) as well. Although the actual poems are generally identical, there are interesting tidbits in the liner notes, introductions, etc that give background on the individual volumes that sometimes isn’t included in the collected works edition. And then, I sit down and I read them, try to read it all the way through once, some of it twice or three times. The entire kit and caboodle. This isn’t the way I normally read poetry. I generally read a couple of poems by an author, and read and re-read the same ones I like many times before I include it in a blog entry. But in January, I speed read the entire body of work and it creates a different perspective in my mind.
Have you ever done this? Read every word published by a poet? If not, try it sometime. One of the things that happens is that you start to see certain words pop up with greater frequency when you try and read all the poems a poet published. Cummings word frequency list includes the words; yes, this, how, where, love, what, star, universe and world off the top of my head. But, this December and January, the word that seeped from my unconscious to conscious mind in reading Cummings entire body of work is the word – doom. It’s an odd word to come rushing through. It made me sit back on my heals. Why was Cummings so focused on the word “doom”. Is that my current psyche or his that is bringing out to the front? I admit the current state of the world with the pandemic it may be all about me. But, Cummings liked the word. It shows up again and again. Several things come to my mind, is it a function of the impact of WWI and WWII on his psyche? Is it the impact of striving for decades as an artist and getting little financial support and even less street credibility in the ivory halls of literature? It is a really weird word to pop up as much as it does in Cummings vocabulary.
Another writer that had an influence on me as a young man is J. R. R. Tolkien. Today The Hobbit and the entire trilogy have been so meticulously created in digital splendor by Peter Jackson’s movies, that it is almost embarrassing to admit that it is his novels that I am referring. As a teenager, I read, and then re-read Tolkien’s four novels multiple times. Doom plays a major role in Tolkien’s imagination. He and Cummings are using the word in the old English sense – a meaning akin to law and fate. But just the sound of the word, its meaning goes back much further. In an Anglo-Saxon settlement there was a Ring of Doom, a place where judgement was handed down to wrong doers. The chief or community leader would discuss weighty matters with his Thains (nobles), before handing down sentences. Doom was not just a sense of undoing or ending, it was the thoughtful execution of justice among members of a community that were largely family. Doom was what was intended based on the group morality of the community, not something haphazard or unfortunate, or evil.
I am not sure, but in that context it is an odd word for Cummings to use again and again and again. The question is why? Find a poet in the past 20 years that uses the word doom in any poem. I challenge you. And yet for Cummings it was so top of mind it shows up over and over again. Doom…. Look back on the poems I have shared this month and you will find the word doom multiple times. What an odd word for a man whose philosophy was much more based on Yes and Love. Is it possible that in Cummings poetic world that Yes and Love are our doom? I sure hope so. Try giving Cummings the benefit of the doubt that his doom is both our undoing, and our salvation. Cummings wanted each of us to turn the rules on its head, inverse the meanings. . And with Cummings I embrace his Yes and use its miraculous nature as my secret decoder ring to interpret everything he created. You can decide. I might be naive. But my embrace of Yes is way more fun than someone else’s judgement of No. Doom might yet be our salvation.