love’s a universe beyond obey

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, across from which E. E. Cummings grew up

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)….

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

e. e. cummings (Excerpt from my father moved through dooms of love), written after Edward Cummings death in an automobile accident in 1926.

nothing false and possible is love

by e. e. cummings

Nothing false and possible is love
(who’s imagined, therefore is limitless)
love’s to giving as to keeping’s give;
as yes is to if, love is to yes

must’s a schoolroom in the month of may:
life’s the deathboard where all now turns when
(love’s a universe beyond obey
or command,reality or un-)

proudly depths above why’s first because
(faith’s last doubt and humbly heights below)
kneeling, we-true lovers-pray that us
will ourselves continue to outgrow

all whose mosts if you have known and i’ve
only we our least begin to guess


Edward Estlin Cummings was destined to be a poet. He was conceived and grew up in a house across the street from where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had lived, poetry part of the pageantry of his youth, but more importantly he wanted to please his mother, who wanted nothing else for her son than to become a poet. Cummings began writing a poem a day from the time he was six years old, learning an important lesson, that to become a writer you have to write, even if most of what you write is not very good. What’s interesting to me is how poets become poets, and not just writers, particularly poets that we look back on that influenced the trajectory of poetry in the 20th century. How did Estlin become a poet, preferring his middle name over his first name Edward, the mantle of wearing the same name as his father a bit to much to carry.

Several important factors steered him in a poetic direction, his father’s influence as a Unitarian minister and prominent reformer and proponent of social justice, seeped into his soul listening to his father’s sermon’s each Sunday, combined with the permanent chip on his shoulder stemming from his rather smallish physique and his preferred self stylized temperament as the struggling artist. When you then stir in a Harvard education in the classics with his experience during World War I, when he was imprisoned on charges of desertion, it set the stage for a young, slightly smug, immature writer to develop into the Greenwich village poet we admire today. Although Cummings first artistic commission occurred shortly after he graduated from College, a friend asking him to write a poem in honor of his engagement, in which he paid Cummings the handsome sum of $1,000 in 1916, enough to sort of establish the young Cummings as a man of independence from his father, it was not until 1922, that Cummings career as a poet, writer and playwright would take root.

But to understand Cummings maturity as a poet, one has to balance both how he benefited and scorned the bubble that was the posh and coddled society of Cambridge from whence he came. Cummings best poetry is relatively simple with a whiff of satire, or even scorn, taking nothing much seriously, except for the very seriousness of his favorite topic – love. Cummings seemed to never have escaped the puritan expectations that goes with being a minister’s son and yet that very yoke seemed to be the thing he needed most to eventually put to paper some of the most beautiful love poems of the past 100 years. The fact that sex was not a topic of conversation in the Cummings household growing up maybe why he was more than a bit fixated on it as an adult. However, Cummings faith and his father’s influence never left him and so in Cummings creativity, the playfulness of language becomes the smokescreen to purify the passion that still clearly rests beneath the surface of his best work. Cummings unconventional use of language was a way to make acceptable even the most graphic of his emotions. Though Cummings would live a most unconventional, conventional life, fathering his only child, a daughter, while having an affair with his best friend’s wife, his best love poems convey the unconditional love that he found compelling in his faith and yet a bit elusive in his real life as a young man, at least until he met Marion Morehouse.


it is at moments after i have dreamed

by e. e. cummings

It is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when(being fool to fancy)i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds

the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;

moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination, when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:

one pierced moment whiter than the rest

– turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep