E. E. Cummings

E. E. Cummings: strengths and weaknesses

". . . Cummings seems to have invented himself out of a set of choice influences: the Greek lyric, the comic strip Krazy Kat, Don Marquis, Pound's array of resurrected Provencal, Italian, Greek, and even Chinese lyricists, some modern French poets (Apollinaire, Mallarme), and his temperamental disposition to love and hate the world (odi et amo ), the ambiguous and versatile stance of the satiric poet down through western tradition, from Archilochus through Catullus to Villon, and in folk tradition from Aesop to Joel Chandler Harris. Add one more element, and we have Cummings' worktable before us. Add the mimiambus , or mime for a single actor taking various roles. This is the tradition in which Cummings did some of his finest work. In 'ygUDuh / ydoan / yunnuhstan . . .' he is miming a New Yorker at a bar giving his opinion of why the Second World War is being fought. . . . I would put this gift for mimicry as the bedrock of Cummings' talent. When he strayed from it (into Swinburne and Rossetti), he was weak; when he exercised it with malicious wit, he was strong."
--Guy Davenport, "Transcendental Satyr" in   Every Force Evolves a Form (San Francisco, 1987)

[Here's the poem Davenport spoke of, published -- note -- in 1944.]



      ydoan o
      yunnuhstand dem
      yguduh ged

            yunnuhstan dem doidee
      yguduh ged riduh
      ydoan o nudn



           lidl yelluh bas
           tuds weer goin


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  • Updated March 1999