Idiosyncratic, utterly original poet e.e. cummings ushered in the modern era of poetry with his idiomatic, conversational verse that captured the beauty of human speech.
Edward Estlin Cummings was born in 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was sociology and political science professor at Harvard University, but left Harvard when Edward Estlin Cummings was a small child to become an ordained minister at a congregational church in Boston.
e.e. cummings attended Harvard, where he studied languages and began his fascination with poetry after being introduced to poet Ezra Pound. Upon graduation, cummings volunteered to serve in World War I with the Norton-Haries Ambulance Corps. cummings became close to another volunteer, William Slater Brown, and when Brown was arrested for sending seditious letters back home, cummings went along with him to the La Ferte Mace internment camp. Only the intervention of cummings’ father was enough to free the two. However, e.e. cummings was not free for long; he was drafted into service when America joined the Great War, and served until Armistice.
His wartime experiences were the inspiration for some of e.e. cummings’ first published writings. His book about the internment experience, The Enormous Room, was published only after persuasion from his father.
After the war, cummings married his first wife, Elaine Orr, and began to focus on his poetry and painting. He wrote a quick succession of books during the 1920s, amidst much tragedy; his marriage fell apart, and in 1926, his father was killed and his mother gravely injured in an automobile accident.
His father’s death proved as influential on cummings’ poetry as his wartime experiences. He threw himself into his poetry with renewed vigor, while also marrying and divorcing another wife, Anne Barton.
It was in 1932 that cummings met Marion Morehouse, who lived with him as a wife despite the fact that they were never formally married. He and Morehouse traveled the world, visiting Tunisia, Russia, Mexico, and France, all the while writing poetry. As World War II loomed, much of his poetry was anti-war.
In 1962, e.e. cummings died at the age of 68 from a cerebral hemorrhage. He left behind a body of work that encompassed more than 25 books of poetry, prose, plays, and drawings, and a reputation as one of America’s most celebrated modern poets.
Some of e.e. cummings’ poems include:
i thank you god
since feeling is first
in spite of everything