My favorite cummings poem? How is that possible? He has so many poems I have adored over the years that to pick just one would be tricky. This one is pretty sweet, though. I have always admired the way cummings infused his poems with sly politics, that is, without beating you over the head. I have also always admired how cummings seemed to be provoking the establishment as he lived among them.
In the action of this poem, we see a speaker who is fumbling and tumbling through his thoughts and opinions, trying not to get pinned down by whomever is observing him. One interpretation I have heard is that he is at a press conference and he is trying to say what he thinks the people want to hear regarding the heroic soldiers’ deaths. Imagine it is the Secretary of Defense, some high ranking general, or the President. Imagine him or her going over the talking points and sputtering them out, careful to hit a few key phrases. But it’s also about the inner workings of the speakers minds. “Jingo” and the moment at the end where s/he ponders if the soldier were to stop and think about his or her sacrifice. That is one interpretation I have heard and I think it’s pretty sound.
But we don’t always think of cummings for content, necessarily; for message. We think of him for wordplay and typographical experimentation. But maybe we should think of him for content. I think from the often sinewy twist of his words and poems we are able to create a person whose politics and commentary are always near the surface. This poem works for me in that way (so does “the Cambridge ladies…”, linked above).
I have two people in my life that I readily recall having an affinity for e.e. The first is a fellow named Denny who I met in Dayton way back when. He used to sit on the coffee shop patio each morning in spring and summer and do the crossword and drink coffee. He left for North Carolina one day and I gave him the collected poems as a going away present. He came back a short time later, as people in Dayton are seemingly wont to do. He lives there still, but I am not sure if he stills go to the coffee shop (though in my mind, I would like to think of him there, sitting facing the sun that rises over St. Anne’s Hill).
The second is Paula Varjack, who I gave all my cummings book to when I left Berlin. I love Paula Varjack, as everybody who knows us both can testify to. She and I (along with Joe Czarnecki and Moon) went on a tour of England about a year and a half ago and we had a grand time. I am not sure Paula and I ever really sat down to talk about e.e. cummings. We talked about a lot of things, so I don’t know for sure. One time, I filled her apartment with smoke after groggily placing a wasserkocher on the stove. Not my finest moment.
next to of course god america i
“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water