EEC Society Blog

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

Author: Michael Webster

Cummings’ Definition of IS as an Intransitive Verb, to Feel

 Gillian Huang-Tiller

Todd Martin’s article “ ‘IS’ as an Action Verb: Cummings and the Act of Being” describes how he uses Cummings’ definition of IS to familiarize his students with Cummings’ poems. Martin’s source was Richard S. Kennedy’s biography of Cummings, Dreams in the Mirror, where we find reproduced these three lines that Cummings jotted down, according to Kennedy, sometime in 1921:

IS = the cold 3rd singular of the intense live verb, to feel.

Not to completely feel = thinking, the warm principle.

incomplete thinking = Belief,the box in which god and all other nouns are kept. 

(Kennedy 217; qtd. in Martin 80) [emphases mine]

  Martin relates how he used the three lines to direct his students to an understanding of Cummings’ concept of “IS.” He and his class discussed “IS” as “an existential state of being” and as the “third person singular of the ‘verb of being’” (80). Martin then guided his students from a “review of the verb ‘to be’ and its forms” to a consideration of “the implications of Cummings’ description of ‘IS’ as a ‘live’ verb, which Cummings equates to “feeling,” as opposed to “belief” (81). Contrasting IS (a higher state of being) with Belief (second-hand ideas) through an examination of two poems, “i sing of Olaf” and “the Cambridge ladies,” Martin makes a good case for comprehending Cummings’ poems through IS. He further shows how an understanding of Cummings’ IS can be extended to the study of other forms of the verb “to be.” An especially notable example is the “am” found in Cummings’ elegy for his father, as well as related images such as “awakening,” “creation,” “spring,” and Cummings’ purposeful uses of “which” and “who” (83).

Kennedy cites the source of the three lines he quotes as Houghton Library, MS Am 1823.7(23), 107 (cf. Dreams 502). Given the importance of understanding Cummings through this definition, I felt the need to locate his original copy. However, what I found at the location in Kennedy cites was a fragmented set of irrelevant notes on a torn half-page. The notes Kennedy transcribed appeared to have been either missing or misfiled. Upon further examination, however, I uncovered a typescript of the notes in question [MS Am 1823.7(27), f.3, s.60] (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: “IS.” E. E. Cummings Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University [MS. Am 1823.7 (27), folder 3, sheet 60].

  Examination reveals two substantive disagreements between the typescript and Kennedy’s transcription. The discrepancies indicate that Kennedy must have transcribed a different, probably handwritten, version of the lines. The typescript’s variants from Kennedy’s version point to a different definition of Cummings’ conception of IS:

 IS=the third singular of the intransitive Verb, to Feel

not to completely feel=Thinking, the participle

incomplete thinking=Belief, the box in which god and all other nouns are kept                                      

[emphases mine]

In his transcription, Kennedy puts down intense live for intransitive in the first line, and writes principle instead of participle in the second line. Kennedy also includes two value descriptions: “cold” for IS and “warm” for “thinking,” neither occurring in Cummings’ typescript version. The uncovered typescript shows that Kennedy may have mis-transcribed Cummings’ often indecipherable handwriting, which can be challenging to decipher when a typescript version is not available.

In correspondence with me, Michael Webster remembered seeing from his previous archival research at the Houghton a handwritten version of Cummings’ lines. Looking up Webster’s reference confirmed that Kennedy mis-transcribed the manuscript version reproduced in figure 2:

Fig. 2: “IS.” Cummings papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University [MS. Am 1823.7(25), folder 5, sheet 107].

  This handwritten copy is probably the text used by Kennedy. If Kennedy transcribed from this note alone, his reading of “intense live” is plausible. However, close examination of this handwritten version clearly shows the word “intransitive” (note the crossed “t” in the upper right-hand corner). Kennedy’s mis-transcription of “principle” for “participle” is less explicable, as the word “participle” seems unambiguous here. Nonetheless, given the number of first-hand sources Kennedy had to deal with at the Houghton Library, the accuracy of most of what he transcribed for his biography of Cummings remains remarkable. It is worth noting further that even without the typescript copy, Kennedy’s transcription and Martin’s article, based on Kennedy’s (mis)transcription, do not depart greatly from Cummings’ intended meaning of IS— that is, an “intense live” verb, which Martin rightly characterizes as “an action verb.” However, the correct version of these three lines opens up new grammatical and linguistic implications for Cummings’ definition of IS.

First, defined as an intransitive Verb, Cummings’ IS expands its grammatical function from a copular verb to a verb conveying what Martin interprets an “action verb.” In his 1898 English Grammar, John Collinson Nesfield writes that “a verb is Intransitive, if the action or feeling denoted by the verb stops with itself, and is not directed towards anything else” (7).[1]

Cummings’ designation of IS as an “intransitive Verb” similarly implies that the “action or feeling denoted by the verb stops with itself,” needing neither a complement nor an object for its meaning (emphasis mine). Cummings stresses this concept of IS in his early experimental prose work, The Enormous Room (1922):

There are certain things in which one is unable to believe for the simple reason that he never ceases to feel them. Things of this sort—things which are always inside of us and in fact are us and which consequently will not be pushed off or away where we can begin thinking about them—are no longer things;they,and the us which they are,equals A Verb;an IS. (168)

Cummings’ typescript appears to anticipate this self-transcendent state of IS by assigning a copular verb as an “intransitive” verb, connoting the act of being and becoming, which cannot be measured, but is felt within its essential self, standing on its own. As one of his ViVa sonnets sings: “who standest as thou hast stood and thou shalt stand” (CP 352).

   When he omitted the words “cold” and “warm” from his typescript, Cummings emphasized grammatical configuration over value attributes. Given this emphasis on grammar, the typescript version that equates IS to “the third singular of the intransitive Verb, to Feel” should be regarded as the final authoritative version. In the typescript, the grammatical emphasis in line one (IS as an “intransitive Verb, to feel”) continues in line two where Cummings equates “not to completely feel” with “thinking, the participle.” Further, the liminal status of the participle as a verbal maintains a fluid situation and keeps open the possibility of a transformation manifest in the steps from “not to completely feel” (“thinking”) to completely “feel” (“IS”). According to A Grammar of Contemporary English, “the name ‘participle’ reflects the fact that such a form participates in the features both of the verb (‘The girl is sitting there’) and of the adjective (‘The sitting girl’)” (48). Would Cummings deliberately consider “thinking” as the “participle,” derived from a verb (denoting incomplete action), also anticipating a thinking self transformed to a feeling self, as an adjective? [2] The third line calls attention to the equation of “incomplete thinking” to “Belief,” synonymous with “god and all other nouns”: “incomplete thinking = Belief,the box in which god and all other nouns are kept.” Had Kennedy not missed Cummings’ grammatical reference to the participle, he probably would not have substituted “intense live” for “intransitive.” With the exception of a space before and after a comma, Kennedy’s transcription of the third line of the manuscript agrees with the typescript. The three lines together clearly form a significant grammatical and linguistic relationship to signify an action-to-stasis (or vice versa) movement that Kennedy’s transcription misses. From the first line with a verb of fullness of potential movement and being and feeling (an intransitive “to feel”), Cummings moves to a participle in the second line of partial feeling and movement (“thinking”), and then to an all-noun world (stasis) in the third line where even the second-best “thinking” is kept in a box called “Belief.”

In his introduction to Cummings’ notes, Kennedy eloquently articulates Cummings’ conception of IS through a brief overview of its literary context:

In The Enormous Room, Cummings is quite explicit about what that essential being of each person is. Different words have been used for centuries to describe an essential self—Socrates called it a daimon, Plato called it a psyche, Duns Scotus called it thisness, Shelley called it genius, Bernard Shaw called it life force, Freud called it id. Cummings called it an “IS.” (217)

Kennedy continues:

Once we recognize the pejorative coloration that he throws over the word “belief,” we can understand more clearly his description of the IS as he applies it in The Enormous Room to the character named Zulu, who exhibits “an effortless spontaneity.” (217)

  By placing Cummings’ IS in context with other great minds, Kennedy recognizes the unique quality of Cummings’ IS (cf. Dreams 217, 220, 353), thus underscoring the need to get Cummings’ notes right. From IS as an “intransitive verb” to “thinking” as “not to completely feel” and “believing” as nouns in the final note, the typed version exhibits a much more cohesive connection than Kennedy’s rendering in his Dreams in the Mirror. It appears that Cummings’ definition of IS ultimately calls for a re-configuration of the self through the language of grammar (“intransitive”) before the language of metaphor (“intense live”). The typescript, I propose, should be afforded precedence as Cummings’ final authorial intent in the early years of re-conceiving the self via re-conceiving “IS” as an intransitive verb, as IS.

Works Cited

  • Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.
  • —. The Enormous Room. A typescript edition with drawings by the author. 1922. Ed. George James Firmage. Introduction Richard S. Kennedy. New York: Liveright, 1978.
  • —. Notes on “IS.” ms. [circa 1921] MS. Am 1823.7(25), folder 5, sheet 107. E. E. Cummings Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
  • —. Notes on “IS.” ts. [circa 1921] MS. Am 1823.7 (27), folder 3, sheet 60. E. E. Cummings Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
  • —. i: six nonlectures. 1953. Harvard UP, 1996.
  • Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. 2nd ed. New York: Liveright, 1994.
  • Martin, Todd. “ ‘IS’ as an Action Verb: Cummings and the Act of Being.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 17 (2010): 80-83.
  • Nesfield, John Collinson. English Grammar, Past and Present. London: Macmillan, 1898. Rpt. BiblioLife, 2009.
  • Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, et al. A Grammar of Contemporary English. New York: Longman, 1972.


[1]  J. C. Nesfield’s English Grammar: Past and Present (Macmillan 1898) was a widely circulated grammar text at the turn of the twentieth century.  Cummings would have been familiar with a definition of an intransitive verb such as this one. 
[2]  I thank Michael Webster for help with the PDF files of the manuscripts and feedback on this note, especially for a helpful discussion of grammar. Cummings’ idiosyncratic equation of “not to completely feel” to “thinking, the participle” in contrast to “IS” as Cummings’ “intransitive verb” could raise the question of the grammatical form of “thinking,” derived from a verb, albeit not a transitive verb.  However, a differentiation of “thinking, the participle” from IS as the “intransitive verb” appears deliberate. A Grammar of Contemporary English (Randolph Quirk, Sydney Greenbaum, et. al.) further sheds some light on the use of the participle, noting that “the participle interpretation focuses on the process, while the adjective interpretation focuses on the state resulting from the process” (244).  Cummings’ emphasis on participial “thinking” as “not to completely feel” enacts both the process and the state this process leads to.
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Call for Papers, American Literature Association Conference

E. E. Cummings Sessions at American Literature Association’s 30th Annual Conference

Boston, MA, May 23-26, 2019 (deadline 1/15/2019)

The E. E. Cummings Society will sponsor two sessions at the 2019 ALA. We invite proposals for papers on any aspect of Cummings’ work or life. Proposals that touch upon the following topics will be especially welcome:

  • Cummings’ prose (in recognition of the 2018 republication of A Miscellany Revised)
  • Changes, shifts, and continuities in Cummings’ style(s)
  • Cummings in 1918-1919 (Cummings at Camp Devens and after)
  • Cummings and Dada
  • Cummings among the modernists
  • Readings of little-studied Cummings poems
  • Re-readings of much-studied Cummings poems

Submit a 250 to 400 word abstract to Michael Webster ( by January 15, 2019.

For further information, consult the web page of the American Literature Association conference.

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Call For Papers, Louisville Conference, February 21-23, 2019

CFP: E. E. Cummings Sessions at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, University of Louisville, February 21-23, 2019 (deadline 9/8/2018)

“god america i”: Nation, Form, and Cummings’ Poetics of the Self

The E. E. Cummings Society and the Society’s journal, Spring, invite abstracts for 20-minute papers for the 47th annual Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, February 21-23, 2019, at the University of Louisville (  In his Foreword to the first edition of A Miscellany (1958), Cummings comments on his own growth: “whereas times can merely change, an individual may grow.”  Taking up Cummings’ self-confidence in his own development, this panel invites abstracts that explore the extent of Cummings’ modernist growth as a poet-painter and as an individual. How does his poetic/aesthetic stance of an individual grow through his engagement with his own experimental, typographic modernism (as opposed to just the new art or the new poetry / vers libre, or the organicism of the Romantics)? How does Cummings’ poetics of the self grow in ways in which he responds to the world of UN- (both to “an established order” and to “an established disorder”)?  We invite abstracts that examine Cummings’ thematic and aesthetic provocations, not only as an artist but also as a poetic ironist working through a cultural i/eye. Topics ranging from -isms, nature, ecology, science, machinery, war, propaganda, race, gender and papers discussing critical receptions of Cummings’ iconic or iconoclastic radicalism in language and poetic genres and other literary forms are all welcome.

Please send 300-word abstracts (double-spaced and titled) and a brief bio by September 8, 2018 to:

Gillian Huang-Tiller
Professor of English
Dept. of Language & Literature
128 Zehmer Hall
University of Virginia-Wise
Wise, VA 24293

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Silver Lake Revisited

Photos by Gillian Huang-Tiller and Ken Tiller unless otherwise noted
Click here for the Spring version of this piece

In 1997, Spring published Norman Friedman’s and David V. Forrest’s “Our Trip to Silver Lake,” a brief account (with many good photos) of the Cummings Society’s 1996 trip to New Hampshire to visit to Cummings’ summer home, Joy Farm. In this post, we chronicle a return visit nineteen years later, sponsored by the Friends of Madison Library (FOML). Besides visiting Joy Farm, we were able to make outdoor visits to “Abenaki,” the Cummings cottage on Silver Lake, as well as Ruth Shackford’s farm, old Mr. Lyman’s house and barn, Sam Ward’s house, and (almost) Hurricane Point. In addition, we spent a morning and part of an afternoon viewing the Cummings paintings and memorabilia collected at the Madison Historical Society Museum.

The visitors from the Cummings Society were Gillian Huang-Tiller, her husband Ken Tiller, Steven Katz, and Michael Webster—five fewer in number than those who made the 1996 journey. Our hosts were numerous, and generous with their time, advice, performances, and conversation. Chief among them are Susan Lee (Madison Library), Peter and Joyce Stevens, Peter and Becky Mattison (Joy Farm), Ann and David Wilkins (Madison Historical Society), Carol Batchelder, Ruth Shackford, and her son, Jesse Shackford, III.

Early Friday afternoon, Joyce Stevens and her husband Peter led a group consisting of David and Ann Wilkins, Gillian Huang-Tiller, Ken Tiller, and Michael Webster up a rutted two track path through the woods to “Abenaki,” the house that the Reverend Edward Cummings and Sam Ward built on Silver Lake, with a view of Mount Chocorua.[1] The property today is some 75 acres, but back then, Edward Cummings owned even more—almost the whole east side of the lake. The house is three stories, plus a large livable attic space. Since the current owner had not yet opened for the season, we could only view the house from the outside.

Figure 1: Abenaki

Figure 1: Abenaki

In the winter of 1909-1910, Sam Ward and others transported all the building materials for the house across the frozen lake via sledge. Cummings’ sister Elizabeth noted in her memoir that when the Cummings family arrived in the summer of 1910, “the cellar, walls, roof, and sides of the house were made, but there were only very rough floors, there were no windows in the window frames, and the stairs were not finished. My brother and I were delighted to be living by the lake and to be able to swim and go out in boats, and to help build our house. The whole family turned to and helped” (87).

The Reverend Cummings was something of a developer of the east side of Silver Lake: he designed and helped build at least two other houses there: the Smith-Ettinger-Foerster house on Hurricane Point and the Winter Road Hill house, built in the style of a Norwegian country house for English professor and editor William D. Howe. (See Bubb 29-34, 69-73 and Pfeffer 116-120.) A visit to the Foerster house is briefly discussed in Friedman and Forrest’s article (9) and Margaret Foerster herself writes of the house in Spring 6. Another source of information on Abenaki and Edward’s house-building is Roy Bubb’s Among the Giant Pines: The Century-Old Summer Houses of Silver Lake.[2}

Figure 2: view of Mount Chocorua from Abenaki

Figure 2: view of Mount Chocorua from Abenaki

Later Friday afternoon we followed Joyce Stevens’ car up High Street and North Division Road to a turn-off on a kind of one-lane dirt logging road (what we in Michigan call a “two-track”) and bumped along through the dense woods for maybe a mile until we emerged in a clearing to see Joy Farm at the top of the hill. The current owners, Peter and Becky Mattison, hosted a marvelous tea for the visitors and locals, served on the first and second floor porches with a view of Mount Chocorua and the White Mountains.[3]

Figure 3: View from the first floor porch at Joy Farm

Figure 3: View from the first floor porch at Joy Farm

(By the way, the natives of Madison, NH and environs pronounce “Chocorua” like this: “Sho – KOR – u (oo) – wa”—with the accent on the second syllable.) Joy Farm was bought in 1899 from one Ephraim Joy and refurbished and expanded by Cummings’ father, with extensive help from a local carpenter with the resonant name of Zantford Savary.

Additional photo: Zantford Savary (courtesy of Joyce Stevens)

Additional photo: Zantford Savary (courtesy of Joyce Stevens)

In our “Cummings at Silver Lake” brochure, Joyce Stevens had transcribed some notes in which Cummings describes how his father transformed the house:

When my New Hampshire father bought what was variously known as the Hatch place or the Joy farm (after successive owners Hatch and Ephraim Joy) its primitive hilltop house faced a painfully made clearing. Not for nothing is New Hampshire nicknamed the Granite State; that clearing was ringed with gigantic rocks: boulders of all imaginable shapes yanked from the earth, year after year, by sweating men and horses. . . . All the ramshackle house’s crazy windows gave on to that clearing—not even a peephole graced the opposite side. [H]ad the back of the house contained a single aperture some Hatch or Joy might have found herself or himself confronted by some of the seven loveliest mountains in the world. . . . My father’s first deed was, by cutting windows and building a porch on the side toward the seven mountains, to turn his newly purchased house around without moving it.

Figure 4: Joy Farm now

Figure 4: Joy Farm now

Figure 5: Joy Farm then

Figure 5: Joy Farm then

Six of these seven peaks are marked in the photo of “Joy Farm then.” Comparing this photo with one of the present-day house, we can clearly see how Mattisons’ addition on the right has replaced a much smaller kitchen area. (Peter Mattison told me that a massive fireplace in the kitchen collapsed and had to be rebuilt.) Of course, the large windows that Edward added on the mountain side of the house are not visible in the “then” photo, but we can see on the left of the photo how the second story extends over the first floor porch. Elizabeth Cummings’ memoir describes these renovations:

Later my father made the house still bigger by building a full second story that extended out over the porch. . . . After the house was made bigger, the roof had a long flat part with a railing around it. There were stairs leading up to the roof, we used to have lots of fun on that flat roof. From it you could look out to the mountains and to the woods and fields all around. (110)

In the photo, we can clearly see the stairway to the flat roof between the first and second dormer windows. (All the dormer windows were also added by Edward Cummings.) As he did at Silver Lake some 10-15 years later, Cummings’ father sold or donated some of his large land holdings around Joy Farm. His brother John lived just north of Joy Farm, and in 1900, Edward gave ten acres of land just to the south to the Reverend Samuel Crothers, a fellow Unitarian minister. The “Crothers Croft” was also built by Zantford Savary.

Cummings’ father opened up the interior of the house by removing some partitions and constructing a large open staircase in the middle of the house. The railings and risers on the staircase, as well as the shelves he built for books, are constructed of 2″ x 6″ boards. The extensive renovations and solid construction of the house are the marks of a confident man: the Reverend Edward Cummings was no meek little preacher. The stairway in particular reminds me of his son’s description of Picasso as a “Lumberman of The Distinct” chopping “hughest inherent / Trees of Ego” to “hew form truly” (CP 95).

Figure 6: Downstairs sitting room, with the stairway in the foreground

Figure 6: Downstairs sitting room, with the stairway in the foreground

Additional photo: Top of stairs at Joy Farm

Additional photo: Top of stairs at Joy Farm

Additional photo: Antlers and bust at the top of the stairs

Additional photo: Antlers and bust at the top of the stairs

At the top of the stairs was very large (2-3 feet high) plaster bust of Zeus—a sort of unwearable mask. Downstairs there were many books on the shelves— almost all of them Edward’s or Rebecca’s. The Mattisons has set out many old magazines out on tables and chairs—some Outlook magazines circa 1903-1910, some fashion mags and New Yorkers from the ’30s and ’40s, a few Paris Matches from the ’40s and ’50s, and the 1953 LIFE magazine with the complete publication of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Cummings’ palettes were on display, as well as two quite good small portraits—one of himself and one of Anne.

Figure 7: Cummings’ sweater and Hemingway issue of LIFE

Figure 7: Cummings’ sweater and Hemingway issue of LIFE

Figure 8: Portraits of Cummings and Anne

Figure 8: Cummings’ self-portrait and his portrait of Anne

On Friday evening, the FOML presented a “Cummings at Silver Lake” program at Noyes Hall in the Madison School. David Wilkins began with a short nonlecture impersonation of E. E. Cummings, followed by Wilkins (as Cummings) and Peter Stevens (as his questioner) reading the short dialogue called “Foreword to an Exhibit: II” (Miscellany 316-317), which was followed by a reading of “A Poet’s Advice to Students” (Miscellany 335). Next, the Silver Lake Singers performed six musical versions of Cummings poems, including Vincent Persichetti’s setting of “purer than purest pure” (CP 601), Ellen Mandel’s setting of “when faces called flowers float out of the ground” (CP 665), and Dexter Harding’s setting of “I’m very fond of / black bean / soup” (CP 1023), performed on guitar by the composer himself. Jesse Shackford III and Ruth Shackford then read some of Cummings’ letters written to Ruth when she was caretaker of Joy Farm. (Excerpts from these letters may be read in Norman Friedman’s article in Spring 6.) The program concluded with a round table of reminiscences of Cummings and Marion by Jesse Shackford, Ruth Shackford, Henry Forrest, Linda Drew Smith, and Carol Batchelder.

Figure 9: Jesse and Ruth Shackford (photo by Duane Dale)

Figure 9: Jesse and Ruth Shackford (photo by Duane Dale)

Jesse talked of the time when Marion called him to Joy Farm to help her after Cummings suffered the massive stroke that ended his life. Carol Batchelder spoke of how Cummings would stand by the memorial light looking out at the lake while Marion went to the post office or the store. (See Carol’s article in Spring 6, “Nobody-But-Himself.”) One can hear Ruth and Jesse Shackford discuss the Cummings they knew in this audio postcard from New Hampshire Public Radio.

On Saturday at the Historical Society Museum, Steven Katz gave an excellent talk on Cummings’ art, concentrating on the Silver Lake / Joy Farm / Mt. Chocorua works.

Figure 10: Steven Katz presenting

Figure 10: Steven Katz presenting

In the Museum gallery were several of Cummings’ oil sketches, as well as two fine landscapes of Mount Chocorua donated by Ruth Shackford.

Figure 11: E. E. Cummings, Mount Chocorua (1949; photo: FOML)

Figure 11: E. E. Cummings, Mount Chocorua (1949; photo: FOML)

Also on display were early photos of Elizabeth and Estlin and their father, Elizabeth’s (quite large) doll, and a shield that the 10-year old Cummings made from the bottom or top of a sugar barrel. With his wood-burning kit, he incised in the middle of the shield his totem animal, an elephant. Around the edge of the shield “are 10 rather abstracted animals, including a goat, a snake, a tiger, a leopard, a dog, a rhinoceros, and an alligator or crocodile” (Wilkins).

Figure 12: Cummings’ elephant shield

Figure 12: Cummings’ elephant shield

On Saturday afternoon, with the help of an excellent map provided by our hosts, we went on a self-guided tour of outdoor sights around Silver Lake. We drove first to the Depot, Post Office, and Memorial Lighthouse at the head of Silver Lake. Frank Lyman’s place is just down the road: Mr. Lyman would supply Cummings and Marion with fresh vegetables, and of course, he is the wise protagonist of “old mr ly” (CP 567). Another Cummings poem, “now comes the good rain farmers pray for(and” (CP 754), depicts Frank and his son Reg and daughter-in-law Lena standing in “the barn’s immense / doorway,” watching the rain fall. When we were there, the barn was filled with antiques, and outside was a small exhibit showing the photo of Mr. Lyman from Adventures in Value. A grasshopper alighted and Gillian snapped a photo.

Figure 13: Grasshopper and Frank Lyman

Figure 13: Grasshopper and Frank Lyman

North of the Lyman place on High Street is Jess Shackford’s farm, while to the south on Plains Road on the west side of Silver Lake is Sam Ward’s farm. Ruth Shackford showed us a small landscape that Cummings painted, with a view of Mount Chocorua.

Ruth Shackford and painting

Figure 14: Ruth Shackford and painting

At Sam Ward’s place, current owner Joyce Stevens had displayed on the porch some photos of Sam and his wife Mame, a composition board with Cummings’ elegy for Sam, “rain or hail” (CP 568), and copies of letters (from the Houghton Library) to and from Cummings and Sam.

Our last stop was a visit to Hurricane Point Natural Area. In the summer and autumn of 1920, Cummings finished writing the bulk of The Enormous Room at his tree house on the point. (He would paddle a canoe from Abenaki to the point, work all day, then paddle back for supper.) The Friends of Madison Library web site Cummings at Silver Lake notes that “Three pine stumps and a rotting trunk inclining down-slope toward the lake mark the site of the tree house.” Despite the excellent trail leading to the end of the point, Gillian, Ken, and I cravenly retreated after seeing masses of poison ivy lining the pathway. We missed the remnants, but the wonderful site reminded us that even while writing of his incarceration in a French prison camp, Cummings remained close to nature.

Figure 15: Searching for Hurricane Point

Figure 15: Searching for Hurricane Point


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University


[1] Sam Ward is eulogized in Cummings’ poem “rain or hail”: “sam was a man / grinned his grin / done his chores / laid him down” (CP 568).

[2] Among the Giant Pines may be purchased from the Madison Historical Society Museum. (Chapter two, titled “Reverend Edward Cummings Family—Joy Farm and Abenaki,” also has a brief consideration of Sam Ward.)

[3] Some photos of the tea at Joy Farm have been posted on the FOML Cummings at Silver Lake site.

Works Cited

Batchelder Carol A. “Nobody-But-Himself.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 26-44.

Bubb, Roy. Among the Giant Pines: The Century-Old Summer Houses of Silver Lake. Madison, NH: RB Press / Madison Historical Society, 2013. [Chapter two is titled “Reverend Edward Cummings Family—Joy Farm and Abenaki.”]

Cummings, E. E. “Foreword to an Exhibit: II.” Memorial Gallery, Rochester, NY (May 1945). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 316-317.

—. “A Poet’s Advice to Students” Ottawa Hills Spectator (26 Oct. 1955). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 335.

Donahue, Molly. “Audio Postcard: A Celebration of E.E. Cummings.” Word of Mouth, New Hampshire Public Radio, 20 July 2015. Web and Radio.

FOML. “E. E. Cummings at Silver Lake.” Madison, N.H.: Friends of Madison Library, 2015. Brochure.

—. “Where did E. E. Cummings write The Enormous Room?” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, 31 May 2015. Web.

—. “Tea at Joy Farm.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, 16 July 2015. Web.

Foerster, Margaret. “A Note on Cummings and My Family at Silver Lake.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 22-25.

Friedman, Norman. “Letters from the Cummingses to Ruth Shackford.” Spring: The Journal of the E .E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 18-21.

Friedman, Norman and David V. Forrest. “Our Trip to Silver Lake.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 9-17.

Pfeffer, W. Tad. The Hand of the Small Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930. Boston: David R. Godine, 2013.

Qualey, Elizabeth Cummings. When I Was a Little Girl. Ed. Carlton C. Qualey. Center Ossipee, NH: Carroll County Independent, 1981.

Stevens, Peter. “Sam Ward.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, April 2015. Web.

Wilkins, David G. and FOML. “Madison Historical Society: The Cummings Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, April 2015. Web.



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Stephen Scotti and ViVa Cummings!


Stephen Scotti was a musician and composer who set many of Cummings’ poems to music and organized a musical review of his settings called ViVa Cummings! [later revised and retitled as “E. E.! (Viva Cummings)”]. In 1990, at the end of the run of the old series of Spring, Scotti wrote of his work on ViVa Cummings: “I was overwhelmed with joy . . . with all the feeling that was in the Mazur Theatre that night brought about because of the love we all have for this most remarkable of men, E. E. Cummings. . . . I put this work together out of love for this poet. I had no commission or underlying motive to put in the amount of time it took to realize these songs and [arrange] the order of the poems to create the experience of the spirit of the poet as if bringing him back to life in a darkened theatre” (“Scotti Discusses” 12). David Forrest’s review of that performance amply supported Scotti’s feelings:

The twenty or so of us from the E. E Cummings Society who heard and saw VIVA CUMMINGS! . . . were unanimously enthusiastic and praising as we met afterwards with Mr. Scotti and the actors. We especially appreciated the great care that had gone into the order of the poems. The first act deals with Cummings’ bawdy and political satire, the second with the big themes of love and death. The three actors were brilliant effective and creative. (10)

Throughout the review, Scotti performed at the piano, giving, Forrest reported, “virtuoso renderings of many of the most sardonic dialect pieces, such as ‘next to of course god america i.’ The rendering of ‘Jimmie’s got a goil goil goil,/ Jimmie’ in successive versions in the style of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, with everything from Durante to rock, torch and double-time, was a crown jewel of the evening” (10-11). Forrest added: “Every college English teacher should have as a fondest wish that students see this production.” Forrest’s review concludes: “this night nothing disappointed, and the production set a standard showing what such musical settings can do when the composer is at one with the lyrics and the poet’s spirit. I shall always hear some of the poems Mr. Scotti’s way” (11).

Stephen Scotti was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, raised in the North End of Boston (where he learned to play piano and accordion), and educated at Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, and at Boston University, where he received a degree in music. His obituary in the Gloucester Times reports that “Mr. Scotti taught music at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and also the Lawrence Vocational School of Lawrence, Mass.” Scotti later became a piano technician and tuner, a job that allowed him time to pursue his vocation as a musician. After tuning a piano, Scotti would often sit down and play. In her memorial piece on Scotti, Gail McCarthy quotes Gloria Stanton: “he . . . started playing these incredible pieces of music. I came out of the kitchen, and what he was playing brought tears to my eyes.”

In addition to the poems of Cummings, Scotti also set to music the works of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Bertolt Brecht (Goodwin 163). In Spring 5 (1996), Rufus Goodwin reported that

Scotti has performed his arrangements of the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the lyrics and limericks of Edward Lear in England, in St. George’s Hall in Glastonbury. . . . Also in the ’80s, Scotti performed the Irish poet’s poems at the Yeats summer school in Sligo. He had to tune the old German grand piano at the annual summer program himself. (163-164)

Scotti also wrote and produced at least one other musical revue, Songs and Stories of Cape Ann and Cape America (McCarthy). One can hear Scotti performing two of the songs from the review here. He also set some of his own lyrics to music, among them a little ditty called “Burn All the Flags,” whose chorus goes: “Burn all the flags / from here to Xanadu / Undrape the world / to free me and you” (quoted in Goodwin 164).


Cover of Program for the Provincetown Theater Company production of ViVa Cummings, May, 1990.

As noted in Norman Friedman’s bibliography in The Theatre of E. E. Cummings, ViVa Cummings! was first presented in Gloucester, MA, October 1984, with direction and choreography by William A. Finlay. The review was also performed at the Provincetown Inn, May 1990, and presented by the Blue Heron Theatre Company at the Mazur Theatre in New York City, October 1990, as well on tour in April 1992 in Bogota, Columbia and Caracas, Venezuela (here’s the complete program for the May 1990 production). To Friedman’s list, Rufus Goodwin adds performances on Martha’s Vineyard and Boston University in October 1994. Goodwin also notes that William Finlay directed a “circus” version of the show, including “trapezes, clowns, and stilts,” produced “for summer theatre at Union College, Schenectady, New York, in 1995.” Finlay reported that the circus version was “even ‘more magical’ than the concert version” (Goodwin 163).

In Spring 8 (1999), Forrest reviewed a new production of the slightly renamed E.E.! (Viva Cummings) performed in April of that year at the Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City. Forrest noted that Norman Friedman “greatly enjoyed” the performance while also pointing out in typical Norman fashion “that Scotti’s selections emphasize Cummings’ earlier works, especially the lyrical and satiric ones, which lend themselves to theatrical presentation, at the expense of the philosophical” (180). The “News, Notes, Correspondence” section of Spring 11 (2002) reported that “Stephen Scotti and Kristine Stott gave a very successful concert of Cummings poems set to music at the ALA Conference in Cambridge, MA, May 24-27, 2001 (228). Like Forrest, I vividly remember the performance of “Jimmie’s got a goil” (CP 233) in the successive pop styles of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. In 2006, Kristine Stott recorded a CD of Scotti songs, including some Scotti originals, eight Cummings songs, and two settings of Dorothy Parker’s poems. (Among the Cummings songs on the album are “May I Feel,” “Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May,” and “Jimmie’s Got a Goil.”) Although this CD is out of print, one can listen to each track individually on You Tube. Or the entire CD may be downloaded electronically from Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby.

As I reported in Spring 17 (2010), Scotti sent me a homemade CD of his own performances of settings of three Cummings poems: “O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening” (CP 773), “(of Ever-Ever Land i speak” (CP 466), and “i thank You God for most this amazing” (CP 663). (Clicking on these links downloads the file.)  These three tracks long remained unplayable on any device that I possessed, but now that technicians at my university have restored them, we can hear Scotti’s own (somewhat scratchy) performances. I hope that, despite the imperfect restoration of the three songs, one can hear in them what Rufus Goodwin called Scotti’s “showbiz sound, as if Scotti were an old hoofer, a tap dancer, a former carnival man, maybe a barker” (165). In a note to me that accompanied the three-song CD, Scotti wrote:

I learned everything I know about Cummings from Slater Brown who lived in Rockport, MA with his amazing wife. I performed “i thank You God for most this amazing / day” at his memorial service in Rockport. He asked me to sing it for him before he died. (169)

In the manner of Cummings, Scotti’s circus-jazz-vaudeville style could serve serious purposes as well. Goodwin quotes Scotti as saying: “To me, the song . . . is the distillation of truth with the right selected words and the right selected melody. This is reality. The rest of the time is unreal” (161).


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University

Works Cited

Goodwin, Rufus. “E. E. Poetry in Performance: Scotti and Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 5 (1996): 161-168.

Forrest, David V. “Forrest Reviews ‘Viva Cummings’.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 10-11.

—. “Review of E.E.! (Viva Cummings): A Musical Review Conceived and Composed by Steve Scotti.” (Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City, April 16, 1999) Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 8 (1999): 179-180.

McCarthy, Gail. “Stephen Scotti Recalled as Consummate Musician.” Gloucester Daily Times Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Web.

“News, Notes, Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 11 (2002): 169-171. Print and Web.

“News, Notes, & Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 17 (2010): 152-175. Print and Web.

Scotti, Stephen R. “Stephen Scotti Discusses Production and Review.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 12-13.

—. “VIVA CUMMINGS! On the Road in South America (April 1992).Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 3 (1994): 97-101.

Stephen Scotti.” Gloucester Poet Laureate (dedicated to the poets and poetry of Gloucester MA), 2009. Web.

Stephen R. Scotti, 78.” Gloucester Daily Times July 1, 2013. Web.

Stott, Kristine. May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti. CD. Swansong Productions, 2006. [Available on You Tube or download at Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby]


Track List for Kristine Stott’s CD May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti

  1. Come Gaze with Me 2:45
  2. Valentine for New York 2:17
  3. Interior 3:42
  4. Sweet Spring 2:16
  5. Modes of Attire 2:47
  6. Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town 4:53
  7. A Strand of Pearls 2:03
  8. Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May 2:23
  9. May I Feel 1:51
  10. This Little Pair 1:45
  11. I Thank You, God 2:57
  12. Unfortunate Coincidence/One Perfect Rose 2:30 [Dorothy Parker]
  13. The Satin Dress 2:17
  14. Resume 1:11 [Dorothy Parker]
  15. Jimmie’s Got a Goil 4:23



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Cummings Centennials (1914-1915)

Thayer Hall, Image from

Thayer Hall, Image from

The school year 1914-1915 was Cummings’ senior year at Harvard, the year he moved the few blocks from 104 Irving Street to Thayer Hall in Harvard Yard. (In the fall of 1915, Cummings continued his education at Harvard, studying for his M.A.) Other residents of Thayer Hall included S. Foster Damon, John Dos Passos, and Robert Hillyer. According to Charles Norman, Cummings “adorned his mantelpiece with four or five elephants and his walls with ‘Krazy Kat’ comic strips” (34).

In his junior and senior years, Cummings’ studies shifted from a concentration on Latin and Greek to courses in English and Comparative Literature. Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno reports that though Cummings started out as a Classics major, he eventually graduated with an “AB in Literature with concentrations in Greek and English” (59). Among the courses Cummings took was the year-long Literary History of England and Its Relations to that of the Continent, which covered European literature up to the Renaissance. He also continued his Greek studies with Greek VI, which studied Greek drama, and he studied Chaucer with William A. Neilson.[1] In addition, Cummings took George Lyman Kittredge’s course that studied intensively six Shakespeare plays. Kennedy writes: “most student recollections depict [Kittredge] in the classroom as playing a well-rehearsed role of omniscient scholar: an imperious eagle-eyed old man hurling penetrating questions or answering queries with authoritative scorn as he lifted his well-trimmed white beard in the air” (Dreams 63).

In his senior year, Cummings took a couple of year-long courses that deserve special mention. The first, Kennedy asserts, was “a major educational experience” for Cummings, the “year of Dante under Charles H. Grandgent . . . the foremost Dante specialist in the English-speaking world.” Not only did Cummings read The Divine Comedy in Italian, but also studied “the culture of the Middle Ages, the history and politics of Florence, the nature of allegory, and . . . [read] Il Convivio, De Monarchia, [and] La Vita Nuova” (Dreams 60). Kennedy reports that Cummings was “intensely interested in the material of the course and sat, an alert figure, in the front row. He took extensive lecture notes [and] drew elaborate diagrams of Dante’s Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise with allegorical details minutely placed in the scheme” (60). The second year-long course Cummings took was Dean Briggs’ Advanced Composition.[2] Kennedy writes that “Briggs was no doubt the best-loved professor in the Harvard yard. He was a very kind, gentle, gracious human being,” who, like Cummings, was “slight of build, very boyish in appearance,” and who, also like Cummings, “had attended Cambridge Latin School and went on to study Greek at Harvard” (69). Students in the course wrote poetry, prose, and essays; probably one of Cummings’ first compositions was a sentimental war poem about a grieving mother, “From a Newspaper August 1914.” Kennedy informs us that “his father later had copies of it typed with a new title, ‘The Casualty List,’ and inserted into the pages of Eight Harvard Poets” (134).[3] Sentimentalism did not preclude aestheticism: one of Cummings’ essays from October 1914, “The Young Fawn,” is characterized by Kennedy as “an overwritten scenario inspired by the ballet ‘The Afternoon of a Faun,’ which drew Briggs’s polite rebuke ‘Now and then I suspect you . . . of putting in some details for sound’s sake—of indulging yourself in that for which English 5 is one of the best remedies’ ” (70). Later in the year, Cummings would write an essay on Chinese and Japanese poetry called “The Poetry of Silence,” which Kennedy sees as showing “an improvement in style and some appreciation for economy in expression” (72). Cummings also wrote for the class a children’s story, “The King,”—“about a little boy who takes a toy elephant to bed with him at night” (Kennedy 72). It was published in The Harvard Monthly in July 1915.

Cummings’ most substantial work for the class was his 27-page term paper, “The New Art,” which, in shortened form, the poet delivered as a “graduation part” at the Harvard commencement ceremonies on June 24, 1915. In the longer text, Cummings wrote that the essay traces “the continuous development [in painting] from Realism to Monet and from Monet to Duchamp-Villon” (qtd. in Kennedy 83). In addition, Kennedy writes, the essay undertook “to show the interconnections among the new tendencies in the visual arts, music, and literature” (83). The audience at the Sanders Theatre seemed to accept Cummings’ discourse on the aesthetics of the new music and painting, but when the speaker came to treat poetry, he ruffled the audience by quoting from the imagist verse of Amy Lowell, sister of Harvard’s president A. Lawrence Lowell. S. Foster Damon recorded the audience’s reactions: “Sanders Theatre shuddered in sibilant horror as he recited: ‘Why do the lilies goggle their tongues at me’ ” (qtd. in Norman 43). Damon continued:

One aged lady (peace be to her bones!) was heard to remark aloud: “Is that our president’s sister’s poetry he is quoting? Well, I think it is an insult to our president!” Meanwhile, the president’s face, on which all eyes were fixed, was absolutely unperturbed. (qtd. in Norman 43-44)

Maybe not entirely “unperturbed”: later, Cummings recorded in his notes that Lowell “turned to brick” (qtd. in Kennedy 84). After Amy Lowell, the young orator quoted from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, which functioned admirably, Cummings wrote later, as “comic relief” (cf. Kennedy 84-85). Whatever the audience reactions, the “New Art” speech showed, as Kennedy writes, a remarkably “discursive acquaintance with so much of the avant-garde activity in the arts” (83).


Damon and Cummings, circa 1914

This acquaintance was in part due to the tutelage of friends and mentors like S. Foster Damon and Scofield Thayer. As the previous “Cummings Centennials” article noted, it was Damon who introduced Cummings to much that was new in the arts, lending him copies of Poetry magazine and taking him to see the Boston version of the Armory Show in 1913. Much of the discussion in “The New Art” of art, dance, music, and literature is indebted to Damon’s influence. Cummings told Charles Norman: “Practically everything I know about painting and poetry came to me though Damon” (38).

Cover of Pound's Ripostes

Cover of Pound’s Ripostes

It was Damon who loaned to the young poet Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914) and Ezra Pound’s anthology Des Imagistes (1914) (Dreams 78-79). Damon also probably introduced Cummings to Alfred Kreymborg’s little magazine Others, which began publication in July 1915. Perhaps most importantly for Cummings’ future poetic career, Damon showed Cummings Ezra Pound’s Ripostes, which contained the poem “The Return.”[4] Years later in the mid-1950s, Cummings wrote in his notes that this poem “made me(for better or worse)the writer I am today.” He was impressed by the poem’s modern treatment of a classical subject, but he noted that the “inaudible poem—the visual poem,the poem for not ears but Eye—moved me more” (qtd. in Kennedy 106).[5] In 1957 Cummings wrote to Charles Norman that he would never “forget the thrill I experienced on first reading ‘The Return’ ” (Letters 241).

In addition, Damon and Cummings continued to explore cultural events and nightlife in Boston. Sometime in 1915, Cummings found a new girlfriend, whose name Kennedy gives (and only in his notes) as Doris.[6] Kennedy writes that

Her letters to Cummings in 1915 show her to be a warm, vivacious charmer, almost a character out of an early F. Scott Fitzgerald story. She was enthusiastic about parties, dances, clambakes, card games, tennis, boating, swimming, much pleased with her new roadster (a Scripps-Booth with bright red wire wheels) devoted to her new dog Scottie, and struggling to be a proper New England girl. . . . In her letters she would lapse into French whenever she touched on a delicate subject. (87)

Kennedy says they “drifted away from each other during 1916” (88).

Two days after Cummings delivered “The New Art,” Scofield Thayer embarked from Liverpool, returning from two years of study at Oxford (Dempsey 27). Sometime that summer, Thayer sent Cummings a copy of Blast II, the “Review of the Great English Vortex” edited by Wyndham Lewis (Kennedy 94-95). Thayer sent a great many books, apparently, among them perhaps Willard Huntington Wright’s Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning (1915), which greatly influenced Cummings’ aesthetics. Milton Cohen writes that the book “virtually became Cummings’s bible in the teens and twenties . . . from which he typed out long paragraphs verbatim in his notes” (120). In his letter to Thayer thanking him for the books (“your weighty package from Brentano’s”), Cummings wrote: “ ‘Blast’ is a very important addition to my limited library. Could I procure the first number thru B.?”[7] Among the Vorticist etchings, essays by Lewis, and poems by Pound in Blast II, Cummings found most intriguing T. S. Eliot’s poems “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” and “Preludes.” (He copied out the entire “Rhapsody” in his 1916 term paper, “The Poetry of a New Era.”)

Despite his continued fascination with the new art, the poems that Cummings published in 1914-1915 in The Harvard Monthly show little evidence of this interest. With the exception of a few memorable phrases, most of the poems Cummings published are overloaded with Pre-Raphaelite imagery (“her hands / Hurting the dark with lilies”) and rather precious metaphors (“In green cloisters throng / Shy nuns of evening, telling beads of song”) (CP 867 and CP 868). The themes of love, longing, and twilight that predominate in these poems would reappear in better form in Cummings’ more mature work. And while Cummings’ intense craftsmanship is evident in these poems, it is somewhat obscured by the elaborate and outdated diction. However, a refrain in “Nocturne,” published in March 1914, presages one of Cummings’ earliest triumphs. The lines “All silently I loved my love / In gardens of white ivory” (CP 864) were given a bit more medieval spine some two years later when he wrote: “All in green went my love riding / on a great horse of gold / into the silver dawn” (CP 15). The shift from vague symbolist longing to the creation of a scene in indelible images is a measure of Cummings’ growth in these years. Kennedy writes: “Six well-scratched-up pages in his working notebook attest to the care which he devoted to this piece. When it was published in the Monthly [in March 1916], it met with praise from professors and fellow-students alike” (Dreams 83).

While some of the poems from this period not published in the Monthly exhibit similar Pre-Raphaelite or even Yeatsian diction (“The white rose of my soul / Is blown upon the ways” [CP 918]), others experiment with a rather tame free verse: “Moon-in-the-Trees / The old canoe awaits you. / He is not, as you know, afraid of the dark” (CP 921). This poem ends with Cummings reaching for a more personal extravagance: “In the nostrils of my nights / An incense of irrevocable mountains.” The sonnets written in appreciation for his friends and mentors Dory Miller, S. Foster Damon, J. Sibley Watson, and Scofield Thayer are often embarrassingly gushy. The one exception is Cummings’ attempt at humor in the poem dedicated to Watson (CP 927), but the wit is not well-controlled and falls flat.

However, Watson was at least partly responsible for a much more successful sonnet, “this is the garden:colours come and go,” (CP 144). In her memoir, Hildegarde Watson reports that in the summer of 1915, Cummings and her husband “motored to Rochester [N.Y.] to the Watson house, where Estlin wrote the now famous sonnet. . . . Mrs. Watson placed it in her guest book where, later, I came across it. It is arranged—and punctuated—differently from the published version; there is no “u” in “color,” and there are capitals at the beginning of each line!” (87). Here is the first stanza of this sonnet as transcribed by Hildegarde Watson:

This is the garden. Colors come and go:
Frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing,
Strong silent greens serenely lingering,
Absolute lights like baths of golden snow.

The poem appears with the same punctuation and capitalization in Eight Harvard Poets (1917). When the sonnet was published in Tulips and Chimneys (1923), Cummings removed most capital letters, retaining only those in words that begin sentences, along with the two crucial capitals in the words “Death’s” and “They.” He also made two simple changes in punctuation in the first line—substituting a colon for the period after “garden” and a comma for the colon after “go”—adding more momentum to a line that nevertheless still lingers slightly.

In his role as one of the editors of The Monthly, Cummings was quite able to critique some of the excesses of Harvard aestheticism. Robert Hillyer remembered Cummings the editor: “Some aspirant handed in a poem that began with the line: ‘Thou hast faun eyes.’ Cummings’ comment took graphic form—a small horned deer with large and soulful eyes. On another poem he wrote, ‘Good but poor.’ This always seemed to me an excellent phrase, accurately descriptive of much that is published” (qtd. Norman 33). Much of Cummings’ Harvard poetry could be described the same way: “Good but poor.” However, even though “All in green” and “this is the garden” show that Cummings’ reading of Dante and Chaucer was helping to focus and discipline some of his belated romanticism, it was only after he received his MA in 1916 and left Harvard that he began to experiment with creating his own poems “for not ears but Eye.”


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University

Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate 99.10 (June 24, 1915): 154-156. Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.

—. Letter to Scofield Thayer. [July 1915?] Dial / Scofield Thayer Collection. Beinecke Library, Yale University. YCAL MS 34, Box 30, Folder 794.

Dempsey, James. The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014.

Firmage, George J. E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1960.

Huang-Tiller, Gillian. “A Note on George Firmage and E. E. Cummings’ Copy of Eight Harvard Poets.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (2006): 274-275.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

Norman, Charles. E. E. Cummings: The Magic-Maker. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Pound, Ezra. Ripostes of Ezra Pound: whereto are appended the complete poetical works of T. E. Hulme, with prefatory note. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1913. [Cummings’ copy of the book is now at the Harry Ransom Center.]

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E. E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2004.

Watson, Hildegarde Lasell. The Edge of the Woods: A Memoir. Lunenburg, VT: Stinehour Press, 1979.

Webster, Michael. “Cummings Rewrites Eliot.” T. S. Eliot, France, and the Mind of Europe. Ed. Jayme Stayer. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. 75-91.

Cummings’ contributions to The Harvard Monthly in 1914:

—. “Nocturne.” The Harvard Monthly 58.1 (March 1914): 18-20. [“When the lithe moonlight silently” (CP 864-65)]

—. “SonnetThe Harvard Monthly 58.3 (May 1914): 79. [“For that I have forgot the world these days” (CP 866)] [PDF 292]

—. “NightThe Harvard Monthly 59.2 (Nov. 1914): 69-70. [“Night, with sunset hauntings” (CP 867)]

—. “Out of the BengaliThe Harvard Monthly 59.3 (December 1914): 85.  [“I spoke to thee with a smile”—rpt. as “i spoke to thee” [Orientale I] (CP 32).]

—. “Sonnet.” The Harvard Monthly 59.4 (Christmas 1914): 115. [“No sunset, but a grey, great, struggling sky” (CP 868)]

Cummings’ contributions to The Harvard Monthly in 1915:

—. “Longing.” The Harvard Monthly 60.2 (April 1915): 37-38. [“I miss you in the dawn, of gradual flowering lights” (CP 869-70)]

—. “Ballad of Love.” The Harvard Monthly 60.3 (May 1915): 91-92. [“Where is my love! I cried.” (CP 871)]

—. “The King.” The Harvard Monthly 60.5 (July 1915): 132-136. [Short story, not reprinted.]

—. “Ballade of Soul.” The Harvard Monthly 60.5 (July 1915): 141-142. [“Not for the naked make I this my prayer” (CP 872)]

Contribution to The Harvard Advocate (1915):

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate 99.10 (June 24, 1915): 154-156. Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.

Addenda: Cummings’ contributions to The Harvard Monthly in 1916:

—. “Sapphics.” The Harvard Monthly 61.4 (January 1916): 101. [“When my life his pillar has raised to heaven” (CP 873)]

—. “Ballad.” The Harvard Monthly 62.1 (March 1916): 8-9. [“All in green went my love riding” (CP 15)]

—. “Sonnet.” The Harvard Monthly 62.1 (March 1916): 9. [“I dreamed I was among the conquerors” (CP 874)]

—. “Sonnet.” The Harvard Monthly 62.2 (April 1916): 34. [“It may not always be so; and I say” (CP 146)]

—. “Hokku.” The Harvard Monthly 62.2 (April 1916): 55. [“I care not greatly” (CP 875)]

—. “W. H. W., Jr. In Memory of ‘A House of Pomegranates’.” The Harvard Monthly 62.4 (June 1916): 123. [“Speak to me friend! Or is the world so wide!” (CP 877)]


[1] Information on Cummings’ coursework at Harvard was gleaned from Kennedy 60-71 and Sawyer-Laucanno 59-62 and 76-79.

[2] LeBaron Russell Briggs (1855-1934), Dean of Men at Harvard and President of Radcliffe College from 1903 to 1923.

[3] See also Gillian Huang-Tiller’s “A Note on George Firmage and E. E. Cummings’ Copy of Eight Harvard Poets” in Spring 14-15, pp. 274-75.

[4] Sawyer-Lauçanno says that Damon showed Cummings the book in the fall of 1915 (72). Cummings’ copy of Ripostes, now at the Harry Ransom Center, is the 1913 American edition.

[5] Besides adding the first phrase, I have corrected Kennedy’s transcription by capitalizing “Eye.” The quote may be found in the Cummings papers at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Am 1892.7 (90), “Notes for a nonexisting lecture (California),” folder 25, [labeled “Ezra”], sheet 258.

[6] Her full name was probably Doris Bryan. Perhaps the answer is found in these letters at the Houghton Library: MS 1892 (113) Bryan, Doris. 28 letters; 1915. No. 3, 9 & 10 with one photograph each; and MS 1892.1 (16) Bryan, Doris, recipient. 3 letters; [n.d.].

[7] Dial/Scofield Thayer Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale University, YCAL 34, box 30, folder 794. For the influence of T. S. Eliot on Cummings’ poetry, see my “Cummings Rewrites Eliot.”

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Audio Cummings

It is perhaps not surprising that Cummings has been rather badly served by the corporate entity (Harper-Collins) that controls the rights to the LP recordings he made for Caedmon Records in the 1950s. As far as I know, the six vinyl LPs of the six nonlectures have never be re-released, with the exception of a very fleeting appearance on in the pre-Jeff Bezos era. The first Caedmon LP, E. E. Cummings Reading His Poetry (TC 1017), was made in the studio on May 28, 1953. In 2001, Harper Audio/Caedmon released a three-cassette collection called E. E. Cummings Reads: A Poetry Collection that brought together all the Caedmon recordings of Cummings reading his own poetry and prose. (This collection included the first 1953 Caedmon album, as well as two subsequent albums, released in 1975 and ’77 as E. E. Cummings Reads his Collected Poetry & Prose: 1920-1958 / TC 2080/2081.) Then in 2007, Harper Audio re-released the original 1953 Caedmon LP in CD format under the name The Essential E. E. Cummings. Both the cassette and CD collections are now out of print. (While the production and sound quality were good, Harper Audio released both collections just when their respective media were beginning to be outmoded.) The only bright spot in this rather dismal recent history of Cummings’ audio (un)availability is the 2005 CD “E. E. Cummings: The Voice of the Poet,” which contains a few never-published poem recordings and is still relatively available.

Audio Cummings has fared a bit better on the web. By far the best news for fans of spoken-word Cummings is a recent web release of an entire Cummings reading at the 92nd Street Y, recorded in New York City, October 20, 1949. This reading can found in at least three places on the web:

  • As part of the “75 at 75” series, in which 75 contemporary authors write about the audio of 75 readers from the past 75 years of the 92nd Street Y series. (Cummings’ reading features comments by A. L. Kennedy.)
  • On the 92nd Street Y feed on Sound Cloud;
  • And in a You Tube version.

By noting the timing of the reading of each poem, one can construct a track list.
92nd Street Y Cummings Reading (1949) Track List (timings are approximate):

30: Cummings says that he will read first from 1 x 1, “then a few from XAIPE, and then finally from 50 Poems.”

55: pity this busy monster,manunkind, (CP 554)

2:18: of all the blessings which to man (CP 544)

4:50: one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one: (CP 556)

7:00: when god decided to invent (CP 566)

8:00: Hello is what a mirror says (CP 570)

9:10: nothing false and possible is love (CP 574)

11:00: except in your (CP 575)

13:00: all ignorance toboggans into know (CP 579)

14:53: rain or hail / sam (CP 548)

16:50: dying is fine)but Death (CP 604)

18:25: so many selves(so many fiends and gods (CP 609)

20:25: jake hates / all the girls(the (CP 619)

21:30: when serpents bargain for the right to squirm (CP 620)

22:58: who sharpens every dull (CP 624)

24:30: open his head,baby (CP 637)

25:30: this is a rubbish of human rind (CP 647)

27:00: who were so(dark of heart they might not speak (CP 640)

28:50: if(touched by love’s own secret)we,like homing (CP 659)

30:38: when faces called flowers float out of the ground (CP 665)

33:50: as freedom is a breakfastfood (CP 511)

36:50: you which could grin three smiles into a dead (CP 522)

38:55: anyone lived in a pretty how town (CP 515)

43:10: love is more thicker than forget (CP 530)

44:50: my father moved through dooms of love (CP 520)

51:41: Moderator (probably John Malcolm Brinnin) presents EEC with a “bon voyage gift” (probably some sort of briefcase), asking him to bring it back “positively bulging with lyrics.” As A. L. Kennedy notes, Cummings’ “open and delighted laughter” makes a nice conclusion to the reading.

There are at least three more samples on the web of Cummings reading his poems:

  1. The Poetry Foundation’s podcast “E. E. Cummings: Essential American Poets” presents Cummings reading “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (CP 515), “as freedom is a breakfastfood” (CP 511), and “love is more thicker than forget” (CP 530). These tracks are from the 92nd Street Y reading, recorded October 20, 1949. (The “1959” note on the podcast page is in error.)
  1. The Poetry Archive presents Cummings reading two poems: “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (CP 515) and “ ‘next to of course god america i” (CP 267). Recorded by the BBC, date unknown.
  1. The UBU web Cummings sound page offers recordings of “that melancholy” (CP 697) and “let’s,from some loud unworld’s most rightful wrong” (CP 745).

There are many more recordings out there of Cummings reading his prose and poetry that remain unavailable to the public. He gave so many readings in the 1950s that Richard S. Kennedy said that he had embarked on what was really “a new career” for him (448). Those interested in exploring further Cummings’ reading career should start with chapter 30 of Kennedy’s biography Dreams in the Mirror (445-458).


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University



Work Cited:

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.


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Estlin Cummings, “Animal Emperor” and Wild West Impresario

Cummings_wildwest_detail_lgIn the News, Notes, & Correspondence section of Spring 19 (2012), we reported the recent discovery of a number of Cummings’ childhood drawings and letters, which are part of the Cummings-Clarke Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. We quoted a portion of a news release from the Historical Society:

Among the writings found is a story about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire, a 1907 report on “Our Visit to the Public Library,” and the 1914 poem “From a Newspaper.”  A sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier drawn about 1902 also includes several lines of text. Cummings writes, “THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM”. Keepsakes include a self-portrait entitled “Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals” and three penmanship exercise books from about 1902.  Other drawings and paintings include ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, boats, the “world’s tallest tower,” wild west shows, hunting expeditions, locomotives, zoos, circuses, elephants, and house plans. (165)

In his account of his trip to the Soviet Union, EIMI (1933), Cummings looks back with amusement at his childhood fantasy of being an “Animal Emperor.” The passage begins with a reminiscence about visiting the show of Frank Bostock, “The Animal / King” [note: WordPress allows for an approximation of the typography printed in EIMI. Please see printed publication of EIMI for more accurate quotation]:

. . . . My miracleprodigy father toted me there & we spent a stupendous day(tiny I rode an elephant)when we came home the family smelled us and wept . . . Then during years I was–not The Animal King,O no;that didn’t satisfy me:
The Animal Emperor
& I drew and drew pictures(& hundreds of pictures)and thousands & millions(of me)pictures,of myself(of 1 tall big high strong man with a mighty cap which always said(that. Which never said anything during years but that,just(during years)that only)” (EIMI 429/410)

Since the Historical Society news release mentions only one “Emperor” drawing, we may speculate that Cummings’ claim that he drew “thousands & millions” portraits of himself as an Animal Emperor is somewhat exaggerated. Indeed, a subsequent MHS blog post prints a photo of the soldier and rhinoceros drawing that makes no imperial claims. This post pointed me to a brief announcement of an exhibition of Cummings’ childhood creations with the curious title of “Estlin Cummings Wild West Show.” This page reproduces a poster in which the young Estlin Cummings portrays himself playing the role of a “tall big high strong” rifle-toting Buffalo Bill. The drawing on this page is of more than usual interest to those of us who are fans of one of Cummings’ most famous poems, “Buffalo Bill ’s” (CP 90). (For a larger photo of Cummings’ childhood “Wild West” poster, see Rebecca Onion’s post on, “E. E. Cummings’ Colorful Imaginative Childhood Drawings.” The poem may also be found online here.)

In her account of her early childhood (called When I Was a Little Girl) Cummings’ sister Elizabeth told how her brother conceived of his childhood art as play and performance:

[He] used to make different kinds of drawings, too, sometimes ones (a little like the ones in the funny papers) that he mounted on strips of cardboard to use with the “Magic Lantern.” They told stories about us, our animals, and all sorts of other things. (23)

An early sort of document or slide projector, the Magic Lantern allowed Cummings to make slide shows of his art and literally project his imaginative appropriation of the wild west show. His wild west poster seems clearly influenced by at least two other posters, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Col. W.F. Cody (1890), by British artist Alick P. F. Ritchie, and I Am Coming (Courier Lithography, 1900). Ritchie’s composite portrait, with its hat made of a lariat and a teepee, eyebrows of belts, snowshoe moustaches, and buffalo head goatee, is clearly echoed in Cummings’ poster, especially the buffalo head at the bottom of the golden circle drawn around Estlin/Bill. (Notice that the “T” in “ESTLIN” pierces the buffalo’s goatee.)

EEC Blog

While it may seem unlikely that the young Cummings, born in 1894, would have seen a British poster from 1890, we should remember that in the years 1888-1890, Cummings’ father Edward was abroad finishing his graduate work in sociology, “making a comparative study of the social and economic conditions of workers in Italy, Germany, France, and Great Britain” (Kennedy, “Father” 440). In addition, Cummings’ godfather, J. Estlin Carpenter, a British Unitarian minister and theologian, corresponded extensively with Edward Cummings from 1889 to 1925), and easily could have sent the poster as a present to his godson. (See the Guide to the Collection to the Cummings-Clarke Family Papers.)

Although the golden circle enclosing the presence of the hero/saint may ultimately derive from Christian iconography, the young Cummings probably filched it from the many depictions of Buffalo Bill’s determined and beatific head inside a circle-halo, a motif that appears most prominently in the I Am Coming poster. The religious connotations of the second coming of Christ cannot be ignored in this poster, though young Estlin may have been unaware of them. (We should remember, however, that Cummings went every Sunday to hear his Unitarian minister father preach.) Certainly the I Am Coming poster helps us see that the word “Jesus” in the poem is more than an exclamation of astonishment—it also points to the sainted nature of Cummings’ hero, who, aside from the cowboy hat, mustache, and goatee, looks quite like conventional representations of Christ. In contrast, the halo in Cummings’ childhood drawing, surrounds a manly hero at ease with his rifle, confident in his abilities as marksman and emperor of animals and men. (This pose derives from depictions of Buffalo Bill’s early life as a scout and buffalo hunter like this one from 1870.)

With its depiction of the gun and animal heads, Cummings’ childhood poster emphasizes (perhaps unconsciously) Estlin/Bill’s power of life and death over animals, while the poem emphasizes Buffalo Bill’s incredible marksmanship (despite the reader’s initial uncertainty as to whether the “pigeons” are animals or clay targets). But the childhood poster exists in the realm of play—for example, while Cummings’ father hunted and mounted trophies of his kills, young Estlin never seems to have participated in these hunting expeditions. [Kennedy reports that even the father ceased his killing at some point when Cummings’ mother made him “exchange his gun for a camera” (Dreams 21).] B_Bill_horse_3_pigeon_1907a higher resolutionThough the young Estlin admired the power of someone who could tame and kill animals, the speaker of the poem admires skill and showmanship rather than power. We can see evidence of that skill in an extraordinary publicity photo that shows Buffalo Bill shooting a clay pigeon out of the air while riding his “watersmooth-silver/ stallion.” If we look closely at the Native American riding beside Buffalo Bill, we can see a bag on the pommel of his horse’s saddle. The draft of the poem tells us that this bag held the “pidgens / one two / three four five / tossed by / an indian”—or alternatively, “by a Comanche brave” (see Kidder 378, 382-83). (The white horse’s name, the New York Times obituary tells us, was Isham, “which the Colonel always rode at the exhibition of his rough riders.”)

Cummings never wrote an essay on Buffalo Bill, but in the mid-twenties, he did write two humorous pieces for Vanity Fair on closely-related popular entertainments, the circus and Coney Island. [In fact from 1913 to 1916, the cash-strapped Buffalo Bill did perform “as an attraction with other shows” (Fees). Cummings’ sister Elizabeth ends her account of childhood visits to the circus by telling how Buffalo Bill rode into the tent and “did amazing shooting tricks” (39).] In both “The Adult, the Artist and the Circus” and “Coney Island,” visiting these popular spectacles is seen in Freudian terms as a return to what might be termed the childhood unconscious—and as a clear threat to the adult personality. Indeed, Cummings writes that “at the very thought of ‘circus,’ a swarm of long-imprisoned desires breaks jail. Armed with beauty and demanding justice and everywhere threatening us with curiosity and Spring and childhood, this mob of forgotten wishes begins to storm the supposedly impregnable fortifications of our Present” (“Adult” 109). This restorative childhood id is presented as a panacea for modern anxieties, a sure bet to lessen the crime rate and to keep the artistic class from committing suicide (“Coney” 149). The circus essay even contends that “a periodic and highly concentrated dose of wild animals . . . is indispensable to the happiness of all mature civilized human beings.” Requiring adults to visit the animals at the circus would close down insane asylums, heal the “lame, halt and blind,” and put “millions of psychoanalysts” out of work (111).

If the childhood poster shows young Estlin identifying with a hero and master showman, in the 1917 poem their relationship is more fraught with Freudian contention. Critics like Thomas Dilworth have seen the poem as depicting childhood hero-worship being supplanted by rhetorical mastery over a symbolic father figure. Dilworth writes that “the question ‘how do you like your blueeyed boy’ sarcastically belittles Buffalo Bill and conveys the speaker’s sense of superiority over him” (174). Furthermore, “Buffalo Bill once rode a silver stallion, and his supremacy over the impressive animal signified his stature. Now the speaker rhetorically rides Buffalo Bill, verbally elevating himself and performing at Buffalo Bill’s expense” (175). Etienne Terblanche sees the stallion somewhat differently. While he agrees with Dilworth that the poem severely diminishes Buffalo Bill’s hero status, Terblanche argues that far from riding Buffalo Bill, the speaker identifies with the real hero of the poem, the lower-case stallion, who “is lyrical, flowing, and aquatic . . . unlike the clipped and mechanistic features associated with the three apparent heroes,” the capitalized Buffalo Bill, Jesus and Mister Death (306). Surely the lower case i speaker, Terblanche argues, would identify “with this lowercase protagonist . . . who is a hero precisely by being a nonhero” (306).

We know from quite a few other Cummings poems that he identified strongly with animals. [For two examples, see “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” (CP 396) and “i / never” (CP 820).] And it is not only animals that the poet identifies with. As I wrote in a recent paper, “the lower case ‘i’ persona finds . . . its selves in and through the many selves . . . of animals (a grasshopper, a hummingbird), trees, leaves, twilight, stars, the moon, and even certain buildings” (“Cummings” 499). It would seem from this reading that Cummings’ childhood fantasies of becoming a Buffalo Bill-like “Animal Emperor” gave way to a more modest lower-case urge to identify with nature and deprecate the upper-case buffalo hunter. However, readers of the poem know that the mocking of Buffalo Bill exists side by side with admiration for his skill. And even in his “Animal Emperor” phase, the young Estlin could identify with the animal while at the same time asserting supremacy over his “miracleprodigy” father. Kennedy relates an anecdote in which the young blue-eyed boy took on the father role by identifying with the animal:

Estlin had a singular liking for elephants, which he came to associate with his father (who carried him about, who had big ears). Drawing pictures of elephants became a repeated pastime. At length, the situation became reversed in the role-playing with his father, so that Estlin became in imagination Kipling’s elephant Kala Nag, and his father became little Tomai, the elephant boy who took care of him. “Take me with you, O Kala Nag,” his father would say at bedtime. (Dreams 32)

After the passage in EIMI in which Cummings remembers his “Animal Emperor” phase, he goes on to reminisce about the “Death Defying” dangers faced by loop-the-loop cyclist Diavolo, and even mentions Buffalo Bill. His interior monologue turns towards death: “(a graveyard ‘New York’ &)what fire-flies among such gravestones(afterwards mai and the chevaux de bois & death)” (430/411). I will skip over some coded references here to Cummings’ divorce from his first wife so as not to stray from the point. Which is: the passage immediately turns from death to rebirth:

we have arisen,who were dead ; having died we are as only Animal Emperors of the imagination shall be(and as only poets arise : again possibly to die,impossibly again & even out of hell ascending who shall keep our circus hearts against all fear). (EIMI 430/411)

The “hell” mentioned here is the Soviet Union, governed by fear. In this passage, I think “Animal Emperors” are not human emperors of animals, but rather, childlike humans who, in becoming one with animals, become emperors of the imagination. The poetic imagination and the authentic self are reborn through the childhood unconscious of the “circus heart.”[1]



Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University



Works Cited

Col. Wm. F. Cody, ‘Buffalo Bill,’ Dead.” New York Times (11 Jan. 1917). Web.

Cummings-Clarke Family Papers, 1793-1949: Guide to the Collection.” Massachusetts Historical Society Call Number Ms. N-1058. Web.

The Cummings-Clarke Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.” Spring 19 (2012): 164-165. Print and Web.

Cummings, E. E. “The Adult, the Artist and the Circus.” Vanity Fair (October 1925). Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 109-114.

—. “Coney Island.” Vanity Fair (June 1926). Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 149-153.

—. EIMI. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. Reprinted. New York: William Sloane, 1949. Reprinted with an introduction by EEC, New York: Grove Press, 1958.

—. EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia. 1933. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 2007.

Dilworth, Thomas. “Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill ’s’.” Explicator 53.3 (Spring 1995): 174-175.

Discovery of Early E. E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society.” MHS News Massachusetts Historical Society, 8 November, 2012. Web.

Estlin Cummings Wild West Show.” Massachusetts Historical Society July 2013. Web.   (with photo of drawing of same)

Fees, Paul. “William Frederick Cody.” Buffalo Bill Center of the West 2015. Web. Accessed 29 July 2015.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

—. “Edward Cummings, the Father of the Poet.” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 70 (1966): 437-449.

Kidder, Rushworth M. “ ‘Buffalo Bill ‘s’: An Early E. E. Cummings Manuscript” Harvard Library Bulletin 24.4 (October 1976): 373-383.

Lowell, Laura. “A Rhinoceros Tells Tales to a Soldier: The Childhood Imaginings of E. E. Cummings.” Object of the Month Massachusetts Historical Society, July 2013. Web.   (with photo of drawing of a soldier and a rhino)

Onion, Rebecca. “E. E. Cummings’ Colorful, Imaginative Childhood Drawings.” The Vault: Historical Treasures, Oddities, and Delights, 17 June 2013. Web.

Qualey, Elizabeth Cummings. When I Was a Little Girl. Ed. Carlton C. Qualey. Center Ossipee, NH: Carroll County Independent, 1981.

Ray, David. “The Irony of E. E. Cummings.” College English 23.4 (Jan. 1962): 282, 287-290. [Ray sees “Buffalo Bill ’s” as “an assault on everything held dear by a sentimentalist or a hero-worshipper” (289).]

Terblanche, Etienne. “Is There a Hero in this Poem? E. E. Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill ’s / defunct’.” The Explicator 70.4 (Dec. 2012): 304-307.

Webster, Michael. “Lugete: The Divine Lost and Found Child in Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 19 (2012): 37-49.

—. “E. E. Cummings.” A Companion to Modernist Poetry. Ed. David Chinitz and Gail McDonald. Chichester, U.K. / Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. 494-504.



[1] For more on Cummings’ view of the child as the source of rebirth and creativity, see my “Lugete: The Divine Lost and Found Child in Cummings.”

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An Old Door, Cummings’ Personal Printer, and W [ViVa]

Title Page

Title Page

An online exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center Library in Austin, Texas, catalogues the signatures on a door that used to be in the Greenwich Village Bookshop, circa 1920-1924. The signature page of S. A. Jacobs, Cummings’ personal typesetter, reproduces a July 16, 1931 letter from Jacobs to Cummings about printing the title page of ViVa. Those patient enough to figure out how the slide show on this page works will be rewarded with a photo of the letter from Jacobs to Cummings and with the photo of the title page of W [ViVa] reproduced here (click on either image to view more closely). Jacobs’ letter complains bitterly of the difficulty in getting this title page to look right: “the photo engraver has failed me utterly: for three times in succession he made the reversed plate of VV wrong–not as ordered by you or me or [with] any sign of intelligence in himself. . . . I am rejecting the work as not  satisfactory.” (The writing in pencil at the top of the letter is Cummings’ draft of a telegram responding to Jacobs.)



The curious title of this collection of poems, W, represents two overlapping V’s, which refer to “a graffito commonly found on southern European walls, meaning ‘long live,’ as in ‘Viva Napoli’ or ‘Viva Presidente Wilson’ “ (Kennedy, Revisited 76). In critical and in ordinary discourse, the title is pronounced “Viva” and is written as “ViVa”–with two capital V’s. When both titles are used, the pronounceable title is written in brackets: [ViVa]. In her article “The Modernist Sonnet and the Pre-Postmodern Consciousness,” Gillian Huang-Tiller notes that the VV slogan “probably stems from ‘Viva V.E.R.D.I.‘ or Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia, [Long live Victor Emanuel, King of Italy], slogan for patriotic Italians of the nineteenth century” (170).

In Dreams in the Mirror, Richard S. Kennedy says that ViVa “contains seventy poems; every seventh poem is a sonnet, except that the last seven poems are all sonnets” (319). This description is in general quite correct, but, as Huang-Tiller points out, Kennedy then makes an interesting and perhaps productive error. He writes: “That makes a total of fourteen sonnets, corresponding to the fourteen-line stanza of the sonnet” (Dreams 319). Actually, as Huang-Tiller astutely notes, “the  structure  of  the  collection  is  not  a  neat 7 + 7—there are nine embedded  sonnets, not  seven.” She further comments: “Kennedy apparently follows what his experience of the sonnet tells him should be in the text, rather than what is really in the text” (164). So the order of the poems in the text follows this mathematical pattern: 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 -1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 7 = 70 poems. Or: 7 x 9 = 63 + 7 = 70.

What might this not-quite-sonnet pattern of sonnets tell us about Cummings’ intentions? Huang-Tiller speculates that perhaps “Cummings has another design in mind, as the nine embedded sonnets (each the seventh poem) along with the final set of seven sonnets could signal a perfect ten: 9 sonnets + 1 set = 10” (164). In the afterword to his translation of No Thanks, Jacques Demarcq sees ViVa as having a structure of ten weeks, “six poèmes et le dimanche un sonnet” [six poems and the Sunday of a sonnet] (“Un tournant” 112). This would make the final seven sonnets of ViVa a week of Sundays. In EIMI (published two years after ViVa), Cummings tells us that he was born on a Sunday (91/89), and several commentators have noticed that EIMI begins and ends on a Sunday (May 10 and June 14). Each chapter narrates one day, so the chapters follow a pattern similar to the one in ViVa, except that the implied days of the week metaphor is made explicit. EIMI has six Sundays with six days between each of them, making a total of five weeks and 36 days. [See EIMI note 91 / 89.]

Jacobs’ letter to Cummings and the mathematical patterning of poems and chapters in ViVa and EIMI show the immense care Cummings took with his work, both on the macro- (book) and micro- (individual poem and letter) levels. The macro-level patterns of ViVa and EIMI show something else, I think: a concern to give every part of his work significance. For example, the sonnets in ViVa are mostly love poems. Love and Sunday, then, represent birth and rebirth. The connection to rebirth is made clear in EIMI when Cummings mentions the Russian word for Sunday, “voskresaynyeh” (91/89), which means “resurrection.”


For more on Jacobs and Cummings, see Walker Rumble’s short piece “Reclaiming S. A. Jacobs: Polytype, Golden Eagle, and Typographic Modernism” as well as Rumble’s recent article from SpringThe Persian Typesetter: S. A. Jacobs, E. E. Cummings, and the Golden Eagle Press.”



Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University


Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. EIMI. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. Reprinted. New York: William Sloane, 1949. Reprinted with an introduction by EEC, New York: Grove Press, 1958.

—. EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia. 1933. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 2007.

Demarcq, Jacques. “Un tournant” [Afterword]. No Thanks. By E. E. Cummings. Trans. Jacques Demarcq. Caen, France: Nous, 2011. 97-137.

Huang-Tiller, Gillian. “The Modernist Sonnet and the Pre-Postmodern Consciousness: The Question of Meta-Genre in E. E. Cummings’ W [ViVa] (1931).” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (2006): 156-177.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

—. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. [Twayne’s United States Authors Series No. 637.]

Webster, Michael. “EIMI Notes.” SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society. Web.


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CFP for ALA Conference | Boston, MA | May 21-24, 2015

E. E. Cummings Sessions at American Literature Association’s 26th annual conference at the Westin Copley Place in Boston, MA on May 21-24, 2015

Deadline January 25, 2015

The E. E. Cummings Society will co-sponsor one collaborative panel with the John Dos Passos Society at the American Literature Association conference in Boston on May 21-24, 2015. In addition, the Cummings Society will sponsor one to two sessions on E. E. Cummings.

Intersections of E.E. Cummings and John Dos Passos

This collaborative panel invites varied approaches to examining the intersections between E.E. Cummings and John Dos Passos. Their careers overlap and in striking ways: both authors went to Harvard, were visual artists, wrote experimental dramas, served in ambulance services during World War I, endured the horrors of warfare and the censorship of the government, and engaged in the activism of the radical political environment of the early 20th century and the resulting hardships of the literary marketplace. In the 1930s, Cummings and Dos Passos both visited the Soviet Union and wrote about their experiences and impressions of the culture, and both experienced drastic shifts in political beliefs during that period.

We welcome submissions related to form and genre, modernism and modernity, war, gender and sexuality, transnationalism, print culture, archival study, politics, activist writing, and related topics. Collaborative papers and pedagogical approaches are also welcome.

300-500 word abstracts and a brief CV to Victoria Bryan, President of the John Dos Passos Society ( and Michael Webster, President of the E.E. Cummings Society ( by January 25, 2015.

E. E. Cummings Sessions Honoring Norman Friedman

In memory of the first and finest Cummings scholar, Norman Friedman (1925-2014), we encourage everyone to relate their proposals and papers in some way to Norman’s work. (A Norman Friedman bibliography may be found here.) We invite proposals for papers on any aspect of Cummings’ life or work. Proposals on topics that Norman pioneered will be especially welcome:

  • Formal qualities of Cummings’ poems and prose, including manuscript studies
  • Cummings’ reputation in the academy and beyond
  • Teaching Cummings
  • The maturity of Cummings’ childlike vision
  • Cummings’ transcendental vision and its Asian and New England sources.
  • Psychological aspects of Cummings’ life and work

Submit 250-400 word abstracts to Michael Webster ( by January 25, 2015.

For further information on the American Literature Association conference, please consult the ALA conference website at

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Cummings Centennials (1913)

Brancusi's "Mademoiselle Pogany"

Brancusi’s “Mademoiselle Pogany”

This rather belated post begins a series that will mark the events in Cummings’ life one hundred years ago. (The post for 1914 is forthcoming.) In 1913, the young (18-19 years old) E. E. Cummings finished his sophomore year and began his junior year at Harvard College. The young poet was still living at home, commuting to school by making the short walk from 104 Irving Street to Harvard Yard. In the spring semester, he was finishing up the second year Greek course and Latin B. Cummings’ Greek professor, C. P. Parker, was so impressed with his student’s translation of the first choral ode in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus that he mailed it to Cummings’ mother (Kennedy 56). In his Latin course, Cummings especially enjoyed translating Horace, producing, as Richard S. Kennedy notes, “three of the best poems he had yet written” (57). Also this year, the young poet took a course in Tennyson, whose Victorian moralism soon became tiring. Cummings jotted down these satirical couplets to express his displeasure and to amuse his classmates:

Dear God, be kind to Tennyson,
He did no harm to anyone.
For queen, for country, and for Thee
He wrote for all eternity.
He led an exemplary life
Having children by his wife.
Dear Lord: let Keats and Shelley wait.
Make Tennyson thy laureate. (qtd. in Kennedy 64-65)

Also in this spring semester, Cummings was writing more formal verse for a student audience: in March, he published two poems in The Harvard Advocate, “Summer Silence (Spenserian Stanza)” (March 7) and “Sunset” (March 21). In his discussion (in Spring 20) of the first poem, William Blissett says that it “puts one in mind of Keats more than Spenser, and of Rossetti more than either, as is evidenced by “immemorial” and “untranslated” (25). Blissett astutely points out how Cummings imitated Rossetti’s habit of “emphatically” placing “the long negative word” and how he later adapted this Pre-Raphaelite mannerism to his own special vocabulary in coining words like “unworld.” The mannerism, however, also helped to produce the last line and a half of the poem, which no doubt mightily impressed the Harvard aesthetes: “No whisper mars / The utter silence of the untranslated stars” (CP 858). The second poem, a sonnet, shows the influence of Keats in images like the “one pure-browed / White-fingered star” that stitches “the dead day’s shroud” (CP 859). After a classical allusion that imagines Night shaking “the day’s fillets [ribbons]” out of her “locks,” Cummings ends the poem on a more modern note: “Hark! the cold ripple sneering on the rocks!”

In May, 1913 Cummings appeared in a production of the Cambridge Social Dramatic Club, Jerome K. Jerome’s The New Lady Bantock, or Fanny and the Servant Problem (Kennedy 86). He played one of the problem servants, a second footman named Ernest Bennet. A graduate student in philosophy who had recently returned from a year in Paris played Vernon Wetherell, Lord Bantock. This tall and rather aloof student was named Thomas Stearns Eliot. Whoever cast the play must have been a clairvoyant genius, at least as far as predicting the two poets’ subsequent roles in Anglo-American poetry, for E. E. Cummings was destined to play the eternally snickering footman of modernism, while T. S. Eliot was fated to wear the mask of the lord of poetic erudition and arbiter of poetic reputation.

The new Lady Bantock was played by Amy de Gozzaldi, and in real life Cummings had a crush on her, so when the plot called for the two to kiss, he was shy of doing so. On opening night, however, as he remembered some 30 years later, their kiss struck sparks: “Amy de Gozzaldi kissed me;and her mouth came off on my mouth,and billions cheered:I shall never forget.” He also never forgot the fellow who played Lord Bantock, even if he did not remember his name: “let’s see:a snob,cold,older than me,aloof,never sat with the rest of the cast at rehearsals,immaculately dressed;you know,a type ‘the frozen jeuness[e] dorée’” (P/C 182). Since Eliot had met Emily Hale the year before, presumably he was not Cummings’ rival for Amy’s affections; however, it was the custom for the gentlemen in the cast to present the leading lady with a gift. Eliot brought Amy “a gorgeous bouquet of roses”; Cummings gave her a poem that was published in the June issue of the Harvard Monthly (Kennedy 86-87). The poem tells of dusk sinking “with faint wild wings . . . with Night’s arrow in her heart!” and of the lovers escaping from “the awful rant and roar of men and things . . . into Silence” (CP 863).

May was a busy month for Cummings. On May 11, he sent a letter to Scofield Thayer, “expressing . . . admiration” for one of Thayer’s love poems, writing: “I shall be very proud and happy indeed when I can say the thing so completely, so purely, and with such a true and fine ring” (qtd. in Dempsey 16). Thayer responded on May 13, inviting Cummings to join the editorial board of the Harvard Monthly. Among the editors at the time were Cummings’ friends Arthur Wilson, Cuthbert Wright, and Gilbert Seldes, future cultural critic and assistant editor of The Dial. Cummings is listed on the masthead as “E Estlin Cummings.” Looking at George Firmage’s Bibliography, it is apparent that Cummings cut down on his contributions to the Monthly after he became an editor, publishing no more poems in 1913 after the June appearance of his poem for Amy de Gozzaldi.

Perhaps Cummings turned his focus elsewhere for a time, for he had begun exploring Boston night life as well as the new developments in modern art and poetry, thanks to the tutelage of S. Foster Damon, who introduced him to the music of Stravinsky and Debussy, as well as loaning him copies of Poetry magazine (Kennedy 78). It may have been in late 1913 when Damon “took Cummings out drinking for the first time in his life” at Jacob Wirth’s “sawdust-strewn restaurant on Stuart Street” in Boston (Kennedy 79). When the Armory Show was in Boston (from April 28 to May 19, 1913) Damon took Cummings to see it. Officially called the International Exhibition of Modern Art, the Armory Show was designed to introduce the American public to the latest trends in modern art, both European and American. As Kim Orcutt writes, the Boston version of the show “was whittled down from upwards of fourteen hundred to less than three hundred objects, and American works were eliminated, so Bostonians saw only the avant-garde European paintings, sculpture, and works on paper that had startled visitors in New York and Chicago.” Boston critics were not impressed, saying that the art was “branded with the mark of cocaine” and that it represented “charlatanism and insanity combined” (qtd. in Troyen 382).

In his 1920 review of T. S. Eliot, Cummings noted the Boston reaction to the show in this way:

The last word on caricature was spoken as far back as 1913. “My dear it’s all so perfectly ridiculous” remarked to an elderly Boston woman an elderly woman of Boston, as the twain made their noticeably irrevocable exeunt from that most colossal of all circuses, the (then in Boston) International. “My dear if some of the pictures didn’t look like something it wouldn’t be so amusing” observed, on the threshold, the e.B.w., adding “I should hate to have my portrait painted by any of those ‘artists’!” “They’ll never make a statue of me” stated with polyphiloprogenitive conviction the e.w.o.B. (26)

Cummings was especially taken by the Cézanne paintings and by Brancusi’s sculpture Mlle. Pogany, which, two years later in his graduation speech at Harvard, he termed a “triumph of line for line’s sake over realism” (“New Art” 6).


Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University



Works Cited

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound / Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996. Abbreviated P/C.

Blissett, William. “E. E. Cummings: A Surprising Spenserian.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 20 (2013): 24-36.

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

—. “Do you remember when the fluttering dusk,” The Harvard Monthly, 56.4 (June 1913): 128.

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate (June 1915). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.

—. “T. S. Eliot.” The Dial 68 (June 1920): 781-84. Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 25-29.

Dempsey, James. The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014.

Firmage, George J. E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1960.

Hopkinson, Sarah. “The Early Advocate: e.e. cummings.” Notes from 21 South Street. The Harvard Advocate Blog. 17 Oct. 2012. Web.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

Kushner, Marilyn Satin and Kimberly Orcutt, eds. The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution. New York: New-York Historical Society / London: D. Giles, 2013.

Orcutt, Kim. “The Armory Show Lands with a Thud in Boston.” Blog post. The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution. New-York Historical Society. 13 April 2013. Web.

Troyen, Carol. “ ‘Unwept, unhonored, and unsung’: The Armory Show in Boston.” The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution. Eds. Marilyn Satin Kushner and Kimberly Orcutt, with Casey Nelson Blake. New York: New-York Historical Society / London: in association with D. Giles, 2013. 379-391.


EEC poem in June, 1913 Harvard Monthly:  “Do you remember when the fluttering dusk,” (scroll down).

Armory Show at 100:

Orcutt, Armory Show in Boston:

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Natalie Merchant’s Performance of “maggie and milly and molly and may”

Here is a video of Natalie Merchant performing her setting of “maggie and milly and molly and may” (CP 682).  A studio recording of the song is one of the tracks on Merchant’s 2010 double CD Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch), which contains her musical adaptations of poems both famous and quite obscure, many of them children’s poems.


Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University


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