Biography of E. E. Cummings

Born Edward Estlin Cummings, E. E. Cummings is one of the most widely read twentieth-century American poets. Cummings was an advocate of poetic experimentalism—he identified himself as a “small eye poet,” sometimes wrote his own name in full lowercase (“e e cummings”), and often resisted the conventional norms of syntax and capitalization in his poems. The avant-gardist is commonly associated with the literary movements of modernism, free form poetry, and imagism.

Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. His parents were supportive of his creative activities, which included the routine of writing a poem a day. Cummings’s passion for poetry continued into his Harvard years, during which he was published in the anthology Eight Harvard Poets (1917), and began his career as a modernist poet. After serving in World War I and being detained for several months in Normandy, Cummings published his first collection of poems, Tulips and Chimneys, in 1923.

In the 1920s and 30s, Cummings had a prolific literary career that took him back and forth between New York and Paris, throughout Europe, and even to the Soviet Union in 1931. He published & (self-published, 1925), XLI Poems (1925), is 5 (1926), W(ViVa) (1931), and No Thanks (1935), as well as works of prose such as The Enormous Room (1922) and Eimi (1936). The most prolific period in the poet’s career was also a time of change for his personal life: He divorced his first wife Elaine Orr in 1925, lost his father to a car crash in 1926, married Anne Minnerly Barton in 1929, and, after separating with her, started a relationship with Marion Morehouse in 1934.

Cummings’s poetry was recognized by his contemporaries for its innovative style. Heavily influenced by the imagist Amy Lowell, as well as other modernists including Ezra Pound, Cummings is one of the most notable figures in American modernist poetry. His work hearkens back to the Romantic tradition and the sonnet form, but also features iconoclastic uses of form, syntax, and capitalization. His most celebrated works, such as “i carry your heart with me,” “Bufffalo Bill’s” and “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r,” exemplify his experiments in free verse. The subject matter of Cummings’s poems ranges from childlike curiosity and folklore to erotica and war.

Cummings’s poetry received numerous recognitions, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a professorship at Harvard University. By the time he passed away in 1962, Cummings was one of the most widely read American poets.

Study Guides on Works by E. E. Cummings

“All in green went my love riding,” one of E. E. Cummings’s most celebrated poems, was published in 1923 in Tulips and Chimneys, Cummings' first published collection of poems. Written in the early years of Cummings’s career, it is perhaps one of...

“since feeling is first” was published in E. E. Cummings’s 1926 poetry collection is 5. Released at perhaps the height of the poet’s career, is 5 features poems that exemplify Cummings’s iconoclastic, experimental, witty, and often satirical...