E. E. Cummings: Poems Themes

E. E. Cummings: Poems Themes

The "i" in Team

A common theme running throughout the entirety of the canon of Cummings is heralding the individual as part of the fabric society. The most common literary device that he uses to convey this theme is capitalization. Cummings is, of course, famous for unconventional capitalization and utilization of the first person pronoun reference is almost universally written as a lower case “i” instead of the traditional upper case. This choice is a conscious indicator by the poet of both the subjugation of the self into his role as part of the community. and the struggle that a person faces to express individuality. The choice is not intended to be read as a political statement; Cummings is not fostering communist collectivism through unconventional capitalization anymore than he is advocating anarchism, but is rather addressing form as function. The form of the modest lower case first person pronoun follows the function of a more expansive theme that society is dependent upon the imagination of the individual's contribution to the evolution of society rather than individuality existing as merely a narcissistic expression of selfishness.

Making Language Submissive to Communication

The poetry of E.E. Cummings is immediately and obviously more unconventional that most poetry. The lack of punctuation, a rebellion against the rules of capitalization even experimentation with spacing between words all serve to lend his poetry an experimental quality. Cummings feels free to create words when no exists that properly conveys his meaning. Poetry is literary form that has always been dependent upon breaking rules, but even when those rules are being broken they usually also simultaneously conform to specific rules of poetry like rhythm, rhyme and meter. For Cummings, such constrictions are just another way in which language acts as stranglehold on communication, forcing the poet to mangle the transmission in order to conform. The playfulness of structure, the willingness to eschew expectations of grammatical consistency and the flexibility of word choice are all manifestations of a theme that seeks to revolt against the fundamentals of poetry by forcing language to be submissive to communication rather than the other way around.


It may be surprising to some who are only familiar with the poetry of Cummings through school assignments to learn that he is one of the more highly regarded writers of the love sonnet of his generation; indeed many argue his best are among the examples of the 20th century. Just as he could prove himself one of the all-time great revolutionaries of literature with his pursuit of experimentation, so could also exhibit a precise control over the conventions of form. Even within the limited context of “love poetry” was Cummings a rebel, however. His output was prodigious but only because he seeks to cover the gamut. The sonnets can glide heavily into the physicality of romantic love, but he was equally capable of creating emotional depth and dramatic tension through his more experimental nature such as the verse in his collection 95 Poems that engage his exuberance for fighting convention while at the same time revealing a passionate sort of non-romantic love both for specific individuals such as his father as well as for humanity at large. Even one of his most anthologized poems is at heart a love poem even as “anyone lived in a pretty how town” also exists as a perfect example of his themes about individualism and constant struggle with society to express that quality while still fitting in.

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