Poetry Friday: 1926

It’s a busy day, as the due dates for final assignments loom large, but I couldn’t leave you without a poem (all three of you who look for poems faithfully every Friday).  In 1926, e. e. cummings published a collection entitled is 5. It’s allegedly influenced by his experiences as an ambulance driver in the Great War.  I’m not sure.  So read the following with me, and offer your opinion in the comments of what it is he’s trying to say.  Like almost all of cummings’ poetry, it has no title, and is referred to simply by its first line:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

4 comments on “Poetry Friday: 1926

  1. Paul Hamann says:

    I’d argue it IS war related. Life is quick (not a paragraph). Death isn’t an aside or something to be overlooked (not parenthesis). And in a short life, it’s best not to let our thoughts override things that provide deep, intense, momentary pleasure–since a series of these would lead to a deep, intense, momentary life, which probably ain’t so bad since we can’t change the “momentary” part. (“Deep, intense, momentary life” beats the hell out of “conflicted, uncertain, cerebral, momentary life.” Or so the WWI vet, who’s seen more horrible and more frequent death than any of us should ever bear, tells us.)

    So, with that in mind…hey, fluttery-eylidded baby, let’s jump in the sack.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      I do like your reading, Paul. But does that make this just an overly stylized remix of “To His Coy Mistress”? If I have to pick between “life’s not a paragraph / And death i think is no parenthesis” and “Let us roll all our strength and all / Our sweetness up into one ball, / And tear our pleasures with rough strife / Through the iron gates of life” I think my vote may be with Andrew Marvell (who, after all, did it first). But am I oversimplifying your reading of the poem to analogize it in this way?

      • Paul Hamann says:

        A little bit. The messages are different, and cummings’ is, not surprisingly darker. There’s something so much more -immediate- about death in cummings’ poem. Yeah, Marvell hits us with worms, but they’re distant and in the future. cummings’ poem has ACTION in it (those fluttering eyelids!) that makes me believe he’s actually following his advice. Marvell’s use of death feels like a cynical ploy to bed the mistress. Death feels far away–it’ll be ugly. cummings has only a quick mention of it–his focus is on the lover, as it should be.

        I’m reminded of anecdotal evidence that casual hook-ups increased a LOT in New York City in the couple of years after 9/11. I think cummings understands why. Marvell does not–and that’s the difference between the poets and between the poems.

        • jwrosenzweig says:

          I like the points you raise…I think I’m a bigger fan of Marvell’s poem than you are, but I agree with you about the distinctions between the two. And I think your assessment of the two poets’ understanding of that immediate passionate desire in proximity to death and loss is accurate. Thanks for your reply!

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