Robert D. Mayo: On "Chansons Innocentes (I)"

The unconventional typography...is used to enhance the feeling of childlike naivete, to suggest sound effects, and to support the "action" of the poem in other ways.

1. Most obviously, eddieandbill and bettyandisbel are attempts to suggest a child’s running of words together breathlessly....The curious form baloonMan...shows...the same process in reverse, the breaking up of a single word into its significant components. Here it may represent a naive qualification by the speaker. This queer, little being--he seems to warn us--may be goat-footed, but he’s a Man just the same.

2. At first sight the wide spacing and the line-breaks in the poem may seem to be pure freakishness, but with study one discovers a regularity in the irregularity which suggests some method in the poet’s oddity. For example, there is after Just-spring or spring each time either a space or a line-break. These can be interpreted as dramatic pauses--suggestive of the speechless wonder of the child. Every time the subject recurs, he stops to take it in, as it were.

3. In the passages just cited the spacing seems to have been used for emphasis--as exclamation points in absentia so to speak. Elsewhere quite the opposite effect may have been intended. For example, each time the baloonman whistles, the line is either broken or extended by wide spacing.... [Here Mayo quotes l. 5, the end of l. 12 and beginning of l. 13, and ll. 21-24.] It may be that this is intended to convey to the eye the impression of distance, and attentuation. The whistle...is heard by the children far off...whereupon they come running and skipping from their games.

4. Undoubtedly the most cryptic typographical feature...is found in the last nine lines. The first fifteen are grouped for the eye in "stanzas" of five lines each, consisting of a "quatrain" and a "refrain." The arrangement is quite arbitrary, it would seem, since the meter is free, the lines are irregular in length, and the grouping bears no observable relation to the sense....After three "regular stanzas," however, the sight pattern dwindles: ten words make up nine lines, the margin slips to the right, and the poem breaks off between the "quatrain" and the "refrain."

...It is a striking fact...that the hop-scotch and jump-rope of line 15 is followed by three hops forward in the verse, two diagonal, a double-hop, and three singles. The game breaks up the poem, just as the baloonman breaks up the game.

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Title Robert D. Mayo: On "Chansons Innocentes (I)" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Robert D. Mayo Criticism Target E. E. Cummings
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Aug 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Chansons Innocentes (I)
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