Skip to main content

An example in 50 Poems is Poem 29, of which the first stanza reads:

[Here he quotes the first stanza]

A translation--omitting the second line, which means whatever it means--might be, "The poet lived year by year in an ordinary town, where he sang his negations and danced his affirmations." Need one say that Cummings's new language has a marvelous way of lending strangeness to sometimes rather commonplace statements? It also serves as a means of avoiding various words that he detested. Later in the same poem, when he says that "noone loved him more by more," it is obvious that "noone" is the poet's wife. After his second divorce, Cummings was happily married for nearly thirty years, a fact attested by some of his finest poems, but the word "wife" appears in none them.

Any words involved in his game with parts of speech acquired plus or a minus value. Thus, "was" as a noun is minus; "is" and "am" and "become" are plus. "Who" is plus, but "which" is minus, especially when it refers to impersons, and so is the adjective "whichful." "It," another neuter, seems to be the negative of "he" or "him" and leads to "itmaking," a term of utter condemnation "Where" and "when" are both minus as nouns; "wherelings" and "whenlings" are pitiable people, "sons of unless and children of almost....The honorifics are "here" and "now." "beautiful most is now," he says....

All such words have become abstractions, and the meanings they imply are ethical and metaphysical. Usually ethics and ontology are fatal subjects for modern poets, but Cummings was feeling impelled to venture into them. The anti-intellectual was about to become, in limited ways, an ideologist. There had been changes in his life and they had led to a number of ideas that were partly new for him and were completely opposed at the time to those held by "mostpeople," as he called the American public. When one looks back at his career, it would seem that he had to invent his new language as the only fresh and serviceable means of expressing the ideas in poetry.