I don’t read much poetry – fiction is my genre of choice most of the time – but sometimes I get in this poetry mood during which nothing will satisfy me but a juicy, thought-evoking poem. When I get in these moods I almost always reach for Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings.
E.E Cummings was an innovative 20th century poet who was known for his experimentation with form and syntax, which helped create a very unique and memorable personal style. His poems are precise and often blunt, with sharp imagery and grammatical oddities (such as using words like “if,” “am,” and “because” as nouns).
While I like most of his poetry (he published A LOT in his life), his love poems and nature poems are among my favorite. The way he plays around with words and images are irresistible – it’s like the poem grabs hold of your heart and won’t let go for a few minutes. Probably his most famous poem is “i carry your heart with me”:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
My personal favorite of his poems, however, is this one:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Many people have issue with reading poetry, so here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to help really appreciate poems as I am reading them:
- Don’t read it like a novel. If you pick up Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings, choose one or two poems to really focus on.
- Read the poem a couple of times straight through. Try to get a sense of the overall theme.
- Read it again, this time stopping at the end of each line. Think about your favorite images in the line, favorite words, and try to figure out what the line may signify.
- When you’ve finished going through each line, skim it one more time and then simply think about it.
Maybe this seems like too much work for a casual reading, but it is simply a different process than novel-reading; if you want to get the most out of poetry, it is the best way to do it. I love reading E.E. Cummings poems because no word is squandered – you can find meaning in every pronoun, comma, and missing space.
i will wade out
till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness