e. e. cummings

Many of his poems are about his experiences in World War I. After the war, young people his age in France, England, and America had the type of reaction to war that we currently call "Vietnam Syndrome."  In both cases, the war was bogged down and seemed meaningless.  For cummings in particular, the war seemed absurd.  The French allies threw him in jail for the "crime" of writing letters home criticizing the French.  So this was how he spent "the war to end all wars," "the war to make the world safe for democracy."  Where was the freedom he was supposed to be fighting for?  Can you understand how cummings developed a critical attitude toward war jingoism and toward advertising in general?

He mostly wrote in an experimental style. He usually attacked on depersonalized, commercial, and exploitative mass culture. Mass culture means making everybody the same. Cummings reflects the culture of advertisement. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a Congregationalist minister and teacher at Harvard. Cummings was a New England poet with some connections with the Puritans strains. Cummings was known for not using punctuation marks properly and sometimes not capitalizing the words. In his poems, there are a lot of gaps and short sentences.

The style of cummings' poetry reflects his use of the technology of the day.  His poems look like the sort of thing one gets by playing with a typewriter.  Imagine what he would have done with a modern word processor & all those fonts, sizes, & styles.

my sweet old etcetera




my sweet old etcetera

aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what

is more did tell you just

what everybody was fighting


my sister

isabel created hundreds


hundreds)of socks not to

mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

mother hoped that

i would die etcetera

bravely of course my father used

to become hoarse talking about how it was

a privilege and if only he

could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly

in the deep mud et




  cetera, of

Your smile

eyes knees and of your Etcetera)


et cetera = and the rest.  It is a Latin term and is commonly abbreviated as etc.  We are more accustomed to hearing it than to seeing it written out.  Notice how he uses et cetera in various ways, the last as a suggestive euphemism.

This poem reflects cummings' attitude toward WWI.  While

  1. aunt lucy explained what "we" were fighting for
  2. his mother planned a hero's funeral &
  3. his father longed for the "privilege" of joining his son in the fight &
  4. sister isabel knitted socks
cummings was lying in the mud in France.  Like the veterans of Vietnam, cummings felt that those back home simply could not understand what he was going through.


 "next to of course god america i

cummings is once again satirizing the jingoism of war.  (What is jingoism?  If you don't know, you should.)  The speaker in the poem is some blowhard romaniticizing the death and destruction from the comfort & safety of home.  Unable to come up with thoughts of his own, he strings together sayings gathered from various places - songs, speeches, etc.  Orwell this type of thoughtless patriotic speaking "duckspeak," saying it was more like quacking than talking & could be done without having to use the brain.

"In Just"

The Children were playing marbles when and they heard the whistle of the balloon man. After seeing the balloon man, the children ran toward him to get the balloon. The word "goat-footed" is associated with the devil. The meaning of the word "goat-footed" does not related to this poem.

"O Sweet Spontaneous"

Cummings is addressing to the earth. He is saying to the earth that the philosophers have tried to understand the complexity of the earth. Science also has to figure the nature of earth. The only things earth would say to us are "spring follows winter and life follows death". Science, philosophy, and religion are all seeking their answer in mother earth.

i sing of Olaf glad and big

Olaf is a conscientious objector. Olaf would not fight in a war. In those days, being a conscientious objector was a terrible. Cummings considers Olaf a brave person. Olaf was like Thoreau, because he refused to give taxes that would support the Mexican-American war. Olaf and Thoreau are both eccentric individuals. They are the exception of society. They do not go along with the rest of the people. Olaf was beaten with scrub brushes meanwhile the colonel was observing it. In line 17, "upon what God unto him gave," means that Olaf was left naked. In line 20, the colonel has left. Olaf was a better man than we are because he was not afraid to die for what he believed.