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E E Cummings


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E. E. Cummings

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

E. E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings in 1953
Born Edward Estlin Cummings
October 14, 1894
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Died September 3, 1962 (aged 67)
North Conway, New Hampshire
Cause of death Stroke
Resting place Forest Hills Cemetery
Known for poems and other works of art
Religion Unitarian
Spouse(s) Elaine Orr
Anne Minnerly Barton
Marion Morehouse
Children Nancy, daughter with Elaine Orr
Parents Edward Cummings
Rebecca Haswell Clarke
Relatives Elizabeth Cummings, sister

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), popularly known as E. E. Cummings, with the abbreviated form of his name often written by others in lowercase letters as e. e. cummings (in the style of some of his poems), was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. His body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings. He is remembered as a preeminent voice of 20th century poetry, as well as one of the most popular.



 Early years

Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894, elder of two children to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke.[1] His younger sister, Elizabeth, was born in 1901.

He was named after his father but his family called him by his middle name, Estlin.[2] His father was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University and later a Unitarian minister.[3] Cummings described his father as a person who could accomplish anything that he wanted to. Edward was well skilled and was always working or repairing things. He and his son were close, and Edward was one of Estlin's most ardent supporters.

His mother never partook in stereotypically "feminine" things, and enjoyed reading poetry to her children. Raised in a well-educated family, Cummings was a precocious boy and his mother encouraged Estlin to write poetry every day. He wrote his first poem when he was only three: "Oh,the pretty birdie,O;/with his little toe,toe,toe!"[4]

His boyhood home, the E.E. Cummings House, is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]


In his youth, Estlin Cummings attended Cambridge Latin High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Early stories and poems were published in the school newspaper, Cambridge Review.

Cummings enrolled at Harvard University in September 1911, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1917 and a Master's degree for English and Classical Studies in 1916. While at Harvard, he befriended John Dos Passos, at one time rooming in Thayer Hall, named after the family of one of his Harvard acquaintances, Scofield Thayer, and not yet a freshman-only dormitory.[6] Several of Cummings' poems were published in the Harvard Monthly as early as his sophomore year. Cummings himself labored on the school newspaper alongside fellow Harvard Aesthetes Dos Passos and S. Foster Damon. In 1915, his poems were published in the Harvard Advocate.

In his final year at Harvard, Cummings was influenced by writers such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. He graduated magna cum laude in 1916, delivering a controversial commencement address entitled "The New Art". This speech gave him his first taste of notoriety, as he managed to give the false impression that the well-liked imagist poet, Amy Lowell, whom he himself admired, was "abnormal". For this, Cummings was chastised in the newspapers. In 1917, Cummings' first published poems appeared in a collection of poetry entitled Eight Harvard Poets.


In 1917 Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos. Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life.

On September 21, 1917, just five months after his belated assignment, he and a friend, William Slater Brown, were arrested on suspicion of espionage. The two openly expressed anti-war views; Cummings spoke of his lack of hatred for the Germans.[7] They were sent to a military detention camp, the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy, where they languished for 3½ months. Cummings' experiences in the camp were later related in his novel, The Enormous Room about which F. Scott Fitzgerald opined, "Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives- The Enormous Room by e e cummings....Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality."[8]

He was released from the detention camp on December 19, 1917, after much intervention from his politically connected father. Cummings returned to the United States on New Year's Day 1918. Later in 1918 he was drafted into the army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918.[9][10]

Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s he returned to Paris a number of times, and traveled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union and recounted his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico and worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine (1924 to 1927).

Cummings' papers are held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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