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E. E. Cummings

Updated on October 19, 2010

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) was an American poet, who is noted for his technical innovations, particularly in typography, such as his frequent use of lowercase letters when capitals would normally be employed. His attitudes, however, were traditional; but once Cummings' romantic transcendentalism is recognized, the seeming paradox tends to disappear, for the Emersonian tradition encourages experimentation.

Life of E. E. Cummings

Born on October 14, 1894, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a family prominent in the academic world and the church, Edward Estlin Cummings grew up among such family friends as William James and Josiah Royce. After receiving his B. A. (1915) and M. A. (1916) from Harvard, he became an ambulance driver in France, prior to the United States entry into World War I. His imprisonment for several months on suspicion of holding views critical of the French war effort resulted in his first book, The Enormous Room (1922), an experiment in blending autobiographical reporting with the poetic techniques of symbolism.

After the war Cummings lived for a time in Paris, where he studied painting. His paintings and drawings, late impressionist in style, show talent and were exhibited in one-man shows. Later he lived mostly in New York City and spent the summers in New Hampshire. In 1952 he returned to Harvard to give that year's Charles Eliot Norton lectures, which were published as i: six nonlectures (1953). Cummings died on September 3, 1962, at North Conway, New Hampshire.

Works of E. E. Cummings

In 1925, "e. e. cummings" received the Dial award for poetry for his first volume of poems, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), but he continued to have trouble finding a publisher. In No Thanks (1935) he named 14 publishers who had rejected the manuscript and said "Thanks" to his mother, who financed its publication. However, Poems, 1923-1954 (1954) brought praise from critics who earlier had tended to ignore him, and he received the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1957.

In addition to 15 volumes of verse, Cummings wrote several experimental plays, a ballet, and Eimi (1933), an account of his trip to the Soviet Union in 1931. His stylistic innovations won him no poetic followers, but later poets of a neoromantic bent have counted him as one of their ancestors.

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