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Review: My Sweet Old Etcetera by E.E. Cummings

Updated on April 1, 2020

My Sweet Old Etcetera by Cummings is a poem which presents an image of a soldier in a war who thinks about the amusement he feels towards his family and, later on, dreams of his girl. The poem suggests a contrast between the danger and risk being faced by a regular soldier in front of a war and what he thinks about his family and lover at the same time. The latter is clearly opposite and playful against what a soldier must put into mind first when he is brought to war.
It is very observable that the typography of the poem is unconventional. Basically, there are five features of the poem which display its non-conformity against conventional or traditional poems. First, most of the words of the poem are written in small letters. Only the words ‘Your’ and ‘Etcetera’ at the end part of the poem are capitalized, suggesting that these words convey something significant about the relationship between the soldier (persona) and his girl.
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
Second, there are only one punctuation mark used – commas in particular. Third, there are no full stops in the poem, making it as a poem with one long run-on statement. Fourth, there is a confusing use of the word ‘etcetera’. The word ‘etcetera’ shows shifts on its grammatical role as it is being repeated in the progress of the poem. It is first used as an adjective in this line:
my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent
Then it is used as a noun in this line:
hundreds) of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers
etcetera wristers etcetera, my
It is used as a verb modifier in this line:
i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
And lastly, it shifts to a noun again, emphasizing the word ‘etcetera’ as a noun in its own right:
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
Lastly, the image of the last part of the poem suggests the image of the soldier drifting off to sleep, speaking of few but crucial words about his lover and so starting to dream of her. This part of the poem also displays the feelings of the soldier towards his girl and the possible sexual tendencies/ arousal as he mentions parts of her body (eyes, knees, and the other one represented by ‘etcetera’).
The total effect of the form comes as an effective tool for the poem to express the odd ideas and feelings of the persona towards the prevalent situation. The peculiarity of the poem, from its typography to the role of the language, is directly proportional to the peculiarity of the picture and message it tries paint.


References:
Books
Guerin, W., et al (1966). A handbook of critical approaches to literature. USA: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

Websites
My sweet old etcetera. Retrieved from: http://lovepoems.yu-hu.com/cummings/my_sweet_old_etcetra.shtml

On “my sweet old etcetera” by Rushworth M. Kidder. Retrieved from: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/etcetera.htm

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