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pity this busy monster, manunkind -- e e cummings

(Poem #57) pity this busy monster, manunkind
pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
                          A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go
-- e e cummings
[<> for justification]

Cummings is by no means an easy poet to read. His poems are somewhat dense
and cryptic, and often require several readings before one can truly
appreciate them. However, they are always worth the effort, as is amply
evidenced by the poem above - one of my favourites for the sheer beauty of
its language. Note the plethora of invented compounds (something Cummings
excels at - and there's a lot more to it than sticking two randomwords
together), the almost surreal yet wonderfully nail-on-the-head phrases, and
the way the unusual formatting enhances the poem rather than annoying the

Though this is superficially similar to the Whitman poem, there is a
significant difference. The critical attitude and the somewhat sarcastic
tone do not change the fact that Cummings *has* appreciated the marvels
inherent in science and technology. This is a whole nother fallacy - not
that Science is a dull grey blanket thrown over the face of Nature, but
rather that it is a glitteringly and dangerously seductive trap into which
mankind - sorry, man*un*kind, is walking with his eyes wide open. Actually,
it's hard to call this one a fallacy - the view is widely held, and not only
by non-scientists. Needless to say, I disagree, but that's another matter -
it doesn't affect the poem's value in any way.

Biographical Notes:

  Cummings, E.E.
  b. Oct. 14, 1894, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.
  d. Sept. 3, 1962, North Conway, N.H.

  in full EDWARD ESTLIN CUMMINGS, American poet and painter who first
  attracted attention, in an age of literary experimentation, for his
  eccentric punctuation and phrasing. The spirit of New England dissent and
  of Emersonian "Self-Reliance" underlies the urbanized Yankee colloquialism
  of Cummings' verse. Cummings' name is often styled "e.e. cummings" in the
  mistaken belief that the poet legally changed his name to lowercase
  letters only. Cummings used capital letters only irregularly in his verse
  and did not object when publishers began lowercasing his name, but he
  himself capitalized his name in his signature and in the title pages of
  original editions of his books.

  Cummings received his B.A. degree from Harvard University in 1915 and was
  awarded his M.A. in 1916. During World War I he served with an ambulance
  corps in France, where he was interned for a time in a detention camp
  because of his friendship with an American who had written letters home
  that the French censors thought critical of the war effort. This
  experience deepened Cummings' distrust of officialdom and was symbolically
  recounted in his first book, The Enormous Room (1922).

  In the 1920s and '30s he divided his time between Paris, where he studied
  art, and New York City. His first book of verse was Tulips and Chimneys
  (1923), followed by XLI Poems and & (1925); in the latter year he received
  the Dial award for distinguished service to American letters.

  In 1927 his play him was produced by the Provincetown Players in New York
  City. During these years he exhibited his paintings and drawings, but they
  failed to attract as much critical interest as his writings. Eimi (1933)
  recorded, in 432 pages of experimental prose, a 36-day visit to the Soviet
  Union, which confirmed his individualist repugnance for collectivism. He
  published his discussions as the Charles Eliot Norton lecturer on poetry
  at Harvard University (1952-53) under the title i: six nonlectures (1953).

  In all he wrote 12 volumes of verse, assembled in his two-volume Complete
  Poems (1968).

        -- EB


  Cummings' moods were alternately satirical and tough or tender and
  whimsical. He frequently used the language of the streets and material
  from burlesque and the circus. His erotic poetry and love lyrics had a
  childlike candour and freshness.

        -- EB

  In his work, Cummings experimented radically with form, punctuation,
  spelling and syntax, abandoning traditional techniques and structures to
  create a new, highly idiosyncratic means of poetic expression. Later in
  his career, he was often criticized for settling into his signature style
  and not pressing his work towards further evolution. Nevertheless, he
  attained great popularity, especially among young readers, for the
  simplicity of his language, his playful mode and his attention to subjects
  such as war and sex. At the time of his death in 1962, he was the second
  most widely read poet in the United States, after Robert Frost.

        -- The Academy of American Poets
        <[broken link]>

  ...In addition, readers' enjoyment and comprehension of the poetry will be
  greatly increased by a good working knowledge of Cummings' life. To an
  unusual degree, Cummings attempted to inhabit the self that he depicted in
  his poems.

        -- Spring (The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society)


59 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Coolweng8 said...

this poem is quite complex

Cavol Forbes said...

What the hell is this poem about, exactly?

Weng Fung said...

I KNOW WHAT IT IS ABOUT! Its about technology... and the busy monster is mankind.... mankind that keeps enhancing technology cuz he feels godly, supreme, and the need to perfect technology("...comfortable disease...") And about "(death and life safely beyond)"...perhaps its about immortality being discovered by technology.

Hey, Coolweng8... My real first name is Weng!


Please consider these comments for your e.e. cummings page:
I have an interpretation for the e. e. cummings poem pity this busy

I believe the poem is basically saying that although scientists may
discover new things, such as cars, some other things get lost, such as
the environment. For every new thing we invent we lose something else.
The progress that we are making in technology is a vicious cycle. The
things we make, make us feel big when we are really little. The things
we make that use electricity (electrons deify.) destroy our environment.
Television (a big lense) changes things we didn't want into things that
we do want (unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish returns unto
itself.) Advertisements make people want things they never even thought
about wanting before.
"a world of made is not a world of born" means that no matter what we
make it can never replace nature. He asks us to be sensitive to natural
things instead of towards man made machines. "we doctors know a hopeless
case" means that the outcome isn't looking good and that this poem isn't
exactly going to do much about it. There's a better place next door,
nature. Let's go. You don't see many kids outside anymore. They are all
glued to the t.v. set. Lets go explore the world outside that most
people take for granted, while its still there to explore.

Catherine Stewart

Cinco Ranch High School, 9th Grade

Zhu511 said...

i think this cummings expresses his fellings about how he thinks that it's so
not fair to nature because of all the things human done that has destroyed
the ecosystem and stuff. He's maybe confessing the sins of man or something.
That's what i think anyways.

South Woods M.S. NY

David Allenspach said...

I disagree with Maryann, the poem reflects on the anthropocentricism that is manifest in human relationship to science. "[M]anunkind" then is Cummings satirical reference to the ironic nomenclature designed by humans for humans. "Progress is a comfortable disease," alludes to the seemingly parasitic or strong memetic nature of progress. Death and life are safely beyond because of this disease, death never is a worry due to the Red Queen effect, life is safely beyond because no one truly lives when thus inflicted. The next stanza refers to the invention of the electron microscope, and refers the utter smallness of human life life which we blow out of proportion with science and the aformentioned anthropocentricism. The stanza after this is in allusion to Plato's theory of mankinds 'random swerve" freedom in this determinate world. The following two stanzas then offer a naturalist view on the mankind's indifference to natural beauty and its idolatry of itself. The final stanza gives Cummings' personal view of mankind as just that, "a hopeless case," and his wish to escape.

Lestatkatt said...

dr. atomik's cryptic ensemble
studio demo track
recorded 1/28/95 in phila. pa.
taken from the master dat. let me know what you think!

1. Pity this busy monster man unkind 8:20
words by e.e. cummings

michael 'lestatkat' on piano
rich hill on guitar and vocals
chris adams on guitar and vocals
greg mcbride on bass
scott hoffman on drums

Attachment: lestatkatt\'s old band - 1 studio demo track.torrent
This has been downloaded 0 time(s).

My old band recorded this back in 1995. i only recently become aware of
e.e. cummings and i thought i would share this with you.
this is a studio recording, but was never released or given away, until now.
since this band no longer exists, i thought i would share this song with you.
the music is original. we used to play this song for about 2 years at most of
our local philly shows.

dave connors said...

I think all of are completely wrong he is warning us of nuclear war when he say electron... mountains he is talking about a nuclear explosion and ends it by saying we destroyed the world and we will move onto the next one

Calonje said...

Victor Bodega:

This poem is truthful and it service justice to all those scientist who think the world needs technology. Meanwhile while they are diminishing the animals from there homes and spending million of dollars, here in my neighborhood all kids need is better books and better recreational activities.How much can that cost you? Yo this poem is hot and the message behind I feel represents the ignorance of those humans that father money and power. This is one hell of a poem. I'm out and remember it's always one love, one life and definitely one god.Keeping it Hip hop. Adios mi gente.2005

Peter Heggestuen said...

what he is saying is that the advances of science do nothing "lenses extend unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish returns on its unself." this advances do not change any thing. the world is no better than what it was before.
the universe next door is nature, it is time to ditch the cities, because nature is a hell of a good universe after all.


This poem is particularly timely in view of the mess we have made of the
environment, particularly our atmosphere. We have fallen in love with our own
technological ability and lost touch with the spiritual connection with nature
that sustained us over thousands of years and are totally relying on our own
abilities. There is a stiff penalty for doing this as we are starting to
find out.

Anonymous said...

I first read the second phrase of this poem in my teens (more than 40 years ago) and at that time I found it astonishing. The atmosphere, the use of language, the vision. It still gets to me.
At that time I translated it into the Dutch language and published it in our school magazine. I have always remembered it and could qoute the phrase by heart (in Dutch).

Untill today, when I started looking for the writer and the original text, I did not know that there even was a first phrase before the one I translated.

It makes it even more astonishing and visionary (of course), although I like the 2nd phrase in and on itself stil best.

J. Pallada, The Netherlands

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