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suppose -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1628) suppose
 Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head.

 young death sits in a cafe
 smiling, a piece of money held between
 his thumb and first finger

 (i say "will he buy flowers" to you
 and "Death is young
 life wears velour trousers
 life totters, life has a beard" i

 say to you who are silent. - "Do you see
 Life? he is there and here,
 or that, or this
 or nothing or an old man 3 thirds
 asleep, on his head
 flowers, always crying
 to nobody something about les
 roses les bluets
                     will He buy?
 Les belles bottes - oh hear
 , pas cheres")

 and my love slowly answered I think so. But
 I think I see someone else

 there is a lady, whose name is Afterwards
 she is sitting beside young death, is slender;
 likes flowers.
-- e e cummings
Some people are just too smart for their own good. And E E Cummings is,
IMHO, one of them. Not that I don't get a kick out of his ingenious
punctuation, his intriguing line breaks, his frequently bizarre
spacing, his clever little witticisms ("3 thirds / asleep"). Reading
Cummings is like listening to some great jazz pianist at work - the
endlessness of his improvisations takes your breath away, the little
tone jokes make you laugh out in surprise.

Except that you get so caught up in these clever little tricks that you
never notice that underneath all that jazz is a sweet old melody.
Underneath Cummings' witty style is an incredible, singing,
old-fashioned poet, a master of image and emotion. Cummings writes
elsewhere "since feeling is first / he who pays attention / to the
syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you". And he who pays
attention to the syntax of cummings' poems will never wholly appreciate

This poem is an excellent illustration: the punctuation and word play
are tame, by Cummings standards, but the image of life as a poor old
man selling flowers to a young, rich death is one of the cruellest and
most heartbreaking that I've ever come across, and Cummings draws you
deeper and deeper into the pathos, until that final two word line
leaves you with a sense of infinite hope. Pay attention to the syntax
here, and you'll see why this is a really clever poem. Ignore the
syntax and you'll see why it's a beautiful one.


39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

J B said...

I respectfully submit that any good poem, and this certainly qualifies
as that,
can not have it's beauty floating somewhere "above" it's syntax.
And whatever cleverness it possesses that same cleverness possesses
the poem's beauty. Nothing in a good poem can be separated or dissected out
without unraveling the whole reading experience
and thereby missing the point of reading it in the first place.
A good poem puts it's beauty in the reader.
In such a remote place it is safe from molestation. It lingers for a time,
a short spell and then disappears.

J Blue

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