E.E. Cummings - Painter Poet

Topics: E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos Pages: 21 (5544 words) Published: April 30, 2013
e.e. cummings

Painter Poet

E.E. Cummings self-portraits: 1921 and 1939

Cummings used both upper and lower case for his signature, though he rarely signed his work. The use of lower case (with or without full stops) was adopted by his publishers, echoing the unconventional orthography of his poems.

Professora Isabel Fernandes
Literatura e Pintura

David Filipe Ferreira
Janeiro de 2013


Biography and Background2
The Painter Poet11
First Period - Second Period……….……………………...……………………11 The Poet Painter14
An Analysis of Two Poems……….……………………...…………………….15 Conclusion21

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the issue of the interrelationship of art and literature in e.e. cummings production. It starts by providing information regarding his background and biography to then contextualise the phases of his work with his zeitgeist and the main influences in his themes, art and artistic theory. The paper then goes on to present e.e. cummings as a painter-poet and then as a poet-painter demonstrating how the genres are entwined. The analyses of two poems at the end are intended to give practical examples of the fact that the form, regardless of genre is the very unique e.e. style

Biography and Background

Edward Estlin Cummings, born 1894 was, at the time of his death in 1962, the second most widely read North American poet. The first was Robert Frost. Perhaps the fact that Cummings’ work was removed from student curricula and all national libraries during the McCarthy purges of 1950-54 contributed to his popularity. As a master of irony, Cummings let it be known that he supported the Republican party, Senator McCarthy and all measures to eradicate anti-Americanism. The practical avoidance of imprisonment may also have been a factor. In Collected Poems (1938) he wrote:

A politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man

In Thanksgiving (1956) he reminds us of his country’s political attitude to the Hungarian invasion when it backed down in face of a Russian threat:

uncle sam shrugs his pretty
pink shoulders you know how
and he twitches a liberal titty
and lisps ‘I’m busy right now’

Poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright, e.e.cummings was consistent in the form in which he expressed himself. The greatest volume of his work was in poetry (2.900 published poems) complimented by his painting – oil on canvas and watercolour, some sketches and charcoals. These two forms are frequently interrelated, Cummings himself believing them to be the same thing. In Forward to an Exhibit (1945) he constructs an imaginary interview in which he connects his paintings and poetry:

- Well let me see … oh yes, one more question: where will you live after this war is over? - In China, as usual.
- China?
- Of course.
- Whereabouts in China?
- Where a painter is a poet.

Cummings achieves a deceptive Oriental simplicity, with the minimum of strokes, in both forms. Catching an impression, the picture remains without embellishment.


“Taken together, the poems and paintings show nearly analogous techniques of ambiguity: figurative in the painting, thematic in the poems. Flickering in and out of view, these ambiguities tease the viewer’s eye and mind to see first one view or meaning, then another, but not one or the other exclusively...Cummings sought to make his works more ‘feelable to the eye’ and less recognisable to the mind; to emphasise the sensuous elements that intensify perception of all the parts, and to obscure the figures that elicit recognition of only part of the whole” Milton A. Cohen (1983)

The son of liberal, indulgent parents, who from early on encouraged him to develop his creative gifts, e.e.cummings attended Harvard, where his father had...
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