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By janestrong Feb 11, 2015 994 Words
Chow Kit Ying [JC1 - TG03]

Written Task 2: - How does the text conform to, or deviate from, the conventions of a particular genre, and for what purpose? !

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Known for his dislike of conventions and structure, the highly structured nature of a sonnet would, at first glance, appear to be unappealing to e e cummings. However, Cummings has struck the fine balance between maintaining traditional form and introducing radical reform. His sonnet ‘it may not always be so’ conforms to the conventional fourteen-line length, positioning of the volta and iambic pentameter rhythm of a sonnet; the allowances that Cummings has made in terms of conforming to traditional conventions has served the purpose of allowing his work to remain recognisable as a sonnet. This introduces the added dimension of what his audience would expect, thematically, from a sonnet; where most readers might be familiar with Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets which concern themes of romantic love, e e cummings uses this expectation to create the ‘topical context’ (context of the topic) of his work. His sonnets do concern ‘love’, but instead of romanticised, or physical-beauty-centric love, ‘it may not always be so’ is realistic and entirely human in its arguments. Cummings pivots off his unconventional volta and punctuation, and furthers the heartfelt confessions contained within his sonnet poignantly through his wistfully thoughtful tone. !

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In his octet, Cummings lays out the ‘problem’ of his sonnet: he suspects that his beloved may have found another person to love. It is obvious that he feels deeply for his lover - their ‘dear strong fingers’ and ‘sweet hair’ do not escape his notice and he praises these physical attributes of theirs, but the sestet of his sonnet proposes a most unexpected ‘solution’. He uses the well-positioned volta to signal that there will be an thematic turn, and his readers are then going to extrapolate, and perhaps imagine that he has some plan to win his beloved back, thus conforming to the standards of a typical sonnet. Instead, his solution involves letting go of his lover. This introduces an inversion of the paradigm, and at the time of the sonnet’s writing, this must have been an unthinkable solution to this particular problem, because one would have expected men to fight for the attention, affections and approval of their romantic interests, that would have validated the love and made it seem more true, by parity of the logic that if a man is willing to lose life and limb for a woman, then he must love her. However, Cummings leverages this expectation to present an alternative - that true love, and its maintenance can only be achieved through emotional sacrifice, through willingness to suffer and be mournful, as he would have been if he had had to let her go. He would have been the ‘one bird’, all alone, singing ‘terribly’ and ‘in the lost lands’. As such, Cummings empathetically plays on peoples’ expectations in order to persuade them of his radical ideas regarding love. !

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However, if read as a proclamation or a promise directly narrated to his lover, the poem acquires a more sinister purpose. Whilst his words extol a selfless intention, one of the landmarks of e e cummings’ work is his use of punctuation. In this case, he utilises various caesura such as the semicolon, the comma and the period in an unconventional fashion. instead of leaving a space immediately after the punctuation mark, he immediately enters the next word after it. This creates the impression of a rushed pause, thus truncating the flowing rhythm of the sonnet. It lends the impression of a desperate Cummings, coming up with reason quickly after reason, trying to say whatever he can to make his lover stay with him. He almost manipulates their ethos, by using this promise of sacrifice to draw attention to how special his lover is to him; he creates cause for them to pause and reflect upon how their actions may be affecting Cummings, and at the same time communicate his desperation for his lover to stay. Combining these two messages, he could evoke a certain level of guilt in his lover, thus achieving his purpose of getting them to remain with him. !

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To complete the image of a thoughtful, sensitive, and head-over-heels-in-love man to his lover, Cummings employs a serious, thoughtfully wistful tone. He attempts to sway his reader’s emotions by lending the impression of this piece of writing as one that was carefully thought out after having been pondered for a long time. His tone conveys to his lover the depth of his feelings and the quiet seriousness that he regards these thoughts with - and this would be thoroughly aligned with the content of his sonnet. !

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The quiet thoughtfulness of his sonnet, along with curious punctuation did, after some reflection, appear to be part of the plot to manipulate Cummings’ lover. However, one must be properly armed with the knowledge that he is certainly one to reject conventions - perhaps even those of typical machoism and even something as small-minded as jealousy. Having come to terms with this, one can then understand that his strict adherence to the true form of a traditional sonnet where ‘it may not always be so’ is concerned, may be the redeeming feature. A traditional sonnet’s core is made up of two fundamentals: its theme of true love and its structures. In spite of his untraditional message and ambiguous intentions, Cummings’ adherence to convention in this sonnet may serve as a frank admission to his lover, thereby dismissing all doubts. He admits that he adores and cherishes his lover, and that he is aware of the possible negative interpretations of his sonnet. However, more importantly, he has decided to give up his devotion to the breaking-of-conventions, just to profess his love, thereby giving up his most cherished belief. Ultimately, the message is this: he is willing to change himself, completely, for her. !

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