E222 E.E. CUMMINGS QUESTIONS, CSU FULLERTON
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E. E. CUMMINGS
"Thy fingers make early flowers of" (Norton American Lit. 8th. ed. Vol. D 638); "in Just-" (Vol. D 638-39); "O sweet spontaneous" (Vol. D 639-40); "Buffalo Bill's" (Vol. D 640); "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" (Vol. D 640); "next to of course god america i" (Vol. D 641); "i sing of Olaf glad and big" (Vol. D 641-42); "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond" (Vol. D 642-43); "anyone lived in a pretty how town" (Vol. D 643-44); "my father moved through dooms of love" (Vol. D 644-45); "pity this busy monster,manunkind" (Vol. D 646).
deals with the old subjects, love in particular, in ways that make them seem fresh. same goes for the way he treats common words – revivifies the language.
"Thy fingers make early flowers of" (Norton Vol. D 638)
1. Cummings' "Thy fingers make early flowers of" follows the carpe diem tradition in love poetry that has been around since ancient times, but in what significant way does the relationship between the speaker and the addressee does this poem differ from the usual one in such poems? What effect does that difference have on the poem's meaning?
2. In Cummings' "Thy fingers make early flowers of," what word do you understand to be the antecedent of the pronoun "it" in the final line, and why so?
"in Just-" (Vol. D 638-39)
3. How does a child's way of thinking and manner of expression in "in Just-" help Cummings provide an alternative vision over against an adult's perspective on life? Moreover, how do you interpret the presence of the "balloonman" in this poem, given that many readers ally this figure with the Greek god of shepherds and flocks Pan?
"O sweet spontaneous" (Vol. D 639-40)
4. In Cummings' "O sweet spontaneous," what relationship do philosophy, science, and religion seek with nature? What answer does nature give to their attentions, and why? How do you interpret the connection between nature and death that is posited from line 19 to the poem's conclusion?
"Buffalo Bill's" (Vol. D 640)
5. In Cummings' "Buffalo Bill's," what attitude does the speaker strike up with regard to the famous Wild West showman referenced in the poem's title, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917)? How do you interpret the poem's final two lines, which are addressed directly to "Mister Death"?
"the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" (Vol. D 640)
6. When you add together the jumble of statements in Cummings' "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls," what do you understand about the Cambridge ladies -- what kind of lives do they lead, and what sort of thoughts do they apparently think? Why is "Cambridge" (as in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University's location) more charged with meaning than lots of other places?
"next to of course god america i" (Vol. D 641)
7. How does Cummings' "next to of course god america i" treat the language of patriotic sentiment -- that is, how does the poem create a counter-attitude to the sentiments and phrases that make up all but the final line? What effect does the final line itself have on everything that precedes it?
"i sing of Olaf glad and big" (Vol. D 641-42)
8. How does Cummings' "i sing of Olaf glad and big" reinforce its antiwar message? What values does Olaf represent here? What does his oppressors' behavior suggest about their values? What difference does it seem to make (in the time period referenced by the poem, World War I) that Olaf the conscientious objector is of Scandinavian ancestry?
"somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond" (Vol. D 642-43)
9. What qualities in the lover does the speaker respond to in Cummings' "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond"? Moreover, discuss this poem in relation to traditional Petrarchan love conventions -- to what extent, for example, does the poet employ Petrarchan hyperbole about his own condition or the quality of the beloved? Or is he doing that sort of thing at all? Explain.
"anyone lived in a pretty how town" (Vol. D 643-44)
10. In "anyone lived in a pretty how town," how does Cummings re-cast the ordinary powers of syntax (word order), parts of speech, and the basics of sentence generation (subject-verb-object strings, etc.) to provide insight into how people's life-patterns play out over time? Moreover, what is the implied narrative in this poem, who are the main characters, and how are they regarded by the others who live in the "pretty how town"?
"my father moved through dooms of love" (Vol. D 644-45)
11. What understanding of the speaker's father eventually emerges in Cummings' "my father moved through dooms of love"? How is this understanding built up from the poem's beginning to its end? What is implied about those whom we might take to be opponents of the father that the poem describes -- how do they live their lives and treat other people?
"pity this busy monster,manunkind" (Vol. D 646)
12. In Cummings' "pity this busy monster,manunkind," what criticism of scientific progress and its supporters is offered, and by what means does the poem convey that criticism? What is the "hell / of a good universe next door" referenced in the poem's final two lines?