member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday

Photo by Edward Steichen; ca. 1926
Marion Morehouse (Cummings' common-law wife);dress designed by Louiseboulanger
Image by © Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

Today is the birthday of E.E.Cummings. He wrote his first poem when he was three:

"Oh,the pretty birdie,O;/with his little toe,toe,toe!"

He served in the ambulance corps in World War I, and for his dislike of war and his lack of dislike for the German population, he was detained in a concentration camp for 3 1/2 months before his father managed his release by writing the president. For the first part of his imprisonment, his family was led to believe he had drowned in a submarine mishap. About that experience, Cummings wrote a novel called The Enormous Room. In the novel, he describes imprisonment:
It is like a vast grey box in which are laid helter-skelter a great many toys, each of which is itself completely significant apart from the always unchanging temporal dimension which merely contains it along with the rest. I make this point clear for the benefit of any of my readers who have not had the distinguished privilege of being in jail. To those who have been in jail my meaning is at once apparent; particularly if they have had the highly enlightening experience of being in jail with a perfectly indefinite sentence. How, in such a case, could events occur and be remembered otherwise than as individualities distinct from Time Itself? Or, since one day and the next are the same to such a prisoner, where does Time come in at all? Obviously, once the prisoner is habituated to his environment, once he accepts the fact that speculation as to when he will regain his liberty cannot possibly shorten the hours of his incarceration and may very well drive him into a state of unhappiness (not to say morbidity), events can no longer succeed each other: whatever happens, while it may happen in connection with some other perfectly distinct happenings, does not happen in a scale of temporal priorities--each happening is self-sufficient, irrespective of minutes, months and the other treasures of freedom.

This sort of claustrophobia, this imprisonment inside a sameness of possibly endless time-space, instead of driving him mad, seemed to provide him with an incredible sense of this moment, right here, right now. This moment as the only moment that will exist. And then any memories were thus moments in themselves, taken out of time, like the toys in the enormous room he describes. In the following poem, we see that child-like understanding of time most of us lose along the way:

in time of daffodils (who know

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remembering how
in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)
in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with praise)
forgetting if, remember yes
in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)
and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me

His syntax adds to the sensation of "now," "now," and "now:" every word and every line are to be savored separately and then together, in various permutations--think of pausing, with the line break after " in time of all sweet things beyond...." and then, come back, and emphasize beyond with "whatever mind may comprehend," but also that line leads to the next, saying whatever your mind may think it has found (comprehended), "remember seek (forgetting find)."

In one section of the autobiography, he begins a description of a fellow prisoner thus:
He is, of all the indescribables I have known, definitely the most completely or entirely indescribable. Then (quoth my reader) you will not attempt to describe him, I trust.--Alas, in the medium which I am now using a certain amount or at least quality of description is disgustingly necessary. Were I free with a canvas and some colours ... but I am not free. And so I will buck the impossible to the best of my ability. Which, after all, is one way of wasting your time.
But I think he means, one way of making the most of your time. As that is what he and most artists do:"buck the impossible." Create the impossible, making not a poem or a painting or a dance, but an event, a moment outside of time, one of those amazing, astonishing "toys" which holds a child's (our) attention outside the stream of his/her/our life, a moment of glimmering truth, of total possibility, when nothing yet is, because everything could be.
After all, prison is a waste of time (read that both ways). What he does here is turn prison, that enormous room, into a collection of "toys" which can be enjoyed by us, we who are outside that prison and even outside that time. He thus bends time and space. He bucks the impossible. He turns a waste of time into art.

Despite his imprisonment at the hands of the French military, he remained a lifelong lover of Paris, and stayed there many times throughout his life. There, he befriended Picasso, for whom he wrote a poem which ends with the line "you hew form truly," and in which he describes his art:
"presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of

a line which could easily be used to describe his own poetry.
He himself painted, for example this Self-Portrait with Sketchpad:

as well as this portrait of fashion model Marion Morehouse, with whom he lived from 1934 until his death in 1962:


my love is building a building
around you, a frail slippery
house, a strong fragile house
(beginning at the singular beginning

of your smile)a skilful uncouth
prison, a precise clumsy
prison(building thatandthis into Thus,
Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

my love is building a magic, a discrete
tower of magic and(as i guess)

when Farmer Death(whom fairies hate)shall

crumble the mouth-flower fleet
He'll not my tower,
laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile




  1. happy birth
    you mean so much to me
    for doing this


  2. what a perfect comment :D
    thank you :D

  3. I've never read anything by Cummings but now, thanks to you, Zoe, I got really interested! Very beautiful first poem, read at one breath... the rythm is captivating!

    And the story about imprisonment gives much to think of... I once read Dale Carnegie and there was a passage sounding like- "...they both looked through the same window, only one could see nothing but dirt and the other - only stars..!"

    Thank you, Zoe, you posts are always openin' a certain new vision for me:)

  4. ahhhhh, excellent: i like that idea, to choose between the glass and the stars beyond. thank you zara, your comments are so kind!

  5. A brilliantly composed tribute Zoe to a phenomenal man!

  6. Beautiful post, Zoe! I had no idea he was imprisoned; thanks so much for all this information. It's made me look at his work in a whole new way!

  7. Stumbled upon your post .. thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Signed, A devoted Cummings fan ....