i six nonlectures is the title of the autobiography of ee cummings, the poet who delivered six Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in Sanders Theater at Harvard University between 1952 and 1953.
Edward Enslin Cummings grew up on a quiet street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an elegant house designed by his father, a teacher of sociology at Harvard who then became a Boston Unitarian minister. William James was a neighbor. The boy’s first rhyme was heard at age three. Upon graduating from Cambridge Latin School, Cummings attended Harvard College and wrote for the undergraduate publication, The Monthly. Writer John Dos Passos, his friend, acquainted him with the red light district in Boston.
Volunteer work in France with an American ambulance corps resulted in his and a friend’s incarceration for three months in a French internment center on an unfounded charge of treasonable correspondence. This experience he later described in his first book, The Enormous Room. When back in the United States in 1917, Cummings lived a bohemian life in Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan, painting and writing his first volumes of poems: Tulips and Chimneys (1923), E (1925), XLI Poems (1925), Is 5 (1926). These poems conveyed his transcendentalist vision of the self-reliant individual as alive and “mass man” as deadly and subject to endless attack. Cummings’s first books of poetry were condemned by the critics but lauded by young rebel writers like Hemingway and Dos Passos.
The poet’s persistent typographical innovations and deliberate avoidance of capital letters emphasized his uniqueness and contempt for the ordinary. His intensely satirical poems attacking conformity and “mass man” were supplemented by lyric poems focused on love and death, published in twelve books totaling 770 poems.
Two brief marriages, a child, and an attempt at suicide were followed by a third long, happy, common-law marriage to Marion Moorehouse, a photographer who was also a model and actress.
A visual artist as well as a poet throughout his life, Cummings’s daily routine was to draw in the afternoon—in charcoal, ink, oil, pastel, or watercolor—and write at night.
This boldly experimental poet, who long suffered from osteoarthritis of the spine, died in 1962 of a brain hemorrhage when cutting wood in New Hampshire, where he often painted and wrote in the summer home inherited from his parents near Silver Lake.
The intense individualism of Cummings is embodied in his endless conflict with his enduring faith in love. As he grew older, he tended toward religious expression based on a concept of God as a comprehensive Oneness with nature. This sonnet expresses prayer with awareness of the divine in the natural world.
I thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings;and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
double unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
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