Show not Tell

I’ve always thought of poetry as writing on steroids. I think nothing else fits that definition like E.E. Cumming’s poem, anyone lived in a pretty how town. Cumming’s has always been one to completely disregard rules, but in this poem, he puts up a big, metaphoric middle finger to grammar. Only one word in this entire poem is capitalized, there are two periods on seemingly random lines, pronouns are characters, verbs are used as nouns. The whole thing is a mess:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

When I read the assignment, I was hesitant to even use this poem because truthfully, I probably still don’t know what Cummings is talking about.  Nonetheless, I do consider it beyond artistically and intellectually engaging. Essentially, the poem is a love story traced throughout the life cycle of its two characters: a simple, mediocre man named “anyone,” and a woman named “no one,” who loves him. The poem is intended to highlight, perhaps criticize, the idea of being generic and going through the motions of life. Cummings does this in a genius way. First, he names his characters pronouns so their identities are infinite. In stanza five, for example, “someones married their everyones” is read like it includes all the people in the world.   The pronouns also make a play on words. In the stanza below, “cared for anyone not at all” could be read literally, like the men and women don’t care about others. This double meaning is at the core of what makes Cummings so intellectually engaging. He’s able to prove his argument in multiple ways, at the same exact time.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

Second, he utilizes imagery to signify the passage of time without even telling you time is passing. Each stanza includes an element of time. Above, “sun moon stars rain” show day and night. An even more compelling example of time is the line “when by now and tree by leaf” in stanza four. The words “when” and “now” are both points of time. The image of a tree and leaf reiterates the life cycle. Cummings description of time is incredible and completely out of the box.

Lastly, the tone of the poem is like a giant sigh. The love story completes its cycle in stanza seven: “one day anyone died i guess” (7.1). Cummings could’ve ended it so many ways. Adding “I guess” to anyone’s death makes it insignificant because people typically aren’t non-chalant towards something as heavy as death and generic because death is all too common.

There are so many more things that could be said, admired, or analyzed about this poem. Cummings ability to distort language but have it make sense, show time–a shapeless, faceless phenomeon–passing on paper, and have everything convey a unifying message make this poem unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Personally, I’m too chicken to shun the rules of grammar. I like structure. So I wouldn’t exactly want to emulate Cummings. One writer comes to mind whom I would like to emulate. She also happens to be a poet. Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jaris one of my favorite books. To keep it short, I admire Plath for her ability to describe anything in a way that makes you “get” it. The Bell Jar, particularly, depicts losing your mind like it makes sense. Instead of saying Esther’s sad, for example, Plath writes, “I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I’d cry for a week.” This is a perfect example of showing the reader instead of telling. Whether its Cummings or Plath, I think the ability to convey your message by painting a picture in the reader’s head is key to any good writing.

In closing, I still have no clue why “Women” is the only word E.E Cummings capitalized.


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