A Apainter A Poet


A Apainter A Poet Essay, Research Paper

A Painter as a Poet

Tammie K. Hamming

Period 2

” A painter as a Poet






tense ( an

imated )






u( strative





Each of these words could easily describe the fervent brushstrokes on a painters

canvas. However, it is the passion of E.E. Cummings poetry that they are meant to express.

The words and designs of his works embody the same breathless quality contained in

modern art. It is no surprise that he was an open-minded critic, attentive observer, inspired

participant, and devoted lover of various art forms besides his renowned poetry. The

concepts of impulsive creation which are evident in art are also apparent in Cummings’

poems. From the first publication of his works to the last they have remained free of

confining syntactic and rigid guidelines. The exact way an impressionist painter may use

potent color to convey the essence of his paining; Cummings uses vivid words to attract

the reader and make their subconscious feel his point before their mind understands it.

The use of this rare technique is how he has originated a small miracle in each individual

poem. By attaining a comprehension of Cummings’ relationship to art, a reader can be

illuminated with a heightened respect for his unique and rousing poetry.

In 1945, Estlin Cummings wrote this winsome dialogue between himself and a

hypothetical interviewer:

” Oh yes, one more question:

where will you live after this war is over? ”

” In China as usual. ”

” China? ”

” Of course. ”

” Whereabouts in China? ”

Where a painter is a poet. ”

It playfully expresses his sense of art as a single, indivisible category. During his lifetime,

from 1894 to 1962, he did not yield to any boundaries and promoted the intermingling of

different artistic outlets. That mindset is what instigated his writing of the ballet, ” Tom ”

based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a collection of his charcoal, pencil, and water color pictures

entitled CICPW, Eimi, a journal of his trip to Soviet Russia, and Anthropos: The Future

of Art. These other exceptional layers to his creative genius are revealed in his poetry in

many ways. Finding them enables the reader to agree with his reference to himself as ” an

author of pictures and a draftsman of words “.

E.E. Cummings was aware of the inevitable frustration readers may endure while

studying the first page of his last volume of poetry, 95 poems. With that assumption in

mind, he issued a warning: ” Watch out! This poem is not for the faint-hearted. It will not

yield to those who merely want their prejudices caressed. Open up! ” This unconventional

piece looked as follows:










Immediate arguments arose once it was exposed to the public in 1958, because as far as

critics were concerned, it didn’t say anything. Its vital purpose was not to promote certain

opinions or thoughts on loneliness. Instead, it was meant to leave the reader with a

nostalgic feeling of it. The artistic design it forms on the page is an entity of genius in

itself. From the ” L ” to the ” iness ” the arrangement of letters is like that of a drifting leaf.

Cummings has not deepened or extended the literal meaning of the leaf falling, instead, he

has added to it a visual quality that is solely aesthetic. He has used the black print of a

typewriter to ” paint ” the image across the page. It is much like a sculptor’s masterpiece

which evokes a feeling without speaking of it. For example, ” The Thinker ” by Paul

Rodin, even without the revealing title the bronze incarnation of a pensively posed man

suggests the idea of thinking. Basically, Cummings has indulged the readers’ imagination

by representing loneliness with ink and allowing their own perceptions to determine any

further values.

In Pablo Picasso’s paintings Cummings recognized a perspective that was equally

as fresh and personal as his own. In a poetic tribute to this great contemporary artist,

Cummings voices his own aesthetic as well as Picasso’s it begins:

Picasso you give us Things


bulge . . . ” ( Poems 1923 – 1954 )

Cummings continues by praising Picasso’s ability to exaggerate the raw beauty of the

world and leave what is obvious and conventional vague . . .

” you make us shrill

presents always

shut in the sumptuous screech of simplicity ”

This exuberant display of words describes the same technique Cummings uses in his

poetry. Just as Picasso has bravely graced the faces of portraits with only one eye,

Cummings has written with an abstract originality. Both, as Cummings’ last line

concludes: ” hue form truly “.

This to achieve true form has led Cummings to write about all aspects of life – even

what is unmistakably ugly. His realist belief was, in fact, that beauty depended on its

coexistence with ugliness. Cummings says, in Poems 1923 – 1954 , that the world will lose

something important if ” badness is not felt as bad “. This is why he could fearlessly bring

to life that which in society, was only whispered behind closed doors. An instance is a

poem from Poems 1923 – 1954 which concerns a drunken man throwing up in the

restroom of a restaurant:

” a) glazed mind layed in a

urinal . . .

slightly to sick to

rightly die . . . ”

Amidst the less than serene image, there is a serious depth of humanity rendered. The

lyrical words blatantly expose the ugly, leaving windows open to contrast it with

untainted beauty, such as:

” night’s speechless carnival

the painting of the dark

with meteors. ”

The urgent properties of realism in art apply to Cummings’ poetry as well. The

effort to record the world without hesitation, precisely as it is seen, can be detected by

admiring the work of realist painters. Cummings has also presented the perspective in his

poems as if they had just instantaneously occurred. A couple examples of this are the

opening stanzas in two of his Viva poems:

” if you and i awakening

discover that ( somehow

in the dark ) this world has been

Picked, like a piece

of clover from the green meadow of time . . . ” ( Viva LXI )

” a light Out)

and first of all foam

- like hair spatters creasing pillow

next everywhere hidinglyseek . . . ” ( Viva XLIX )

The tendency he had to write in the heat of each transient, living moment is what gives his

works their vitality.

Cummings has explored creatively with his realist impulses. He has always found

new ways to draw the reader in closer to the fleeting incident which he has written of.

This inventiveness has led him to disregard many rules of fundamental grammar, an

example is his use of fragmentation. His poetic style has been associated with the

separation and deconstruction of words and sentences. A valid instance is his way of

exaggerating the word ” soft ” by typing it as follows:

” so


t . . .” ( Poems 1923 – 1954 )

The isolation of the ” so ” gives the reader an unconscious insinuation of so soft. Equally

as effective are the exclamation marks around the ” f “, they cause an intensification in

pronouncing the letter and a subtle metaphor for the word itself.

Cummings has made character sketches of the twentieth century. One idea

divulged in his poems is motion. His success at capturing the concept of birds fluttering,

cars screeching, airplanes taking off, and a vastly increasing population is an important

part of his works. Just as an artist can be dissatisfied with the mirror image he may have

produced of a landscape, Cummings was dissatisfied with simply stating that which

existed around him. Like an artist who endeavors to show action within his scenery,

Cummings strives to instill movement within his writings. Both are attempts to prove the

works function. Just by briefly scanning one of his poetry books, the eye is attracted to his

most unorthodox movement portrayals. In No Thanks, poem number 46, Cummings forces

the reader to not only read, but also see the movement of a bird against the sun:

” swi(

across! gold’s




a – motion upo – nmotion









It generates speed by the sudden parenthetical interruptions. The lack of clear,

grammatical sentences leads the reader to believe the voice is almost struck speechless and

stuttering to explain the unpredictable sight he is witnessing.

The lack of restraint in not packaging his poems like traditional, fourteen-line

sonnets allowed Cummings to incessantly find new ways to defeat repression.

Romantically, he stated this at the end of one of his Is5 poems by asserting:

” Who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you. ”

He was much like an artist who has surrendered the coloring book mentality. When a

toddler draws in a coloring book he will inevitably take his crayon outside the lines, and

even careen entirely off the page. At the age of five or six however, that same child will

strive to shade inside the preexisting image and will have accepted society’s pragmatic

approach to art. In the devising of his poetry Cummings has utilized the toddlers

technique. That is what makes his works emanate a uninhibited and even slightly

rebellious charm. His poetic flamboyance proves that sometimes change is the only thing

stable. Just as art during the Renaissance period, his writing style was in constant stages of


1. Cummings, E.E. Complete Poems 1913 – 1962

New York, NY: Harcourt Brace

Jovanovich, Inc. 1968

2. Cummings, E.E. Viva

New York: Liverright


3. Marks, Barry A. E.E. Cummings

Boston: Twayne Publishers


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