Biography of Edward Estlin Cummings

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1894, Edward Estlin Cummings was born into this world. Ever since Cummings was a young boy, he seemed to show a great interest in poetry in art; however, this form of poetry would be

like none of that which we know today. He was raised by both of his parents. His father, a sociology professor at Harvard University whose name was also Edward, was always there for his son and tried to help him in any way that he could. Cummings’ mother’s name was Rebecca (Napierkowski 84). Neither of his two parents knew that someday their son would grow into one of the most well known and most respected writers and artists of his day.

As Cummings matured into a young adult, he attended Harvard University from the year 1911 to 1915. He received his Bachelors Degree in 1915 and his Masters Degree in 1916. (Napierkowski 84). “In college he had followed the Imaginist principles for poetry laid down by Ezra Pound: to use the rhythms of common speech rather than metrical regularity, to strive for compression and precision.” (Gale 5)

At the beginning of World War I, Cummings enlisted and joined the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service in France. During his service, he wrote major poems that are famous to this day. Not long after being in the service, he was sent to a French internment camp for four months because of suspicion of treason. As serious as this was, Cummings found this funny and entertaining. While he was there, he wrote one of his most well known letters titled, “The Enormous Room.” (Napierkowski 85). Cumming’s father made use of his contacts involved in the government and negotiated the release of his son from the camp. When Cummings was out, he returned to New York and pursued painting, but he was soon drafted back into the war in 1918.

Cummings spent one year at Camp Danvers in Massachusetts. While there he wrote prolifically. After he was out yet again, he had an affair with his friend Schofield Thayer’s wife, Elaine, with Thayer’s knowledge and permission. In 1919, Cumming’s daughter Nancy was born; however, she was given the last name of Thayer. After Thayer and his wife divorced, Cummings and Elaine married in 1924. They then legally adopted Nancy. Cummings and Elaine enjoyed traveling Europe widely. They alternatively lived in Paris and New York.
E. E. Cummings was an expressionist. Expressionism emerged as a movement in painting in the nineteenth century and it reached its peak in the 1920’s. “He started his career as a poet and painter: he published his first poetry collection in, “Tulips and Chimneys.” (Napierkowski 85).

Cumming’s poetry, like painting, uses symbols to express what is essentially unsayable. “These symbols yoke together opposites- the individual and the collective; the outside and the inside.” (Thomasen 155). Cummings attempted to reconcile contradictions and get at the truth. “Expressionists are interested in translating their subjunctive feelings and perceptions rather than realistically describing the empirical world.” (Thomasen 155).

“He attempted to pierce the world, to get at the truth lying beneath it.” (Thomasen 155). He expressed ideas through new grammatical usage; he employed verbs as nouns, and other locutions as new linguistic creations. “Cumming’s early poems had nevertheless discovered an original way of describing chaotic immediacy of sensuous experience.” (Gale 5). His visually directed free verse shows an even greater variety of subject and mood. It ranges from children’s songs and romantic lyrics through antiwar satires and epigrammatic at looks on his contemporaries to realistic vignettes of life.