10/14/02
e.e. cummings
    by John Cech

That's Dawn Upshaw and Bill Crofut on the guitar with his musical setting of "In Just," one of the best-known poems by the American poet, e. e. cummings. It tells of the arrival of spring in the language and rhythms that children might use in their games, in their headlong race through a thawing, blossom-beginning world.

It's the birthday today of Edward Estlin Cummings, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894, into a large, progressive family. Cummings grew up in the shadow of Harvard University, where his father had been a student and later taught, before becoming a Unitarian minister in Boston, across the Charles River. His father was a multi-talented, unconventional man of the cloth who, according to Cummings, on a beautiful spring Sunday, once told his congregation that "he couldn't understand why anyone had come to hear him on such a day."1 The Classics, modern novels, poetry, philosophy, contemporary art and music -- were all in the air at the Cummings household. And so was an all-pervasive sense of play that was encouraged by Cummings' parents. Cummings and his sister even had a tree house, which their father built, that had a little stove in it so they could stay aloft on chilly nights.

Cummings is not known for writing poetry for children, though many of his poems are read by children, and young people usually fall in love with poetry all over again when they're adolescents because of something they've read by Cummings. But he has left a small collection of four, tender fantasies which he wrote for his young daughter. This volume, simply titled Fairy Tales, is still in print, with its stories about a very, very, very, very little old man who asks why and disturbs the balance of the universe in the process; about an elephant and a butterfly who become inseparable friends; and about "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie" and "The Little Girl Named I." And they are all touched with the exuberant joy that Cummings never out-grew.

1 Quoted in E. E. Cummings, The Magic Maker by Charles Norman. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958, p. 14.

Copyright 2002 John Cech

e e cummings Fairy Tales

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