Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dyer v. E. E. Cummings

Not long ago--a couple of weeks?--I posted here about how I'd decided to memorize a LONG poem by E. E. Cummings, a poem that Joyce, via Facebook (!), introduced to me--and to her many "friends"--on Father's Day.

It's seventeen quatrains long. (See entire text below.)

I had never read it before--never heard of it before. But it is (duh!) about fathers--about the father of the speaker of the poem. And it's a gorgeous piece of work, one whose meanings gradually have emerged (and are continuing to emerge) the more time I spend with it.

It took me about a month of effort to shoehorn it into my memory, and just this morning I recited it for Joyce (a couple of stumbles, errors), but I got through it--and earned a kiss (always worth memorizing a poem!).

Edward Estlin Cummings. 1894-1962. (He died in my first freshman term at Hiram College.)

A few years ago (2014), I reviewed for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Susan Cheever's biography whose image you see below. And I'd also read the one you see at the top of the page (2004).

And in that biography I read this horrible story about the death of his father--November 2, 1926. Cummings' parents--Edward (a Harvard professor and minister) and Elizabeth--were returning home after a social event (in New Hampshire) when a blinding snowstorm swept in.

Rebecca was driving, but her visibility was impaired. Edward finally persuaded Rebecca to stop so that he could clear the windshield. He then got back in the car and Rebecca drove on. "Some minutes later," according to Cummings, "a locomotive cut the car in half (Sawyer-Laucanno, 305).

Edward died instantly; Rebecca survived.

So ... given those circumstances, the poem has an entirely new resonance. Even if the speaker of the poem is not in every sense E. E. Cummings, the affection for the father pulsates with loss in virtually every line.

The poem--named only "34" in Cummings' 1940 collection, 50 Poems--appears in a number of places, including Complete Poems: 1904-1962 (Liveright, 1983), where I found an error when I was making sure that the online text was accurate (I've been burned a couple of times by assuming the online version is!). The ninth stanza, in the book, is missing its ultimate line: His pity was as green as grain.

Anyway, I know it now--and I also know that I will have to rehearse it--silently silently!--pretty much every day so that it doesn't just blow away, like a yard decoration--or a life--in a blizzard.

And--again--I thank Joyce for showing me the poem. So many wonders of the world have first come to me on her breath, in her hands.


my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

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