|Edward Estlin (E. E.) Cummings (1894-1962)|
He died on September 3, my freshman year
at Hiram College
Yes, I'm still memorizing poems--and thanks for asking! When I reached 200 a few months ago, I thought, Well, that's enough.
And so it was.
Until it wasn't.
I learned a couple more because Joyce liked them--e.g., Housman's poem that begins "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough" (link to entire poem). Then I did a few short ones, you know, just to feel as if I were doing something. One of those is by William Stafford and begins, "Our father owned a star" (link to it).
And then there was that dark one by Edna St. Vincent Millay--"Spring"--which begins with this bright line: "To what purpose, April, do you return again?" (It gets much darker: link to poem.)
And it wasn't long before I reached 208. Which is where I now sit.
You see, on Father's Day this year, Joyce--without telling me! how could she do that!--posted on Facebook an E. E. Cummings poem ("my father moved through dooms of love"), a poem with seventeen quatrains, each of which is a bit ... puzzling--though Cummings' fans will smile: Since when isn't a Cummings poem puzzling?
I know a few of his already--"maggie and milly and molly and may" (which I used to have my WRA students read--link), "anyone lived in a pretty how town" (that took some doing to learn!--link), and "(love is more thicker than forget)" (link)--which has the virtue of brevity (four short stanzas!).
But then I read what Joyce posted--that seventeen-stanza celebration of a father--and I realized I had to memorize it. And I've been trying ... But it is so complex, so weird ... I'm not learning it very fast. As of right now, I have seven stanzas more or less in my head--and I will launch into another one this afternoon. It'll probably take me a few more weeks ... at which time you can endure another blog post about it!
It's the most difficult thing I've tried to memorize--and it has little to do with length. I mean, I know "To be or not to be"; I know "Kubla Khan"; I know long poems by Longfellow (get it? long fellow?), some other long speeches in Shakespeare. But they--all of them--make, you know, conventional sense. Cummings, on the other hand, requires something else of me: I have to construct the sense as I learn it, for the sense, you see, is not always apparent--or easily evident.
And Cummings makes it no easier by playing fast-and-loose with punctuation, with capitalization, with writing conventions of all sorts (as you can see below).
But I am damn well going to do it! And I'm going to recite it for Joyce, and I'm going to tell her, See what you made me do!
And then I'm going to thank her.
Here's the whole damn poem--I put it in red because the effort to learn it is making me bleed! (BTW: I own the single-volume complete poetical works of Cummings, and when I double-checked the online version with the printed version (as I always do before memorizing), I discovered the printed version had omitted a line!)
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 [THIS IS AS FAR AS I'VE GOTTEN]
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