anyone lived in a pretty how town
anyone lived in a pretty how town
E. E. CUMMINGS
The poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is one of the most anthologized works by one of America's most anthologized poets, e. e. cummings. Cummings, one of America's leading modernist poets, was known for his experimentation with capitalization, punctuation, and syntax (the sequence of arranged words) in his work. By playing with these elements of language, cummings challenged the very nature and meaning of language, often resulting in new and surprising meanings. Additionally, cummings rarely titled his poems, perhaps wishing to avoid giving them any added meaning outside of their text. Thus, although his poems were often numbered, they became known by their first lines, as is the case with "anyone lived in a pretty how town." The poem is also characteristic of cummings's style, and due to the syntactical acrobatics in "anyone lived in a pretty how town," the poem can be read in several ways. On one level, it is about the inner self and the individual in conventional (i.e., conformist) society. On another level, it is a love story between a figure named Noone (No one) and a figure named Anyone. On yet another level, the poem is about the passage of time.
First published as "No. 29" in 1940 in cummings's collection 50 Poems, "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is widely available in anthologies and on the Internet. A recent anthology that features the poem is Modern American Poetry, edited by B. Rajan and published by Meyer Press in 2007.
Edward Estlin Cummings, who wrote under the name e. e. cummings, was born on October 14, 1894, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother was Rebecca Haswell, and his father, Edward Cummings, was a Harvard professor and later a well-known Unitarian minister. As a child, cummings wrote stories and poetry, and he also drew and painted. He was educated at Harvard University, earning an A.B. in 1915 and an M.A. the following year. While a student at Harvard, cummings was introduced to the poetry of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, and he began to emulate the modernist aesthetic, publishing poems in the Harvard Monthly. In 1917, shortly after college, cummings joined the Norton Harjes Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross, which allowed him to work as a medic, rather than as a soldier, during World War I. However, while stationed in France, cummings was imprisoned from September to December in a French military prison. This was brought about by his friendship with the suspected spy William Slater Brown, and by his pacifist beliefs. Cummings's first book, TheEnormous Room (1922), provides a fictional version of his imprisonment.
Cummings's father actively petitioned for his son's release from prison, but when cummings returned to the United States in early 1918, he was almost immediately drafted into the army. World War I, however, was drawing to a close, and cummings never saw any military action in Europe as a soldier. He was released from duty that November. Cummings spent the next several years writing and publishing. He lived in Paris from 1921 to 1923, writing poetry and working on his paintings. Cummings's first collection of poems, Tulips and Chimneys (1923), already contained the elements that would become typical of his poetic style. Cummings published several collections of poetry throughout the 1920s, including XLI Poems (1925) and is 5 (1926).
Upon his return to the United States in 1923, cummings moved to New York City. He married Elaine Orr on March 19, 1924. Their daughter, Nancy, was born that December, and the couple divorced that very month. Cummings's first play, Him, was published a few years later (in 1927) and it was staged in 1928. The work was dedicated to Anne Barton, whom cummings married on May 1, 1929. The couple soon separated (in 1932). Cummings then met Marion Morehouse, and he spent the rest of his life in a common law marriage with her. Thus, despite a decade filled with romantic turmoil and his father's death, cummings spent the 1930s publishing several volumes of poetry, an untitled collection of stories, a ballet, and the journal Eimi (1933). His first artistic exhibition was also held in New York City in 1931. Prints of this exhibition were collected and published as CIOPW that same year. Furthermore, the poems cummings produced during this period were his most experimental, playing with the visual representation of words upon the page and even going so far as to rearrange the spelling of individual words. His Collected Poems was published in 1938.
Though cummings continued to exhibit his artwork and publish poetry and other works throughout the 1940s, his poetic style had solidified, and his heretofore prolific output began to slow. Indeed, he only published two poetry collections during this decade, including 50 Poems (1940), in which "anyone lived in a pretty how town" first appeared. By the 1950s, cummings began to receive recognition for his overall body of work. He held the post of Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard from 1952 to 1953, and the lectures that he gave there were collected and published as I: Six Nonlectures in 1953. Cummings's comprehensive collected poems were published as Poems 1923-1954 in 1954. The following year, cummings was awarded a National Book Award special citation for the collection.
Cummings spent the final years of his life traveling throughout the country and giving ectures. He died at his summer home in North Conway, New Hampshire, on September 3, 1962. His remains are buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.
Cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town" consists of nine four-line stanzas. The poem is predominantly written in tetrameter, or lines consisting of four feet (each foot represents one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable).
The first line of the poem, which is also the poem's title, introduces the character of Anyone and the picturesque village that he lives in. The next line mentions the sound of the bells that can often be heard in the town. Presumably this refers to church bells, which announce holidays, weddings, funerals, and other events that mark the passage of time and of individual lives. The third line lists the seasons, again underscoring the passage of time. The stanza's final line, which is a bit nonsensical, is meant to represent Anyone's exploits as he goes through life.
The poem then mentions the other townspeople, stating that they do not concern themselves with Anyone. Instead, they go about conducting their small lives. The final line of this stanza mentions celestial bodies and precipitation, natural phenomena that, like the seasons, mark time as it passes.
In the third stanza, a minority of the youngsters in the town have an inkling that Noone (who is first introduced in the final line of the stanza) is falling in love with Anyone. The children of the town, however, become less aware of those around them and more self-involved as they mature into adulthood. In the third line of the stanza, the list of the four seasons is repeated. Yet the order in which they appear has been changed. This change further emphasizes time and its passage.
Mentioning trees and their leaves, as if to indicate that it is autumn (the first season mentioned in the list in the previous stanza), Noone's love for Anyone is expounded upon. She is happy when he is happy and sad when he is sad. The third line of the stanza perhaps indicates that the season has changed from autumn to winter. The stanza's final line once again underscores Noone's love for Anyone; anything related to him is of the utmost importance to her.
Other people in the town, the Someones and the Everyones, wed and live together. They experience the happy and the sad moments of life. They rise in the morning and go to bed at night. They live out their lives in the rhythmic (and somewhat banal manner) in which lives are generally lived. The fourth and final line of this stanza implies that the townspeople die in much the same way as they have lived; i.e., as a matter of course.
- A short film adaptation, given the same title as the poem, was directed by George Lucas in 1967. The independent film was written by Lucas and Paul Golding.
Stanza 6 opens with the aforementioned list of celestial bodies. The order, like the repeated list of the seasons, has been rearranged. In this instance, the changed order suggests that time has moved from day to night. This is reinforced by the second line of the stanza and the mention of winter. Only the winter (i.e., the passage of time) can address why children grow up and are no longer able to see the small mysteries of life around them. The second line of the first stanza, which refers to the bells heard throughout the town, is repeated. Indeed, this stanza mentions children as they grow up and then links this to the church bells that ring to signify the events that mark the rhythms of life, such as birth, marriage, and death.
Anyone dies and Noone mourns him. She, too, eventually dies, which is implied by the statement that they are buried beside each other. In a nod to the fact that life goes on, Anyone and Noone are interred by townspeople who live hectic lives and have little (if any) time to stop and reflect upon the burial. In the stanza's final line, time crawls by in small increments.
As time passes, Anyone and Noone live in their deaths, a sort of slumber that is filled with dreams. Their bodies decompose and fuel the soil and the coming of spring.
The townspeople are likened to the sounds of the church bells, and the list of seasons repeats itself in yet another variation on their order. The townspeople are born and they die. They live the same lives and this cycle repeats itself endlessly. In the final line, the celestial bodies are listed once more, though they retain the order in which they first appeared in the poem's second stanza.
Passage of Time
One of the most prominent themes in "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is that of the passage of time. This is communicated in the thrice-repeated lists of seasons and of celestial bodies coupled with the rain. With one exception, each time the lists are repeated, the order in which they appear has been rearranged. Used to tell time long before the invention of clocks and calendars, the seasons, heavenly bodies, and weather are ancient signifiers of time as it passes. Additionally, there are two references to children growing up, one in stanza 3 and one in stanza 6. There are two references to the bells ringing through the town, and these are presumably church bells. Church bells ring for holidays, births, marriages, and deaths; in other words, all of the major events that punctuate a life as it progresses. The other, less straightforward, instances that capture the passage of time are the life and death of Anyone and Noone, and also of the townspeople, who live predictable and cyclic lives.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Scanning a poem (identifying its rhythm and marking out the stressed and unstressed syllables) is a difficult but rewarding task. Research how to scan a poem, and then scan "anyone lived in a pretty how town." Write an essay in which you discuss how scanning the poem has enhanced your understanding of its themes, meaning, and structure.
- Study the lives and work of T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein, cummings's contemporaries. Give a class presentation in which you provide a biographical overview of all three writers and examine one poem by each of them. How are the poems similar? How are they different?
- Cummings, like many writers of his generation, often lived and worked in Paris. Study the 1920s and the historical context that may have contributed to the creation of an expatriate community of American writers in Paris. Write a report on your findings.
- Write a poem mimicking the style, themes, or form of "anyone lived in a pretty how town" and read your poem aloud to the class. Be prepared to discuss how your poem resembles the original.
The theme of mortality is linked to the theme of time as it passes. Death is the final outcome of the passage of time and also the event that most clearly measures time. In the poem, mortality is linked to the seasons (specifically winter) and to the heavens (specifically night, via the stars). These are the phenomena mentioned shortly before Anyone's death is announced. Death as it is envisioned in the poem is not complete extinction, but rather a dream-filled slumber. In contrast to this pleasant image, life is busy and hectic; the townspeople rush about, attending to their daily business. This is particularly shown in stanza 5. The townspeople marry as a matter of course; they feel joy and sadness as a matter of course; they sleep and rise in the morning, little more than automatons. The life described is one without depth or reflection (as is indicated by the children who forget to notice the world as they age). Yet death is described as just the opposite; it seems that the dead are in a sense more alive than the living.
Individualism and Conformity
In "anyone lived in a pretty how town," Anyone is an individual in a sea of conformity. Anyone sings and dances, but the townspeople do not heed him or care about him. Indeed, they are too busy with their own lives to even notice him. Only the children, who will soon be too old and too busy to notice him as well, are able to see that Noone is falling in love with Anyone. In the midst of the love story of Anyone and Noone, the town life continues unaffected. The routine marriages of the townspeople, when contrasted to the love that Noone has for Anyone, seem small and unremarkable. Even the poem's speaker does not seem to care about Anyone; he mentions Anyone's death in an offhanded, and even flippant, manner. There are no details or dates attached to Anyone's death, only the mention that it happened at some point. Noone is the only person who mourns Anyone, though no one is left to mourn her when she dies. The two are buried by rushed townspeople who do not care for them, or for anyone but themselves and their affairs, for that matter. Whereas Anyone is an individual, the townspeople represent conformity. This is reinforced by the poem's final stanza, in which the people of the town are likened to the ringing bells of the church, i.e., little more than the background noise marking time as it passes. These uniform people come and go as steadily as the weather and the movement of the heavenly bodies. Yet, in death, they are like Anyone and Noone, sleeping in a dream-filled death. Given this reading, Anyone and Noone's names are highly ironic. Anyone's symbolic name makes him at once an individual and everyone.
There are thirty-six lines in "anyone lived in a pretty how town," and eight of them are repetitions of or variants on a previous line. These repeated lines have to do with the list of the seasons, the list of celestial bodies and precipitation, and the bells ringing throughout the town. All of these repeated lines are related to the passage of time and therefore establish one of the poem's primary themes. Aside from these straightforward repetitions, there are two mentions of children forgetting things as they mature, and of the dream-filled slumber that describes death. The word by is also repeated several times throughout the poem, especially in the second half. The word is used to join similar or identical things, which is a repetition in and of itself. A popular phrase that demonstrates this usage is "one by one," though cummings uses far less conventional constructions in his poem.
Alliteration and Assonance
Alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds in words or syllables placed close together, occurs in much of the poem, as several lines use words that begin with the same letter. Line 4 is comprised of eight words, three of which begin with the letter d and four of which begin with h. In line 7, which is also eight words long, four words begin with th, and two begin with s. One could list almost endlessly the instances of alliteration that run throughout the poem. Assonance, the repetition of similar vowel sounds, is even more integral to the poem's construction. As Explicator contributor B. J. Hunt points out, repeated variations of o sounds (both long and short) and ow sounds are numerous. Even the poem's title contains examples of this particular assonance. Alliteration and assonance, after all, are just a more specific or stylized form of repetition.
Rhyme in all forms runs through this poem, which is more stylized than it at first appears to be. End rhymes (those occurring at the end of a line) appear in the first two lines of stanzas 1 through 4 and stanzas 8 through 9. Additionally, slant rhymes (involving words that almost rhyme) occur in the last two lines of stanza 2 and stanza 9. Internal rhymes (rhymes occurring within the same line) appear in slant form in lines 15 and 20. Because the rhymes in the poem occur with a sporadic regularity, "anyone lived in a pretty how town" avoids sounding too predictable (too sing-song), yet it also is stylized enough to sound mindfully poetic, elevated to a style that exists beyond normal speech.
Syntactical inversion, the style for which cummings first became famous (or infamous), is evident throughout "anyone lived in a pretty how town." Even the title is an example of this inversion; its meaning could just as easily be communicated with the statement "Anyone lived in a pretty town." Without "how," however, the playful rhythm of the poem is lost. Brian Docherty, writing in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, observes that the second line of the poem, a disordered description of the sound of bells ringing in the town, could easily be reordered into a coherent sentence as well, simply by rearranging the words around the subject and the verb. Such unusual arrangements are evident throughout, particularly in line 6, which is perhaps the most straightforwardly disordered line in the poem. According to Docherty, cummings also uses words of all stripes as nouns. This is particularly the case in lines 4, 7, 10, 18, 20, and 35. These devices open up the poem for multiple interpretations while reinforcing its rhythmic form.
Modernism is an artistic movement that began in the early twentieth century, reached its zenith during the 1920 and 1930s (coincidentally cummings's most prolific years), and remained a prominent movement well into the middle of the century. Modernism was prominent in both literature and the visual arts, beginning in Europe and later making its way to the United States. Several cultural upheavals gave rise to the movement. In nineteenth-century Western Europe, the dominant ideal exalted the progress of humanity over the concerns of the individual. But this began to change early in the twentieth century, in no small part accelerated by the unprecedented carnage of World War I. Arguably the world's first truly mechanized war, World War I caused artists to question the values of patriotism and politics, and they looked instead to the experience of the individual as a singular being (rather than a representative or part of mankind at large). This theme was also motivated by the question of what it meant to be a human in an increasingly mechanized world. Psychological writings by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were also influential, as were philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche (although Nietzsche lived in an earlier period, his last work appearing in 1888) and Jean-Paul Sartre. This paradigm shift in cultural and social values had widespread implications, resulting in new and varying approaches to the perception of reality, and thus to new and exciting modes of expression. For instance, authors such as James Joyce and William Faulkner were pioneers of the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Writers such as Gertrude Stein and cummings challenged the very structure of language. Painters such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall produced canvases that turned accepted modes of visual expression on their heads. Other influential modernist writers include Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Franz Kafka, and many more. The movement was so widespread and continuous that it is perhaps better described as an umbrella to several smaller movements, including imagism, surrealism, and cubism.
Though cummings's work was thoroughly modernist in its style, it was often transcendental in its themes and content. Transcendentalism was particularly widespread in New England from 1830 to 1850. Given that cummings was born in New England in the late nineteenth century, it is extremely likely that he was familiar with transcendental writings and themes. Like modernism, transcendentalism was largely concerned with the experience of the individual, though from a far more spiritual angle. Transcendentalists believed in the innate divinity of the natural world and of humankind. Thus, they stressed the individual's insight and intuition as opposed to logical thought or organized religion. Furthermore, the idea that man was essentially divine was a stark departure from the reigning Calvinist philosophy of the day, which posited belief in original sin and man's inherently sinful nature. Prominent transcendental writers include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
The poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is one of cummings's more accessible and popular works, and this is likely why it is so often anthologized. As critics note, the poem is representative of almost all of the characteristics that embody cummings's signature poetic style. One such characteristic is the serious themes that lie beneath what at first appears to be nonsense, both in form and content. For instance, Explicator contributor B. J. Hunt states that the poem "rolls across the tongue like a preschool song…. Masked, however, is life's monotony and death's certainty … everyone dies." Hunt also comments that whenever the sing-song lilt of the poem is disturbed, the disturbance "accentuate[s] death's poignant certainty by [the] negation of rhythmic harmony." Discussing another of cummings's characteristic devices in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, Brian Docherty indicates that cummings's syntactical acrobatics are particularly apt in regards to the human experience of the space-time continuum. Through cummings's play on word order, readers are "reminded that the normal linear word order in English locks our thinking about time and space into a mode which post-Einsteinian science has shown to be nonvalid, however convenient for mundane use."
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1940s: Before telephone use is common, towns rely on the ringing of church bells as a form of mass communication. Until 1945, in the United States, less than half of all households have phones installed.
Today: Telephones and mobile phones are ubiquitous, as are other forms of mass communication. Modern churches are rarely built with bells.
- 1940s: The era of modernist poetry, in which poets challenged traditional poetic language, themes, and structures, is just coming to a close.
Today: An important poetic movement of the day is New Formalism. The movement entails a return to traditional poetic forms and structures.
- 1940s: The United States enters World War II following the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.
Today: The United States is fighting two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars were initiated in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington D.C.
More general critical responses to cummings's poetry have largely centered on the question of whether or not it should be seen as famous or infamous. While critics almost unanimously agree that cummings's groundbreaking work forever changed the course of American poetry, there is considerable contention as to whether or not his poetry had any other merit to speak of. In an essay written just three years after the publication of 50 Poems (in which "anyone lived in a pretty how town" first appeared), American Literature critic John Arthos argues that cummings's work is valuable in its own right. He "should not be allowed to fall from sight, or to be remembered only as one of the wild experimenters who came along after the last war [World War I]. For he represents even now, in a more terrible war [World War II], something that is valid and sweet in the human spirit, and something profound and strong—in short, beauty." Sadly, as the former United States poet laureate Billy Collins observes in his 2005 Slate essay, Arthos's admonitions have gone largely unheeded. Collins remarks that "a few of [cummings's] poems … are kept breathing due to the life-support systems of anthologies and textbooks, but except for these and a few other signature numbers, the body of his work has fallen into relative neglect." Collins concludes that "no list of major 20th-century poets can do without him, yet his poems spend nearly all of their time in the darkness of closed books, not in the light of the window or the reading lamp."
Tieger is a freelance writer and editor. In this essay, she places "anyone lived in a pretty how town" in the context of cummings's entire poetic output and argues that the poem is more closely aligned with transcendentalism than modernism.
Several critics comment that cummings's writings are transcendental in their overarching themes of individuality and spirituality (the very touchstones of transcendental thought). Certainly, "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is no exception. The poem's themes of the passing of time and of mortality mirror the transcendentalist ethos of spirituality. Its focus on the individual (whose significance is as lost to society as it is to death) represents the transcendental disgust for conformist society. Furthermore, the exalted love between Noone and Anyone also reinforces a transcendental philosophy. Love, like the seasons, is a driving force in the poem. Anyone and Noone love each other as they age. Their love is set apart from the ordinary marriages of the other townspeople, who marry as mundanely as they live. Certainly, the love between Anyone and Noone becomes the means through which they are further distinguished as individuals.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Cummings's 50 Poems (1940), which includes "anyone lived in a pretty how town," contains some of the poet's more accessible and (relatively) straightforward poems. Written after cummings had established his signature style, the collection is a fine example of the poet's maturing work.
- For a look at cummings's more visual poems (those with meaning largely derived from typographical arrangement), see his first collection of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys (1923).
- World War I directly affected the modernist movement, and Robert H. Zieger's America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience (2001) provides insight on the social and cultural effects of the war.
- Gertrude Stein was a contemporary of cummings's, and she also experimented with syntax in her work. Like cummings, the value of her writing outside of its modernist context is somewhat contested. The Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein (1990) is an extensive introduction to her work.
Noone laughs when Anyone is happy and she cries when he is sad. Their love is so magical it can only be seen by children (who lose their individuality as they become entrenched in, and consumed by, society). Later, Noone and Anyone are hastily buried beside each other, and life simply goes on as it always has. Noone and Anyone did not matter to society when they were alive, and they do not matter when they are dead. Yet their love both does and does not matter in the face of death. For instance, while it does not matter to the townspeople, as the bodies of Noone and Anyone become one with the soil their spirits live on in their love, a phenomenon that is indicated by line 32. Yet even when they are alive, the exalted love between Anyone and Noone is almost entirely spiritual. The one physical embodiment of the romance between them is the kiss that Noone bestows on Anyone's face after he has died.
This almost complete absence of physical love should be seen in the context of cummings's development as a poet. Rushworth M. Kidder, writing in E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry, comments on Cummings's earlier love poems, which are far more erotic than "anyone lived in a pretty how town." Kidder makes the following observation about cummings's erotic poems:
In an odd and inverted way, these poems are pleas for purity and balance, stifled cries for a higher vision of human love coming out of a wilderness of sensual indulgence…. These assertions that flesh is at worst gross and at best slightly unsatisfactory prepare the way of his later metaphysic: to show the repulsiveness of carnality is to prove the need for its opposite.
In other words, the presentation of baser physicality underscores the presence of spiritual love in the form of its absence. As cummings matured as an artist, this spirituality became ever more present.
The transcendental undertones of the exalted love between Anyone and Noone are further explained by Brian Docherty in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal. Docherty states that "cummings's love for the natural world and those free individuals who are able to love and be loved, makes him a true heir of [Ralph Waldo] Emerson." Clearly, this statement can be applied to Anyone and Noone, the only named characters in the poem who are undeniably "free individuals … able to love and be loved." (Notably, Docherty adds that cummings "represents the end of the New England Transcendentalist tradition.") Kidder goes a step further, positing that the bulk of cummings's work is about love. "If Cummings has one subject, that is it." Tracing the evolution of cummings's poetry from an initial exploration of erotic love followed by "a sometimes amorphous phenomenon seasoned by a not entirely unselfish lust," Kidder states that in his later work, love "has come to be a purified and radiant idea, unentangled with flesh and worlds, the agent of the highest transcendence." Kidder concludes that this "is not far, as poem after poem has hinted, from the Christian conception of love as God."
Love, however, is not the only transcendental motif in "anyone lived in a pretty how town." Nature, which also features in most transcendental themes, is represented in the seasons, the snow, the rain, and the moon (which are repeated throughout the poem in varying order to represent time as it passes). An integral part of transcendentalist thought, nature is believed to be the proof of God's existence. Yet although the poem is less concerned with God's existence than with Anyone's existence, nature is still the driving force of the town and its people; they live, love, and die amidst the passing seasons and the ringing of church bells. If nature is evidence of God, and if the natural phenomena of seasons, celestial bodies, and precipitation are used to communicate the passage of time and ultimately of mortality, one could then conclude that mortality also serves as proof of God's existence. Certainly, the conception of mortality as a dream-filled sleep (a nod toward an afterlife of some sort) gives this idea some validity. This argument is also bolstered by Kidder, who writes that cummings's work gives credence "to intuition, to the sensibilities, to the human capacity for responding to metaphysical reality in ways that are beyond the rational." These very principles are demonstrated in "anyone lived in a pretty how town." One example is the children who notice the love between Anyone and Noone, but are no longer able to see that love as they mature into adults. Another is the description of death as something akin to a dream. Death is described in terms that make it a far more interesting plane of existence than the rhythmic and mundane lives that are lived by the townspeople.
The townspeople, of course, are integral to an understanding of cummings's transcendental philosophy. The Someones and the Everyones of the town wed and live together. They experience the happy and the sad moments of life. They rise in the morning and go to bed at night. They live out their lives in the rhythmic (and somewhat banal) manner in which lives are generally lived. They also die in much the same way as they have lived, i.e., as a rather dull matter of course. Earlier in his career, cummings coined the term "mostpeople" as a means of expressing his contempt for conformity (another fundamental principle of transcendentalism). Jenny Penberthy, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, describes "mostpeople" as those who "follow orders" and "do their duty," as opposed to "the individual [who] is true to himself." Cummings explained the term himself in the preface to his 1938 volume Collected Poems. In an excerpt from that preface (quoted in Penberthy), cummings states:
The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople—it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squareroot of minusone. You and I are human beings; mostpeople are snobs…. Life, for mostpeople, simply isn't. Take the socalled standard of living. What do mostpeople mean by ‘living’? They don't mean living.
The form of "anyone lived in a pretty how town" also underscores the poem's transcendental content. Cummings, notably, was a painter, and one could argue that his more visual poems were less inspired by the literary zeitgeist (mode of the day) than the visual arts of the day (such as Cubism). Cummings's visual poems are characterized by broken lines, a lack of punctuation or capitalization, words joined together, as well as words, letters, or punctuation arranged typographically so as to form a discernible image. They are less modernist poetry than they are pieces of modernist art. Because "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is decidedly not a visual poem in this sense, it divorces itself from cummings's more modernist undertakings; thus its transcendental leanings become even more clear. Other poems by cummings written in this vein include "maggie and milly and molly and may,""my father moved through dooms of love," and "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished soul" (among many, many others). This interesting phenomenon regarding form and content in cummings's work is remarked upon by Penberthy, who observes that, "in general, he reserved the sonnet or metrical forms for his more serious poems which embody a complex, transcendent vision. The looser, more experimental poems, on the other hand, aim to communicate concrete sensations and perceptions in all their existential immediacy." This observation has also been made by Norman Friedman in E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer (quoted in Kidder), who states that "there is an organic relation between the poet's technique and his purposes." Friedman adds that cummings typically "uses metrical stanzas for his more ‘serious’ poems, and reserves his experiments by and large for his free verse embodiments of satire, comedy, and description."
As Kidder notes, "where life for the early Cummings was a matter of birth, maturity, and decay, for the late Cummings it consists in birth, maturity, and transcendence." It would seem that "anyone lived in a pretty how town" lies right on the cusp of this transition. It contains none of the earthy or erotic subject matter, satire, or experimental typography of the earlier works. Yet it is not quite as overtly transcendental as his later works, which were typically shorter, more concise meditations. Nevertheless, "anyone lived in a pretty how town" is squarely grounded in the traditions of transcendentalism. It is equally grounded in cummings's progression as an artist.
Source: Leah Tieger, Critical Essay on "anyone lived in a pretty how town," in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
B. J. Hunt
In the following essay, Hunt discusses the masking of monotony and death in cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town."
E. E. Cummings's "Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town" rolls across the tongue like a preschool song. On one hand, the playful rhythm and sound complement nature's sequences where life cycles rotate throughout the nine stanzas like a merry-go-round, life on a proverbial fast-paced playground. Masked, however, is life's monotony and death's certainty as the four-line stanzas, mostly tetrameters that mirror the four seasons, lead, perhaps, to an immutable certainty: everyone dies.
The poem opens with light, harmonious double dactyls in line 1: "anyone lived in a pretty how town." Playful rhythm continues in subsequent dactyls such as "women and men (both little and small)" (5), "someones married their everyones" (17), and "many bells down" (2, 24) that stream into trochees like "pretty" (1), "summer autumn winter" (3), and iambs like "with up so floating" (2, 24). Bells, which often announce important events in small-town communities such as weddings or funerals, seemingly sway in varied meter that carries a carefree rising and falling as if the "many bells" celebrate life or joyfully acknowledge "anyone," a youthful "he" who "sang" and "danced" (4) in the "spring" of life. But "spring," the only monosyllabic foot in line 3, harbors the undertones of isolation and mortality that begin to emerge. By line 24, which repeats line 3, the bells seemingly toll for death, a solitary journey. Stanza 6 further suggests the human winter in "stars" (21) and especially "snow" (22), which often suggest a metaphorical season of death.
Monosyllabic feet such as "sun moon stars rain" (8), also break the easygoing pace to emphasize certain maturity for "anyone" toward the summer ("sun") of life, which occurs without significance to others who "cared not [ … ] at all" (6) as if to focus on human isolation in the midst of humanity. Only the children in the third stanza notice that "anyone" and "noone" (12), the female persona, fall in love. As "someones married their everyones" (17), the poem increasingly hints of monotony and life's insignificance. Interestingly, line 12 contains three feet rather than four. The trimeter reinforces "autumn" (11), often considered the metaphorical golden years of life as time like the line runs short. Line 23 contains two falling dactyls anchored around a rising anapest that gives a seesaw effect reflective, perhaps, of the children's inevitable maturity and constant cycles of birth and death. The line's extra foot creates contrast between "remember" and the fact that everyone "forget[s]" or is forgotten in time. The "snow" (22) suggests unavoidable death, which occurs in stanza seven as seasons continuously churn. As "anyone" and "noone" die, notably, the seasons turn perpetually to "april" (31) or spring, and back to "summer" (34) or "sun" (34) suggestive, perhaps, that in the midst of life death exist—yet, life goes on.
Also, the poem is highly alliterative and euphonic. Assonance dominates with variations on vowel sounds, especially o as in ow, which occurs three times in the first stanza alone: "how town" and "down." The sound is repeated in "down" (10), "now" (13), and "how" (23). Long os flow throughout in words like "so," "floating," "both," "sowed," "noone," "hope," "snow," and "sowing" (1, 5, 7, 12, 19, 22, 24, 22, 35). A sustained ooo courses along in words such as "moon," "few," "grew," and "stooped" (8, 9, 10, 21, 26, 36). The resulting ow-oh-oo seems playful, yet mournful as they drench the poem in a sense of unhindered progression toward sorrow and death. They might be happy ohs or sad oh nos.
Rhymes, internal, end, and slant, hide the immutable force, time that orders human life. "By," "by," and "cried," for instance, seem inconsequential until the reader slows on cacophonous gutturals like ir in "bird" and "stir" in stanza 4, while "grief" or sadness, underscored by "still," imply that by and by grief awaits. "Deep" and "sleep" (29, 30), one of six end rhymes which normally render pleasure, also guide the reader's attention to inescapable death. Some lines end in slant rhymes like "same" "rain" (7, 8), "guess" "face" (25, 26) and accentuate death's poignant certainty by negation of rhythmic harmony.
Source: B. J. Hunt, "Cummings's ‘Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town,’" in Explicator, Vol. 64, No. 4, 2006, p. 226.
In the following "unessay," Green mimics cummings's style while commenting on the poet's use of unrelated images and problematic punctuation.
this unessay is for you and me and is not for mostpeople. This unessay is about culturepoetryandlove (not really love it is more about unnotlove) and most people do not understand culturepoetryandunnotlove but you and I will understand it. we!
this unessay is also about communication which is like flowers and moons only not really whom flowers and moons are only for feel (ing o isn't that nice), but communication is more like razor-blades and electric eggbeaters; it is made for use It is utilitarianand so at least partially rational and so unfortunately is
po (iloveyou) em. poems have writers which is what eecummings is but they also have readers which is what you and i who are not unpeople are what you and i and eecummings being not unwhich have in common is, we, use language, which is also what communication is really except smoke-signals even which are also language.
what you and i and cummings have in common even more than roses is also not only language but also the Same Language ie english; a frenchman would have a hell of a time reading cummings' poetry unless he happened to speak english which unfortunately most frenchmen do not [and that would not help more than littlemuch even if he did for many of cummings' poems] (and the really go
good ones like somewhere I have never travelled or my love thy head or the great advantage of being alive are not really very unsame from any other uninpoems)
because most of them are not very anything but tricks and games saying unthings nearly or things that leave you with a vague feeling of feeling (my red red rose) goodness which is often not nearly poetry but unorganized sound or emotion like if i wrote I love you i Love you i lOve you i loVe you i lovE you i love You six times.)
What eecummings is doing withah-POETRY!? in his own syntactical way is really allthetime the same thing which I shall describe to wit … he is recreating his emotional experiences of looking at treesmoonsrainsnowlovemotherskythighetc or maybe even his dreams and he wants you to too and see how undead and thingish they are … what gets in his way is paper and Language which is why: once feeling is described it is not feeling any more but it is anaboutfeeling which is a farfar differentthing and you do not feel it but the telling about it in words which have logical relation ships topreposition eachadjective othersubstantive and that must therefore be intelligent in some way or one might say (or might not) rational (lyordered) and which are as i said not pure feeling which is immediate and emotional and unconventionally ordered.
eecummings is trying to get away from unliveness which destroys his feelings so he if i may quote someone else frEEEs language, that is he destroys ITS order until he thinks it looks (and this is where the problem) the same as HIS feeling, and/or (comes in) he uses words which are things with both denotations and connotations purely for their connotative which is usually emotional effect. ! Thus he combines images which are so unrelated to each other as to be almost unimages merely because of their associational quality which gives you the feeling he wants as in Cambridge ladies living in furnished souls or not even the rain has such small hands, and in which the feeling is even en Hanced because of the shock of such un nopersoned juxtaposition. He does this very well and it is why many of his poems are extremely unbad and rather o I'm going to go out and kiss the lips of the treesish at least if you are a romantic and an o how I love things which ought to be loved and an I shall lie with the warm body of the earthish person which i am and you are and all disinunnonhumans are. How!
and similarly is what else he does to us with his syntactics, in two ways: first with normalwordorder and pun, ctu! ation? which is most ordinary when he merely reverses it or leaves it out; he does often much more fiendish, things? Second with the parts of speech which he mixes up like the muchness of summer rain until all, being being, are one with each other, this is not nocuous when he simply forgets capitaL letters and periods and other unbeautiful whatnots that aren't the snow soaking into the belly of the Earth or what have you;? after the first shock which was in the 1920's anyway you don't notice because these things are not either logical or illogical in themselfish's being only conveniences like a woman in a bar
full, mixing up which's and whom's and all the King's words. As an example take (as the evening takes the sun) for instance a line like down shall go which and up come who—which conveys although i must admit only after a little thought the idea that people which are really am are better than things which are really not which is one of the things this poem—what if a much of a which of a wind, which is another line that very admirably does what he wants it to, is emphasizes—is about
However, in most of his poetry if you use the criterion of merely counting noses like any anaesthetizedimpersonalunbeing mathematician which don't get down and sssss
UCK the good earth, or mud when it rains, it fails. Of course there are some people though I will not admit for this occasion that they are not unpeople who think or perhaps i should say feel differentl-y. lionel trilling for instance who is a critic of some renoun says and in the fullness of my heart i quote "The parts of speech that we all thought were merely ‘modifiers’ or ‘relatives’ or ‘dependents’ have learned from him their full, free existence."
this, I am afraid I must sub (which is a prefix meaning under and appears to make no sense placed before) mit, is so much bal! der dAS
in a life which consists mostly of ironclad conventions, language is about the most ironcladandconventional and the last stand at the barricades will do you no good thing there is. And even though mr cummings and by implication mr trilling are in their anarchic goodness trying to free Language they cannot because Language is like Poland perpetually enslaved. The fact of the matter is that language (L) is a strict form logically constructed being indeed as mr carnap or mr hemple would be the first to tell you constructed on the same principles as any mathematical order Of course it is, not; necessary that we perceive it as such all the time, particularly in poetry because words and syntax develop their own conventions within a (convention) that form a short of sort-hand for quicker and more perhaps poetic understanding, as when eec writes that time is a tree this life one leaf which as stated is not strictly true but which convinces the casual reader because the image is self-consistent and is a concept which has been made unstartling (enough b)y previous usage.
but i must repeat the emphasis is still on the word convention " ", which is inevitable though reasonably limitable by any good poet for two reasons. The first of these is that any word or groupofwords comes or come to us with a history and tradition much like the German folk or the english parliament, which has been soaKE
d up through the ages and inculcated in all readers of poetry and poets except apparently mr cummings and mr trilling. What eec is doing is to take words ordinarily denotative and make them connotative like fragile which he uses to qualify almost everything under the sun not to mention the sun, or also to invent new connotations for words ordinarily used in a connotative sense. What happens too often is that the burden of meaning he puts on a denotative or conventionally connotative and therefore is too heavy; the word snapS and we are left with no meaning at all or an incoherent meaning as if he were stroking your back, it feels so nice but can you tell me about it? The weight referred to is that of mr cummings' private experience and perceptions which of necessity mustin their original state be unshared by the reader who has had his own experience and has found the triangular why of a dream is not to quote mr cummings blue and is furthermore not triangular and is indeed not why. Of course i am not saying that eec must only use words which a particular reader understands in context—the, line, we draw for permissibly avoiding unlivemassman convention is a pragmatic one at best but unfortunately eec is prone to overstep it, even at its most tolerant, as in the foregoing quotation which may sound very pleasant but poetry is unhappily not music it is impossible to elucidate the meaning or even the feeling of the phrase. The poet must grant the reader some rapport even if he doesn't like us because we're not undead or else his poetry becomes purely subjectivistic which is fine for writing on your tablecloth but not necessarily so good for printing in a public place unless you happen to be an anarchist, which I am not and you are probably not.
Second, we must refer to the similar but much more destructive problem of cummings' punc (tuation)? and typography which is to say that he some
the printed to use the word loosely page, with little marks that used to be commas and similar unthings stuck in unGodly places,
Mr cummings is in this regard working on the theory of direct communication i assume that i referred to earlier, which is that he is desir-ous of avoiding the stultification of prescribed form which will hinder the direct expression of his experiences. So that if he wants let us say to emphasize some metaphor about water dribbling on to the sidewalk for instance why he simply lets the words
or to describe a he makes some kind of arrangement which is supposed to suggest a kite but is not a kite and cannot even really suggest a kite because a kite is a thing is unwords and exists in space not in time which is what words exist in; and because words are not things but are things ABOUT things or symbols and are experienced not directly but at one remove from experience. They are descriptions and a poem too in a description and since comprehension of descriptions occurs through the use of the intelligence the description itself must be intelligent even if this is unwhich and notmost. The trouble with cummings' poems which are really unpoems may be stated also psychologically; cummings breaks up w/o(r)-ds and chops them into pieces and mis: punctuate, s and extraCAPITALIZES and half-parenthesizes and (all to emphasize what he thinks are the feelings inherent in ordinary boring words like anonymous which has an US in it which is i suppose you and i making love. But this unphotographic-minded reader reads one word at a time and must therefore rearrange as he goes along because words will be words and demand that they be perceived in the same oldreary way that they have been for the last few hundred years, i. e. one at a time and oneafteranother and in one (1) piece and even spelled bourgeoiscorrectly. If i scrawl f,
in little pieces from here to eternity you are still going to read it as floating eventually if you die in the attempt and your effort to do this creates a battle between the reader and the poem which has nothing to do with the usual tension of unprose. It is just a damnuisance.
on the whole of course cummings has written a lot of doublemuchunugly poems which are very nice to read because he knows lots of not beautiful words which are unthings but words about beautiful things, and when i see the word spring whee with a few other such words surrounding it i want to go out and
on the grass and sniff dandelions which is a very nice thing to do especially in springtime. But most of these poems are ones in which the images have at least something to do with anyone or anything and the words are written one after another. As a matter of fact which is a subtle way of saying that my next sentence will probably be incorrect, those unconventional oddities of eec's which are good, such as what if a much of a which of a wind, are good precisely because they combine the best features of innovation with convention being in the most respected ladyyourlipsaredivineandiloveyou tradition: they are in a given context logical (he'd never forgive me for saying this) changes, structured intelligently and (your pardon ee) rationally; in short they make (o world o death) sensE.
Source: Philip Green, "an unessay on ee cuMmingS," in New Republic, Vol. 138, No. 20, May 19, 1958, pp. 24-26.
R. P. Blackmur
In the following excerpt, Blackmur discusses the "typographical peculiarities" in cummings's poetry.
In his four books of verse, his play, and the autobiographical Enormous Room, Mr. Cummings has amassed a special vocabulary and has developed from it a special use of language which these notes are intended to analyse and make explicit. Critics have commonly said, when they understood Mr. Cummings' vocabulary at all, that he has enriched the language with a new idiom; had they been further interested in the uses of language, they would no doubt have said that he had added to the general sensibility of his time. Certainly his work has had many imitators. Young poets have found it easy to adopt the attitudes from which Mr. Cummings has written, just as they often adopt the superficial attitudes of Swinburne and Keats. The curious thing about Mr. Cummings' influence is that his imitators have been able to emulate as well as ape him; which is not so frequently the case with the influence of Swinburne and Keats….
There is one attitude towards Mr. Cummings' language which has deceived those who hold it. The typographical peculiarities of his verse have caught and irritated public attention. Excessive hyphenation of single words, the use of lower case "i," the breaking of lines, the insertion of punctuation between the letters of a word, and so on, will have a possible critical importance to the textual scholarship of the future; but extensive consideration of these peculiarities to-day has very little importance, carries almost no reference to the meaning of the poems. Mr. Cummings' experiments in typography merely extend the theory of notation by adding to the number, not to the kind, of conventions the reader must bear in mind, and are dangerous only because since their uses cannot readily be defined, they often obscure rather than clarify the exact meaning. No doubt the continued practice of such notation would produce a set of well-ordered conventions susceptible of general use. At present the practice can only be "allowed for," recognized in the particular instance, felt, and forgotten: as the diacritical marks in the dictionary are forgotten once the sound of the word has been learned. The poem, after all, only takes wing on the page, it persists in the ear….
Any poetry which does not consider itself as much of an art and having the same responsibilities to the consumer as the arts of silversmithing or cobbling shoes—any such poetry is likely to do littlemore than rehearse a waking dream. Dreams are everywhere ominous and full of meaning; and why should they not be? They hold the images of the secret self, and to the initiate dreamer betray the nerve of life at every turn, not through any effort to do so, or because of any inherited regimen, but simply because they cannot help it. Dreams are like that—to the dreamer the maximal limit of experience. As it happens, dreams employ words and pictorial images to fill out their flux with a veil of substance. Pictures are natural to everyone, and words, because they are prevalent, seem common and inherently sensible. Hence, both picture and word, and then with a little stretching of the fancy the substance of the dreamitself, seem expressible just as they occur—as things created, as the very flux of life. Mr. Cummings' poems are often nothing more than the report of just such dreams. He believes he knows what he knows, and no doubt he does. But he also believes, apparently, that the words which he encourages most vividly to mind are those most precisely fitted to put his poem on paper. He transfers the indubitable magic of his private musings from the cell of his mind, where it is honest incantation, to the realm of poetry. Here he forgets that poetry, so far as it takes a permanent form, is written and is meant to be read, and that it cannot be a mere private musing. Merely because his private fancy furnishes his liveliest images, is the worst reason for assuming that this private fancy will be approximately experienced by the reader or even indicated on the printed page.
But it is unfair to limit this description to Mr. Cummings; indeed, so limited, it is not even a description of Mr. Cummings. Take the Oxford Book of English Verse, or any anthology of poems equally well known, and turn from the poems printed therein of such widely separated poets as Surrey, Crashaw, Marvell, Burns, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Swinburne, to the collected works of these poets respectively. Does not the description of Mr. Cummings' mind at work given above apply nearly as well to the bulk of this poetry as to that of Mr. Cummings, at least on the senses' first immersion? The anthology poems being well known are conceived to be understood, to be definitely intelligible, and to have, without inspection, a precise meaning. The descent upon the collected poems of all or of any one of these authors is by and large a descent into tenuity. Most of their work, most of any poet's work, with half a dozen exceptions, is tenuous and vague, private exercises or public playthings of a soul in verse. So far as he is able, the reader struggles to reach the concrete, the solid, the definite; he must have these qualities, or their counterparts among the realm of the spirit, before he can understand what he reads. To translate such qualities from the realm of his private experience to the conventional forms of poetry is the problem of the poet; and the problem of the reader, likewise, is to come well equipped with the talent and the taste for discerning the meaning of those conventions as they particularly occur. Neither the poet's casual language nor the reader's casual interlocution is likely to be much help. There must be a ground common but exterior to each: that is the poem. The best poems take the best but not always the hardest reading; and no doubt it is so with the writing. Certainly, in neither case are dreams or simple reveries enough. Dreams are natural and are minatory or portentous; but except when by accident they fall into forms that fit the intelligence, they never negotiate the miracle of meaning between the poet and the poem, the poem and the reader.
Most poetry fails of this negotiation, and it is sometimes assumed that the negotiation was never meant, by the poet, to be made. For the poet, private expression is said to be enough; for the reader, the agitation of the senses, the perception of verbal beauty, the mere sense of stirring life in the words, are supposed sufficient. If this defence had a true premise—if the poet did express himself to his private satisfaction—it would be unanswerable; and to many it is so. But I think the case is different, and this is the real charge against Mr. Cummings, the poet does not ever express himself privately. The mind cannot understand, cannot properly know its own musings until those musings take some sort of conventional form. Properly speaking a poet, or any man, cannot be adequate to himself in terms of himself. True consciousness and true expression of consciousness must be external to the blind seat of consciousness—man as a sensorium. Even a simple image must be fitted among other images, and conned with them, before it is understood. That is, it must take a form in language which is highly traditional and conventional. The genius of the poet is to make the convention apparently disappear into the use to which he puts it.
Mr. Cummings and the group with which he is here roughly associated, the anti-culture or anti-intelligence group, persists to the contrary. Because experience is fragmentary as it strikes the consciousness it is thought to be essentially discontinuous and therefore essentially unintelligible except in the fragmentary form in which it occurred. They credit the words they use with immaculate conception and there hold them unquestionable. A poem, because it happens, must mean something and mean it without relation to anything but the private experience which inspired it. Certainly it means something, but not a poem; it means that something exciting happened to the writer and that a mystery is happening to the reader. The fallacy is double: they believe in the inexorable significance of the unique experience; and they have discarded the only method of making the unique experience into a poem—the conventions of the intelligence. As a matter of fact they do not write without conventions, but being ignorant of what they use, they resort most commonly to their own inefficient or superficial conventions—such as Mr. Cummings' flower and doll. The effect is convention without substance; the unique experience becomes a rhetorical assurance ….
Source: R. P. Blackmur, "Notes on E. E. Cummings' Language," in Hound & Horn, Vol. 4, No. 2, January-March 1931, pp. 163-92.
Arthos, John, "The Poetry of E. E. Cummings," in American Literature, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1943, pp. 372-90.
Collins, Billy, "Is That a Poem? The Case for E. E. Cummings," in Slate, April 20, 2005, http://www.slate.com/id/2117098 (accessed July 30, 2008).
cummings, e. e., "anyone lived in a pretty how town," in The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 437-38.
Docherty, Brian, "e. e. cummings," in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, edited by Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty, Macmillan, 1995, pp. 120-30.
Hunt, B. J., "Cummings's ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town,’" in the Explicator, Vol. 64, No. 4, Summer 2006, p. 226.
Kidder, Rushworth M., E. E. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry, Columbia University Press, 1979.
Kronzek, Elizabeth, "Transcendentalism (1815-1850)," in American Eras, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman, Gale Research, 1997.
Lander, Mark, "Multiple Family Phone Lines, a Post-Postwar U.S. Trend," in the New York Times, December 26, 1995.
"Modernism and Experimentation: 1914-1945," in Outline of American Literature, revised edition, December 2006, http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/lit6.htm (accessed July 30, 2008).
Penberthy, Jenny, "E. E. Cummings," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 48, American Poets, 1880-1945, Second Series, edited by Peter Quartermain, Gale Research, 1986, pp. 117-37.
Reef, Catherine, E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life, Clarion, 2006.
Cowley, Malcolm, Exile's Return, introduction and notes by Donald W. Faulkner, Penguin, 1994.
This volume on the writers of the lost generation, as well as the development of their ideas and the historical context that framed them, was first written in 1934. This edition, with an extensive introduction and notes by Donald W. Faulkner, is an invaluable scholarly work.
cummings, e. e., The Enormous Room, Hard Press, 2006.
Cummings's first book, originally published in 1922, is a fictional version of his imprisonment and other experiences during World War I. It is considered a masterpiece of war literature.
Eliot, T. S., Collected Poems, 1909-1962, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.
T. S. Eliot is another prominent contemporary of Cummings's who is arguably the definitive writer of the modernist movement. Unlike Cummings, Eliot's work is valued today for both its content and its style.
Gay, Peter, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, W. W. Norton, 2007.
Gay, a scholar of modernism and a Yale professor, presents a comprehensive overview of the modernist movement. The volume discusses the literary, artistic, and political developments that defined modernism, as well as the ideas (and ideals) that shaped it.