|Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings
Ed. F. W. Dupee and George Stade
New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1969.
Cummings' letters are written in his usual amusing, typographically inventive, idiosyncratic, and allusive yet straightforward style. Early letters show Cummings' rebellion agaist his father, his interest in Freud and Krazy Kat, and his efforts to emancipate himself from conventional thinking. For example, he advises his sister on May 3, 1922: "NEVER TAKE ANYONE'S WORD FOR ANYTHING" (84). Cummings' verbal and typewriterly pyrotechniques often act to shield his private emotions. The most unguarded of the letters are written to his friends J. Sibley and Hildegarde Watson; the showiest and most obscure are to his poetic mentor Ezra Pound. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print, but it is available in many libraries. You may also be able to purchase a copy at used book seach sites like abebooks.com. We reprint below a sample from one letter, along with some notes.
[At right: frontispiece photo
To his aunt Jane, March 11, 1935 (on the difficulties of setting up No Thanks):
am fighting—forwarded and backed by a corps of loyal assistants—to retranslate 71 poems out of typewriter language into linotype-ese. This is not so easy as one might think;consider,if you dare,that whenever a typewriter "key" is "struck" the "carriage" moves a given amount and the "line" advances recklessly or individualistically. Then consider that the linotype(being a gadget)inflicts a preestablished whole—the type "line"—on every smallest part;so that the words,letters,punctuation marks &(most important of all)spaces-between-these various elements,awake to find themselves rearranged automatically "for the benefit of the community" as politicians say. Oddly,this malforming or standardizing process is technically called "justify"ing:thanks to it,the righthand margin of any printed page which has been "set" on a linotype has a neat artificial evenness—which the socalled world-at-socalled-large considers indispensable forsooth. Ah well;you should see the army of the Organic marching against Mechanism with 10,000th-of-an-inch(or whatever)"hair-spaces";you should watch me arguing for two and a half hours(or some such)over the distance between the last letter of a certain word and the comma apparently following that letter but actually preceeding the entire next word;you should hear my printer's blasts against his "operator"(as is called the Slave of the Linotype)when said unfortunate playfully smashes the machine while "he's thinking of giving Rockyfeller a bomb or something"(like all "operators",or all that I've met,this bird is a communist). But something tells me we'll succeed — ! (Letters 140-141)
Notes for Selected Letters
page / letter number
23 / 20: under fire (?) by
"Sapper" = probably Le Feu
(1916) by Henri Barbusse. EEC may have been reading the French edition,
since the American edition of Under Fire did not appear until
92 / 69: o Munson Munson woe is
me I lived too soon 2 sup with thee = a parody of Ezra Pound's
epigram "Translator to Translated," first published in Canzoni (1911):
Gorham B. Munson was the founder and editor of the little magazine Secession (1922-1924). Cummings
published poems in issues 2 (July 1922) and 5 (July 1923). Munson wrote
a review (titled "Syrinx") of Tulips
and Chimneys in issue #5.
92 / 70: the indubitable Delanuxe
Duet = Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Parisian avant-garde painters.
93 / 70: the Boy(or
Garçon)stood on the "burning" Deck = a reference to the
(1826) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.
Lars Posthumus of Cloaca
parodies Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Horatius":
Lars Porsena of Closium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
100 / 74: Incidentally,none of us
were in Paris on the 14th July: EEC refers to a highly
inaccurate July 20, 1923 New York
Times article, "The Battle of Montparnasse." The article claims
that on Bastille Day, July 14, Cummings, John Dos Passos, Gilbert
Seldes, and Malcolm Cowley attempted to "liberate" the Rotonde
café by telling "the proprietor what they thought of him." In Exile's Return, Cowley
characterizes this incident as a dadaist provocation (instigated by
Louis Aragon and Laurence Vail). According to Cowley, he, Vail, and
Aragon decided to insult and assault the proprietor of the Rotonde
because "he had betrayed several anarchists to the French police" and
also "had insulted American girls, treating them with the cold
brutality that French café proprietors reserve for prostitutes"
(164). Cowley's account also places the assault on July 14th; however,
he makes no mention of Cummings, Dos Passos, or Seldes. In addition,
Cowley asserts that he was the only one who was arrested.
101 / 74: M. Josephson = Matthew Josephson (1899-1978), one of the editors of the little magazines Broom and Secession, and later the author of Life among the Surrealists, a Memoir (1962). Balai = ballet.
104 / 78: The dating of this letter indicates that EEC moved into his 3rd floor studio at 4 Patchin Place sometime before February 2, 1924.
133 / 100: hay shatoh = he has a (shitty) chateau.
108 / 81: BLACK MARIA = A police patrol wagon. [pronounced muh-rahy-uh. As Kevin Young says, "rhymes with pariah."]
155 / 119: This letter should be dated sometime in late 1946.
194 / 168: a religion of the entocosm = "a religion of the inner cosmos or universe."
ento- = a combining form meaning "within," used in the formation of compound words: entoderm. [Origin: Gk entós]
mesocosm = middle universe.
meso- = a combining form meaning "middle," used in the formation of compound words: mesocephalic. [Origin: Gk mésos middle, in the middle.]
ectocosm = outer universe.
ecto- = a combining form meaning "outer," "outside," "external," used in the formation of compound words: ectoderm. [Origin: Gk ektós outside.]
218 / 200: relived perhaps should read "relieved"?
229 / 214: EEC refers to books in the Bollingen series by their numbers:
7 = Friedmann, Herbert. The Symbolic Goldfinch, Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. 157 illustrations. Bollingen series 7. Washington: Pantheon Books, 1946.
12 = Cairns, Huntington, ed. The Limits of Art: Poetry and Prose Chosen by Ancient and Modern Critics. Bollingen Series 12. Washington: Pantheon Books, 1948.
A letter from EEC to Ezra Pound, page 1 (1935; Beinecke Library, Yale University)Back to:
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A letter from EEC to Ezra Pound, page 3
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