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There are 29 critical essays on E. E. Cummings.

Critical Essays on E. E. Cummings
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Critical Essay by Michael Webster
8,672 words, approx. 29 pages
In the following essay, Webster examines the effect of Cummings's typographical experimentation on his Romantic themes.
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Critical Essay by Milton A. Cohen
7,154 words, approx. 24 pages
In the following essay, Cohen addresses the influence of Freud on Cummings’s early aesthetic and technique.
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Critical Essay by Marcello Pagnini
6,726 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, Pagnini argues that Cummings’s poetry was strongly influenced by Russian futurism.
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Critical Essay by Norman Friedman
6,559 words, approx. 22 pages
In the following essay, originally published in 1983, Friedman reviews E. E. Cummings: The Critical Reception, finding the collection of early reviews of Cummings’s work helpful in gaining insight into the opinions of Cummings’s lesser-known contemporaries.
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Critical Essay by Rushworth M. Kidder
6,088 words, approx. 20 pages
It is important to recognize … that the spatial arrangements of [Cummings'] poems are the work neither of a whimsical fancy nor a lust for novelty. Poetry and visual art grew, in Cummings' mind, from one root; and while their outermost branches are distinct enough, there are many places closer to the trunk where it is hard to know which impulse accounts for a piece of work. Throughout his life he labored to articulate, in his essays and especially in his unpublished notes and journals, ...
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Critical Essay by William E. Thompson
5,675 words, approx. 19 pages
In the following essay, Thompson discusses Cummings’s attempt to compress images and words as tightly and succinctly as possible to affect the strongest intensity of feeling upon the reader.
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Critical Essay by Richard S. Kennedy
4,886 words, approx. 16 pages
In the following excerpted essay, Kennedy examines Cummings's writing during a particularly difficult period in the 1920s.
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Edith A. Everson
4,858 words, approx. 16 pages
In the following essay, Everson analyzes E. E. Cummings's multifaceted view of death in his poetic drama Santa Claus, which emphasizes death's destructive and rejuvenating qualities.
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Critical Essay by Patrick B. Mullen
4,845 words, approx. 16 pages
In the following essay, originally published in 1971, Mullen examines Cummings’s interest in and writings on American popular culture, particularly the art of burlesque.
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Critical Essay by Brian Docherty
4,456 words, approx. 15 pages
In the following essay, Docherty discusses the paradox of modernism and traditionalism in Cummings’s poetry.
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Critical Essay by Robert E. Wegner
3,716 words, approx. 12 pages
For Cummings, self-discovery was supremely important and the only valid motive for writing a poem; it separated his awareness from stereotyped awarenesses, separated his identity as an artist from his conventional identity as a member of society. If the truth of human existence is to be uncovered and recognized, it will be accomplished through the perspective of the artist. (pp. 12-13) In the process of writing a poem, the poet discovers his identity, which paradoxically is one of fusion and harmony with th...
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Critical Essay by Bethany K. Dumas
3,628 words, approx. 12 pages
Cummings is not significantly a "free verse" poet in the popular sense of that term. From first to last, he was a poet thoroughly in the tradition of English prosody; he experimented freely with given forms, but it will be seen that he molded traditional forms to new uses more often than he simply invented new ones. In this he resembles Swinburne as much as any other predecessor, and it is possible that he was heavily influenced by Swinburne's metrics. Second, though there are no import...
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Critical Essay by Rushworth M. Kidder
2,768 words, approx. 9 pages
"For more than half a hundred years," wrote E. E. Cummings in 1954, "the oversigned's twin obsessions have been painting and writing." (p. 342) [Recent exhibitions of Cummings' art], along with an increasing number of scholarly and journalistic pieces on his art, have made several things clear. First, Cummings was entirely self-taught…. Second, he treated his art as profession rather than avocation: he set himself, especially in his early years, to solve prob...
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Critical Essay by Norman Friedman
2,469 words, approx. 8 pages
[The] relationship between Cummings and his speaker is of the [kind which Friedman defines earlier as an author who "may deliberately create a poetic persona and then transform himself in its image, organizing his personal life and concerns to conform to that pattern"], and it has been made possible by endurance—or better still, integrity—rather than by a private income. His speaker is never involved in the world of work and routine which takes up the largest part of the lives of...
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Critical Essay by Richard P. Blackmur
2,218 words, approx. 7 pages
Mr. Cummings is a school of writing in himself: so that it is necessary to state the underlying assumptions of his mind, and of the school which he teaches, before dealing with the specific results in poetry of those assumptions. It is possible to say that Mr. Cummings belongs to the anticulture group; what has been called at various times vorticism, futurism, dadaism, surrealism, and so on. Part of the general dogma of this group is a sentimental denial of the intelligence and the deliberate assertion that...
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Critical Essay by Patrick B. Mullen
1,987 words, approx. 7 pages
It is generally overlooked that E. E. Cummings had an avid interest in various forms of American popular culture, especially burlesque, circuses, amusement parks, comic strips, animated cartoons, and movies…. To Cummings, burlesque and the other popular arts were alive with a spontaneous, unrehearsed quality. He wanted to capture the same quality of spontaneity in his poetry, both in content and technique. In a limited way, Cummings wrote about popular culture of the 1920's–1930'...
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Critical Essay by John Peale Bishop
1,955 words, approx. 7 pages
[Cummings] appeared as a young and romantic poet. But he was one unmistakably of his time. That he derived from Keats and had been instructed by the poets of the last century was obvious; but even in the earliest poems, where their trace is most strong, the movement of Cummings' verse is already his own. His charm, at once, is his rapidity. The influence of the romantic tradition was soon left behind; but not the romantic attitude. That was authentic and not taught—at least, not by the English...
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Critical Essay by John Arthos
1,942 words, approx. 7 pages
E. E. Cummings is one of the few modern poets who write about beautiful things simply. Much contemporary poetry is concerned with the analysis of states of mind for the sake of philosophic or social comment…. There are exceptions, of course, but most modern poets are not concerned very much with declaring that the beauty of their experience is proof of the power of beauty…. Cummings is surely the modern poet who has most consistently aimed at lyric expression in the direct manner…. He h...
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Critical Essay by John Finch
1,632 words, approx. 5 pages
The career of E. E. Cummings, from his first appearance at Harvard to his last, has been the consistent statement of an attitude toward authority. His entire work raises the question whether this attitude can much longer continue to be a creative one, or even a possible one for the artist. The question remains unanswered, but merely to have raised it so sharply as he has done is a peculiar achievement. It involved first the definition of a world in which poems, Cummings's kind of poems, might be writ...
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Critical Essay by Philip Green
1,513 words, approx. 5 pages
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 any po (iloveyou) em…. what you and i and cummings have in common even more than roses is … language but also the Same Language ie english; a frenchman would have a hell of...
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Critical Essay by Norman Friedman
1,445 words, approx. 5 pages
In the 1920s Cummings was known as a conspicuous member of the avant-garde, an arch-experimentalist, a modernist, and a bohemian. The New Criticism, which was just beginning to germinate in the writings of T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and I. A. Richards, had not yet noticed any serious discrepancy between its own principles and the writings of Cummings. The real hostility he aroused was among the antimodernists … and, in later decades, critics such as John Sparrow and Ivor Winters—men...
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Critical Essay by Marilyn Gaull
1,373 words, approx. 5 pages
E. E. Cummings, particularly in The Enormous Room, assumed the multiple task of demonstrating not only the discrepancy between language and experience but also the corrosive effects of this discrepancy on the human psyche, and, perhaps his most significant achievement, offered a means for overcoming it in the creation of new relationships between language and experience. (p. 646) [Principles] for restoring value to a benumbed and misleading language were displayed by Cummings throughout his work. His charac...
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Critical Essay by Edith A. Everson
1,331 words, approx. 4 pages
At the heart of E. E. Cummings' most characteristic work is a keen sense of the mystery and miracle of life. But this American poet has a great deal to say about death as well, not only in the lyrics, but also in a morality play [Santa Claus] in which Death is one of the leading characters…. [Cummings'] concept of death is many-sided, manifesting itself in widely varying contexts and under differing lights. For example, death may be shown to have positive value as an experience that is ...
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Critical Essay by George Wesolek
1,295 words, approx. 4 pages
Cummings' depth and poetic vision is intense enough to excite and revivify. He confronts himself with cosmic dichotomies that take him to the core of man's reality. He questions, probes, ridicules. The undercurrent of a Cummings' joy is most often cynicism, betraying to us the lonely man, the man of "helpless pain" beleaguered by a "piercing sense of dislocation."… (p. 3) Cummings runs away in his cynicism. He flees the hell-bent, tortuous world that o...
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Critical Essay by S. I. Hayakawa
939 words, approx. 3 pages
No modern poet to my knowledge has such a clear, childlike perception as E. E. Cummings—a way of coming smack against things with unaffected delight and wonder. This candor … results in breath-takingly clean vision…. No modern poet, furthermore, is less self-important than Cummings—none so delicately shy about asserting his will upon others. These are not, so far as I am aware, the customary opinions of his work, but if one keeps his attention for a time strictly upon the lyrical...
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Critical Essay by David Ray
537 words, approx. 2 pages
Cummings is one of our society's best haters; functioning as a Juvenalian satirist, he has long attacked our society's worst indulgences in materialism, hypocrisy, "hypercivic zeal," scientific unwisdom and the following of false heroes and tawdry ideals. He most bitterly, in poems like "plato told him …" reproaches us for not taking the words of our philosophers seriously, but rather insisting on mouthing (vulgarizing and debasing) the poetry of their uttera...
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Critical Essay by Marianne Moore
511 words, approx. 2 pages
Style is for Mr. Cummings "translating;" it is a self-demonstrating aptitude for technique, as a seal that has been swimming right-side-up turns over and swims on its back for a time—"killing nears in droves slaying almosts massacring myriads of notquites": "the worm knocks loud", "sit/the bum said"—with numerous finds in the realm of unconscious bourgeois obnoxiousness: "eye buleev money rules thith woyl"—… &#...
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Critical Essay by John Dos Passos
348 words, approx. 1 pages
[Here's] a book that exists because the author was so moved, excited, amused by a certain slice of his existence that things happened freely and cantankerously on paper. And he had the nerve to let things happen…. The Enormous Room seems to me to be the book that has nearest approached the mood of reckless adventure in which men will reach the white heat of imagination needed to fuse the soggy disjointed complexity of the industrial life about us into seething fluid of creation. There can be n...
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Critical Essay by Mark Van Doren
261 words, approx. 1 pages
["X LI Poems"] continues in almost every phase the tradition which Mr. Cummings established for himself two years ago with "Tulips and Chimneys." No long poems are here, but there are Songs, Portraits, Chansons Innocentes, Sonnets, and, war-pieces; and always the same man is writing, with the same unquestionable power and the same unnecessary tricks. The tricks are unnecessary because without them the power would be quite as apparent as it is now, if not a little more so…....


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