E. E. Cummings' "i thank You God for most this amazing"

Updated on October 6, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

E. E. Cummings

Source

Introduction

Cummings' innovative poetic style has given rise to the myth that the poet was a great social rebel. However, his values remained quite mainstream, and his disposition was much more spiritual than the main of the mainstream.

Cummings' use of the lower case "i" in the first person pronoun was prompted by a sense of humility; he was more apt to capitalize the other personal pronouns than the one referring to himself.

Poet E. E. Cummings was born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father, Edward Cummings, was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University, but he abandoned the professoriate in 1900 and became an ordained minister of the South Congregational Church, in Boston.

The younger Cummings attended Harvard University and graduated in 1915 with a B.A. in English and classical studies. He also completed his M.A. at Harvard in 1916. At Harvard, Cummings came under the spell of modernism and the avant-garde, including the ultimate modernist Gertrude Stein.

But ultimately for Cummings, the only real departure from traditional values was his style, particularly his orthographic alterations.

Cummings' use of unusual grammatical structures has given Cummings a reputation for rebelliousness that he does not actually deserve.

E. E. Cummings' signature

Source

Traditionalist

Cummings accepted the basic tenets of his father's religious faith, and even produced poems that are inspired by the transcendentalist philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Cummings' spirituality is best experienced through his sonnet, "i thank You God for most this amazing." This sonnet is clearly an innovative variation of a Shakespearean sonnet. It consists of three quatrains and a couplet with a Elizabethan rime scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Poem: "i thank You God for most this amazing"

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of allnothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Commentary on "i thank You God for most this amazing"

First Quatrain: "i thank You God for most this amazing"

In the first quatrain, the speaker is thanking God for the beauty of nature, particularly the trees and sky, but also for "for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes." The speaker is thanking God for all that is positive.

Second Quatrain: "(i who have died am alive again today"

The second quatrain acknowledges the spiritual concept of reincarnation when the speaker declares, "i who have died am alive again today." Then immediately he brings things back to earth by asserting that today is "the sun's birthday," as everyday is, of course.

The speaker celebrates "life and love and wings" incorporating spirituality along with nature.

Third Quatrain: "how should tasting touching hearing seeing"

Remembering that this sonnet is also a prayer, the reader faces a question: how can a human being actually reflect the greatness that is Yours, that is, God's?

The question takes up the entire quatrain as the speaker describes the human as "tasting touching hearing seeing / breathing"—a creature of sense awareness, who cannot perceive God through the senses, but nevertheless, can realize God through the soul.

Couplet: "(now the ears of my ears awake and"

The couplet reveals that the speaker becomes aware of God's presence through his inner senses of hearing and seeing: "(now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened)."

The poet has placed the more ethereal features of the sonnet in parentheses.

Cummings reading his "i thank You God for most this amazing"

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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