E. E. Cummings' "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond"

Updated on October 6, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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 - Self-Portrait


E. E. Cummings

Contrary to a wide-spread popular notion, E. E. Cummings did not legally change his name to "e. e. cummings."


The Cummings poem, "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond," if interpreted as being addressed to a woman/lover, is somewhat flawed. For example, the exaggerations do not fit the type of exaggeration a lover would use to explore his love for his lover.

An example of this flawed exaggeration is "nothing we are to perceive in the world equals / the power of your intense fragility." Obviously, if any adult lover has such "fragility," it would be a travesty trying to live as an adult.

The issue of the British spellings remains; the spellings are merely puzzling and add nothing to the poem's achievement. But they do not seem so glaring when one re-interprets the addressee from a woman/lover to an infant.

Finally, the concluding image of the small hands of the beloved makes much more sense if addressed to a newborn baby than claiming that a woman has such small hands.

First Versagraph: " somewhere i have never travelledgladly beyond"

The speaker begins by claiming that there is a place where he has never gone but suggests that he would be glad to go there. He addresses his newborn child, whose eyes are unfathomable; the eyes do not give him any indication that they would like to "travel" with him.

As a new parent gazes into the eyes of his/her newborn child, the parent cannot help but wonder what the infant is thinking and can only guess, as the speaker here does. Nevertheless, any movement the baby makes opens him up only to possibilities.

The speaker is moved by his love and the awesomeness of his responsibility; his feelings are so deep that he feels he cannot express them adequately.

Second Versagraph: "your slightest look easily will unclose me"

Beginning in the first versagraph with the claim, "your most frail gesture are things which enclose me," the speaker uses terms meaning "close" and "open" to suggest how the infant makes him want to open his emotions and possibly his soul to the child.

The speaker says, "your slightest look easily will unclose me / though i have closed myself as fingers." The baby's quickest glance moves him, even though he had previously closed himself up emotionally as a hand makes a fist.

The speaker then compares his own feelings to a rose opening up in springtime. This comparison implies that the life of his emotions has been closed. Now this newborn infant comes along and urges him to fill his heart with love and open his feelings as a rose in its natural, springtime environment would do, one petal after the other.

Third Versagraph: "or if your wish be to close me,i and"

The speaker's emotions are so deep and strong that once the baby responds to his message, he will feel that his life is complete, and this completion will happen quickly and "beautifully."

The speaker dramatizes his utter dependence on the response of his baby by comparing his feelings to "the heart of [a] flower imagining / the snow carefully everywhere descending."

Once the parent/speaker knows that the infant can understand and return his affection, a calmness, represented by the softly falling snow, will envelope the speaker, cooling his intense anxiety.

Fourth Versagraph: "nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals"

Then the speaker exaggerates, claiming that "nothing we are to perceive in the world equals / the power of your intense fragility." His intense emotion may be almost equal to that power, but to the speaker, whose mental processes are nearly overcome by his emotion, he cannot, at this point, think that anything can be as intense as the "fragility" of his newborn child.

After all, newborn infants are completely dependent on their parents for care. In order to develop, they must have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual attention from caring, loving nurturers.

Fifth Versagraph: "(i do not know what it is about you that closes"

The final versagraph closes by portraying the hands of the newborn as being so small that not even the rain that fondles the rose in spring has smaller hands. Parents universally are astonished when seeing the tiny fingers and toes of their newborn baby.

Final Remarks

While this poem is usually interpreted as a speaker addressing a woman/lover it lends itself quite well, ever better, to reading it as a parent addressing his/her newborn baby.

The intense emotion of a parent who has just been given the enormous task of nurturing an infant accounts for much in the poem that otherwise might sound exaggerated and overly sentimental, if addressed to an adult.

Cummings reading his poem

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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