e.e.cummings:

if anything happens that can’t be done


“we’re wonderful one times one” Not only are readers of poetry wonderful (because we READ it) but the poets themselves are since they constantly surprise us. The poet that I now want everything that he has ever sneezed on, or written, is e.e. cummings. He is amazing in his way of seeming to just throw the words on the page and sculpt them and yet by closer examination you realize the mathematics and almost perfected beat that lies behind it all. His ability to be so different and still so much the same as other poets, astounds me.


Edward Estlin Cummings was 67 when he died in 1962 and he left great heaps of masterpieces behind. Cummings wrote and painted and did so because of his vast visual mind. One key to his unique creations is the fact that he was a painter as well as poet: “....in the beginning was the Eye (not the mind),” he declared. He had drawn and painted ever since childhood and became a self-taught artist by the time he left college. Not only did this habit train his acute observation of life, but his visual orientation combined with his word play to produce unusual spatial arrangements of words in his poems allowed the development of a personal style that was one of the most important contributions to the literary revolution of the twentieth century (Kennedy 4).


Cummings loved to play with words, usually witty combinations of the learned and the conversational, scraps from ancient and foreign languages mixed with slang and bawdy phrase; it was a dazzling linguistic agility: puns, twisted slogans, topsy- turvy proverbs, incongruous literary allusions, sometimes in dialect, sometimes in mimicry of familiar public voices. He played so many roles it was difficult to perceive the real Cummings (Kennedy 4). The sign of this private self was the lowercase “i,” which he used to refer to the speaker in many of his poems as well as the reason for the un-capitalizing of his name. It stood for a vulnerable, sensitive antihero, wide- eyed with wonder before the world and readily assertive of his natural feelings (Kennedy 5).


Cummings came at a perfect time. This happy conjunction of visual and linguistic expressiveness occurred at a time when it could best be nurtured. The influx of new art forms from Europe- cubism, fauvism, futurism in painting and sculpture and the unusual tonal combinations and rhythmic freedoms in music- encouraged him to join the revolt against realism; or to put it in another way, it helped him to develop a sensibility that could express a new way of looking at reality. He dedicated his existence to the arts: to creative manipulation of language and to lively visual arrangements of color and line (Kennedy 4).


Estlin Cummings wrote a great many poems in his time, and of them the one I grabbed onto most was “if anything happens that can’t be done.” This poem was written amidst World War II in 1944. This was his contribution, a nursery rhyme, “of trying to cheer up my native land.” But Cummings could also give a satirical edge to his nonsense rhymes as is evident in “as freedom is a breakfastfood” (Kennedy-selected poems 2).
This particular poem has such a beat and rhythm to it that it can be fun to read to a child and yet to read it at a higher level, it still has that element of fun but with a hidden meaning deep inside. In “if anything happens that can’t be done” there are a few messages; one of anti- academics (a Cummings specialty), one of love, and one of humanity and nature. Anti-academics is found throughout Cummings’ poetry but especially here with the various placement of parenthesis enclosing thoughts about books. Books can not tell you what love is like or how a bird sings so you should go out and experience these things (also very Emerson-like). Also Cummings refers to teachers as “stupid” and how they guess answers; this only accentuates more the reason to seek answers elsewhere. Nature is another entity described. He uses it as a tool to enhance greater humanity and peace. If people realized that humanity only exists because we exist or that nature is nature because it is looked upon that way perhaps more people would be taking care of life rather than killing it (Nims 11).

Humanity is stated in the last line of the first stanza “there’s nothing as something as one” and nature is tossed in too with words referring to “trees,” “birds,””leaf,”and “buds.” The confirmation of existence and of us being like nature is within the last parenthesis thought with “alive we’re alive.” The last line of the poem could lead to this also with “we’re wonderful one times one” but here is the final element of love that really ends this poem. He ended up dedicating the book containing this poem ( One Times One) to Marion, his last wife, and this line captures some powerful imagery of love.

Love, which he so constantly sings, is not an illusion, but the most intense form of aliveness- of being (DeVries 74). This powerfulness is explained too in the last two stanzas with messages leaning towards love as forever (Cummings was married three times and found Marion his most perfect match) and the contradiction that while you are “falling in love” you are also on an enormous high.


now I love you and you love me
(and books are shutter
than books
can be)
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall


For having composed this at the time he did, it is understandable why he has so many meanings hidden. The parallels between what was occurring at that time and what is given in the poem lead the reader more into the realization of the reason things happen that we can not control. This realization put in a more “topsy-turvy” way is his first line and title “if everything happens that can’t be done”. He asks for activeness in a person’s life with the knowledge that things are never certain, especially with war.


Cummings did not like the analyzations of his work. He has so convincingly hated the “why or because or although” of rational scrutiny (of so many of his books) as against the virginity of experience celebrated in all of them, that when he has just closed another the last thing he wants to do is be caught up in analysis. Poking the stiff scholastic finger into his sentences, serving up examples of instances, picking the tissues of his writing apart to prove that is literature, is not something that reading cummings exactly leaves you in the mood to do. He himself, you are sure, would rather you just set you glass down and said “Thanks, that was good” (DeVries 72-73).


E.E. Cummings was thought to be so very spontaneous and with a simple glance at his visual displays most would think so. But underlying it all was quite a lot of mathematics. It becomes at times disquieting for those who cherish his writing but believe the unfortunate cleavage posed between science and poetry to be somewhat exaggerated (DeVries 76).


Within “if anything happens that can’t be done” there is a waiting gold mine of techniques in this seemingly simple beated poem. First off, the drumming of beats is from the strong- stress family and really moves this poem along. There are four lines having four big beats or stresses in them and then a line that follows with only three beats. This quick beat goes back in history to the “when beth they” tradition and it
helps in letting the words, stressed or not, slip right off of the tongue.


one hasn’t a why or because or although
(and buds know better than books don’t grow)
one’s anything old being everything new
(with a what which around we come who)
one’s everything so


End rhyme is found periodically but with no set pattern because Cummings wanted it to be more of a beated poem then one of all rhyme. By mixing the two though you are creating a good equation for a nursery rhyme. Another aspect that aids in rhyme is alliteration although it is rarely found here (“with a what which around we come who”). Connectives are used in each stanza and outside the stanzas too making the poem more circular (merry-go-round like) by putting the same word at the beginning of the next stanza that was the last word in the previous.
Cummings utilizes parenthesis and inversion. Parenthesis are used to break up normal sentence structure and to also to put in underlying thoughts to explain the previous line or lines (when he talks of books and scholars for instance) and inversion, to some this is considered only used to make rhyme work, is already inbred into Cummings and adds a flare while aiding the rhythm. Metaphors, paradox, and analogy are used as Cummings clarifies that “we are wonderful,””forever was never,” and that “world is a leaf so tree is a bough.”

These dualisms and opposites are applied to give abstract concepts to those messages I talked of. Humanity is a tree and the world is insignificant like a leaf. The exercising of symbolism is caught up in all of this also because a symbol to Cummings maybe be something different to you but he stays within a certain range of connotation so that anyone can read this upbeat intelligence of his and understand and know and get something completely unique out of it everytime.


Cummings’ poetry with its celebration of the individual human identity is particularly nourishing and reassuring today when identity is either destroyed or submerged. He remains a pure voice to hear, and he embodies a healing faith; at his best level he is himself like that sunbeam which is always truthful. E.E. Cummings is a genius and mastermind when it comes to saying what he needs to without being too blunt but also allowing you to sit back and think about it. “If anything happens that can’t be done” is a drop in a puddle of excellent work by Cummings and yet it is one of his greatest because of the roads that lead away from it; whether it is love you search for, academics you struggle with or the human life living that you feel you can not bear to understand any longer, than e.e cummings is the little guy you should be reading since-


we’re wonderful one times one



e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

if everything happens that can’t be done
(and anything’s righter
than books
could plan)
the stupidest teacher will almost guess
(with a run
skip
around we go yes)
there’s nothing as something as one


one hasn’t a why or because or although
(and buds know better
than books
don’t grow)
one’s anything old being everything new
(with a what
which
around we come who)
one’s everything so


so world is a leaf so tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
than books
tell how)
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
up
around again fly)
forever was never till now

now i love you and you love me
(and books are shutter
than books
can be)
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall
(with a shout
each
around we go all)
there’s somebody calling who’s we


we’re anything brighter than even the sun
(we’re everything greater
than books
might mean)
we’re everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
leap
alive we’re alive)
we’re wonderful one times one