The life of Edgar Estlin Cummings starts on October 14, 1894 with his birth to Edward and Rebecca Haswell Clarke Cummings. At the age of sixteen he enters Harvard College, and begins to write poetry for Harvard Monthly. After Harvard, he joins Ambulance Corps, and sails to France to participate in World War I. Soon after his arrival he gets arrested and imprisoned for three months in a French detention camp on suspicion of disloyalty1. On New Years Day he is released, and soon after that he returns to New York and meets Elaine Orr, whom he marries later. Despite a birth of a daughter, Nancy, the marriage ends in divorce. During the Twenties, Cummings becomes more interested in art, and travels few times to Europe to study art. In 1927 he marries again, however that marriage also fails. In 1931 Cummings uses a rare opportunity to travel to Soviet Union, and upon his return he marries Marion Morehouse. He publishes two collections of poems in the early Thirties, and soon becomes the second most read poet in America. Cummings creates and publishes various collections of poems almost every year until his death in 1962.
During his life, Cummings exposes himself to various different experiences. Those experiences influence his poetry, and tilt it toward the individualism. He was imprisoned for his anti-war views and ideas. This imprisonment influences Cummings to protest against the ideas of sameness and equality2. After the war ended, Cummings writes an autobiography, and concentrates on poetry. Before the Great Depression he publishes several anthologies of his works. During the Depression, Cummings has a chance to visit the Soviet Union and to observe its rapid industrial buildup3. On the other hand, he rejects the Communist idea of eliminating individualism, so his views on individual within society remain the same. His poetry turns into a living anthem of a self. 4 However, his family life becomes totally disordered. He marries Marion Morehouse before he gets a divorce from Anne Barton, his previous wife. It causes his poetry to become more private-oriented and complicated for a reader to comprehend. Meanwhile, the idea of uniqueness of an individual lives through his works.
Technically, individuality is at the core of Cummings experiments with word coinings, innovations with typography, and punctuation that make Cummings literature, especially his poetry look and sound different 5. His extraordinary style of writing, which represents his individuality, is clearly present at Buffalo Bills and from spiraling ecstatically this. To understand his poetry on a deeper level it may be necessary to review each technique separately, plus look at the emotions that appear inside a reader as the poem is read.
Very often in his poetry Cummings uses line breaks to emphasize a line or an episode, which is usually a central idea of a poem. Separated lines in the poem from spiraling ecstatically this create in reader the sense of change and mystery, along with the sense of creation 6. If a reader reads only separated lines, a picture of the most wonderful creation appears the birth of a baby. In Buffalo Bills the break is created to make reader to imagine the silence after the audience sees Bill Cody hit all the plastic pigeons he used as targets for his shooting stunts7. It expresses both amazement and suspicion; however, it also signifies the moment of his death, because after that line break Cummings talks about Buffalo Bill in past tense.
Along with separating lines in a poem, Cummings uses another unconservative strategy. He coins words together to create a sense of nonstop motion, which describes continuos life cycle 8. Cummings makes new words from the existing ones, like perhapsless to describe something hopeful, that turned into hopeless, or unmiracle to describe an anti-miracle. Those new words are used by Cummings to transfer his message to a reader on a sensory level. They create a sense of disappointment, caused by the change from attractive into unattractive, from outstanding into common. In Buffalo Bills, however, he merges several existing words together to create an image of a rapid, non-stop event. onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat is a great example, which creates an image of Buffalo Bill taking out five pigeons with five shots in a matter of seconds9.
Even punctuation in Cummings poetry is extraordinary. It appears to a reader that Cummings totally forgets about commas, periods and semicolons. He puts brackets around words and lines, sometimes closing them later, sometimes not. In from spiraling ecstatically this Cummings uses brackets to separate the last line of the first stanza and the first line of the second stanza from the rest of the poem. It is used to separate the space from this child to create a feeling of uniqueness. No period is also used, to create an intellectual image of a continuos process of birth and death. Neither period nor comma is used in Buffalo Bills Cummings uses line shifts to draw a picture of Bill Cody, riding fast on a watersmooth-silver stallion then displaying his superb shooting skills10. Even when Cummings talks about his death, no punctuation is used. It creates a sense that even despite the death of a single person life goes on, without a pause to remember an individual, so gifted during his life.
E. E. Cummings is admired by generations, however he was also criticized for his innovations. His style is unique because of the tools he uses. The run on and joined words, the punctuation and line breaks are all part of his style. Cummings uses those extraordinary devices to place a private property sign on his works, protesting against the well-established social view on literature and poetry11. His writings are inspired with individualism, which is being promoted through the use of the most outstanding poetic techniques in twentieth century.
Gilmore, Eric. E.E. Cummings: Noncriticism. April 2001.
Available online at
Graves, Robert. An Anthology of Verse.
Toronto: The Buycint Press, 1964
Magill, Frank. Magills Survey of American Literature.
New York: MC Corporation, 1991.
Perry, Jon. Style and Flare: A look at Cummings Style. March 2001.
Available online at
Spring, The Journal of E.E. Cummings Society. March 8 2002.
Available online at
Weidenfield, Grove. 100 Selected Poems by E. E. Cummings.
New York: Grove Press Inc.1959.
Wipf, Douglas. E. E. Cummings Biography and Poems. November 17 1997.
Available online at