Prose from Poetry Magazine

A Penguin in Moscow: Eimi, by E. E. Cummings

by Marianne Moore

Out of "plain downright honest curiosity: that very greatest of all the virtues", a penguin-Dante visits Moscow—"panacea Negation haven of all (in life's name) Deathworshippers"—and has written a droll book. In his "enormous dream" about the proletarian fable, the main proficiency is the spry-slow suave quaintly-toddling selfsufficient imperviousness to weather. "Eros wins; always: . . . ecstasy, triumph, immeasurable yes and beautiful explosion. . . ." That is to say the book is a large poem. "The whole thing marvelously whirls and this total supreme whirl is made of subsidiary, differently timed yet perfectly intermeshing, whirlings." "(if he had been playing a fiddle i had/ been dancing" may express it; though with dancing, various arts, sports, and science, are entwined—drama, painting, taxidermy, logic, interior decoration, ballistics, tailoring, landscape gardening, tumbling, music, poetry, wire-walking, flying, swimming, fencing, calligraphy, typography, and the art of the cartoon.

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"— . . . "wen uh man's gut thad bright gole thing in his fist, he's strong." This pluck-the-duck, scale-the-fish 15th century appetite for aliveness equivalent to a million trillion musical light years, results in some effects which are as much better than those in The Enormous Room (the germ for these) as Viva is an improved vagueness and judicious anonymity over most of what preceded. And the typography, one should add, is not something superimposed on the meaning but the author's mental handwriting. There courteous innocently penguin-eyed comrade capitalist Cummings gets the best of strong publisher and boorish public.

To the hoop poem in Viva there are various companion effects—not to mention "and off away offoffoff rolls andAnDaNd wonderfully I wibbleAwabbling circle a wheel A—" Examine "silversaying-fish," "& so at twilight," "toward a sunset I turn my face," "did you ever keep caterpillars,"

a
n
d
  here
a flapping dove
                            A
-light
          ing
                (low.

Yes, "the tragedy of life always hasn't been and . . . isn't that some people are poor and others rich, some hungry and others not hungry, some weak and others strong. The tragedy is and always will be that most people are unable to express themselves."

One does not like to praise, then take away the praise—and will not; but there are a few queries. (a) Not to be confused with Virgil's necessary artificial argot of politeness, the sharksin papillae pebble-pattern of the Italian garden-walk, undesirably changes now and then to polished white mosaic: "Not only has Turk been up; he's been doing"; (b) a Saint Sebastian—as our Dante probably knows—may be hid by too many arrows of awareness; (c) a tag is perhaps too much a certain kind of tag for a' that it is used by a poet; (d) one is never going to be able to score words as one scores sounds, "condesfusionpair" being not hard on the brain but awkward for it; (e) the book should have an index though it may be like suggesting that the kangaroo pouch accommodate a grown kangaroo; (f) Which freedom wears best? that of a leprechaun a leopard a leper a hyperholiest priest of Benares, or of the mystic for whom leprosy becomes negligible? Mr.Cummings' obscenities are dear to him, somewhat as Esau's hairiness is associated with good hunting, but one thing is certain: if an otherwise divine burlesque is a bouquet that has a stench, a chair that was a garbage-pail—then a grin, a smirk, a smile, are synonymous; B is not for Beatrice but for bunk; and i am not Dante.

But—possibly—perhaps "the hole point" is not that Odessa has "the best mud in the world."

"Birdlike and boy," "defunct," "dwarfish," "chipmunk lion," "mr/ cricket" and mr crab (the 5-year vermin), Comrade Can't, and "So do I" recall Mr. Civility, Pick-thank, and Cutpurse, and this to some extent children's story, by an author whose kindness to comrade stunned, equals America, has traits in common with Hashimura Togo, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, and the Guls Hornbook; the consanguinity with James Joyce being the nostalgic note, quite as much as a similarity in harmonics; cf. "the tide's acute weaving murmur" and "my blueveined child."

Tyrannies fall "by the hand of Poietes." But magnanimity is greater than valor; that Mr. Cummings has well learned this lesson appears in his summary of those wasmen which Virgil showed him, among whom And How—"weed of dogma flourishes"—with no airhole for I am: "This is a tragic time" and Russians are "artists because giving is their nature, their self, what they wish to do and what they can be. Take this fellow; the Russian who gave me his bed— . . . If he'd had three beds or five beds he'd have given three beds or five beds".

The publishers say Eimi is a novel; but in penguin, "pour l'artist, voir c'est concevoir, et concevoir, c'est composer" "little capcom Kem-min-kz" says Cézanne says.

Originally Published: December 11, 2007

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This prose originally appeared in the August 1933 issue of Poetry magazine

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 Marianne  Moore

Biography

One of American literature’s foremost poets, Marianne Moore’s poetry is characterized by linguistic precision, keen and probing descriptions, and acute observations of people, places, animals, and art. Her poems often reflect her preoccupation with the relationships between the common and the uncommon, as well as advocate discipline in both art and life, and espouse restraint, modesty, and humor. She frequently used animals as a . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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