E.E. Cummings: Essential American Poets

April 14, 2010

This is The Poetry Foundation’s Essential American Poets Podcast. Essential American Poets is an online, audio poetry collection. The poets in the collection were selected in 2006 by Donald Hall when he was Poet Laureate. Recordings of the poets he’s elected are available online at and at In this edition of the podcast, we’ll hear poems by E.E. Cummings.

Edward Eslin Cummings was born in 1894 in Cambridge Massachusetts. The sounds and style of his adult writing can be detected even in notes he wrote his parents when he was a child. He decided to become a poet at a young age, an idea that his mother encouraged by reading to him and suggesting that he write a poem every day, which he did into his teenage years. By the time Cummings was at Harvard in 1916, modern poetry had caught his interest. He began to write experimental poems that ignored conventional punctuation and syntax. In April of 1917, with the first World War raging in Europe and the Untied States not yet involved, Cummings volunteered as an ambulance driver in France. While in Europe, he and his friend were imprisoned in a French detention camp on suspicion of treason. As a pacifist, Cummings had been vocal about his anti-War views and lack of hatred for the Germans. His first book, The Enormous Room, was a fictionalized account of his French captivity. Oddly cheerful in tone and free wheeling in style, it was well received. Cummings lived in New York and Connecticut, but went to Paris often to study and write. He spent time painting, and cubist concepts influenced his poetry. Like the cubist painters, Cummings wanted to depict different angles and perspectives in his poems. He did this by creating an interplay between spare language, the shapes of letters, and the white space of the page. The result often gives readers a new way of viewing a word or the world of language itself. Despite their non-traditional forms, Cummings’ poems came to be popular with readers. Some poems unabashedly focused on traditional and romanticized themes, like love, childhood, or flowers. But there are also darker and satirical aspects to Cummings’ work, poems that attack conventional thinking and society’s restrictions on free expression. Cummings was prolific in his output. He wrote approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays. Married several times, Cummings spent the last three decades of his life with Marion Morehouse. He died in 1962 in New Hampshire. The following three poems were recorded at the YMHA Poetry Center in New York City in 1959.


E.E. Cummings: anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn’t he danced his did.


Women and men(both little and small)

cared for anyone not at all

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain


children guessed(but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew

autumn winter spring summer)

that noone loved him more by more


when by now and tree by leaf

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and stir by still

anyone’s any was all to her


someones married their everyones

laughed their cryings and did their dance

(sleep wake hope and then)they

said their nevers they slept their dream


stars rain sun moon

(and only the snow can begin to explain

how children are apt to forget to remember

with up so floating many bells down)


one day anyone died i guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was


all by all and deep by deep

and more by more they dream their sleep

noone and anyone earth by april

wish by spirit and if by yes.


Women and men(both dong and ding)

summer autumn winter spring

reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain


E.E. Cummings: as freedom is a breakfastfood

or truth can live with right and wrong

or molehills are from mountains made

—long enough and just so long

will being pay the rent of seem

and genius please the talentgang

and water most encourage flame


as hatracks into peachtrees grow

or hopes dance best on bald mens hair

and every finger is a toe

and any courage is a fear

—long enough and just so long

will the impure think all things pure

and hornets wail by children stung


or as the seeing are the blind

and robins never welcome spring

nor flatfolk prove their world is round

nor dingsters die at break of dong

and common’s rare and millstones float

—long enough and just so long

tomorrow will not be too late


worms are the words but joy’s the voice

down shall go which and up come who

breasts will be breasts thighs will be thighs

deeds cannot dream what dreams can do

—time is a tree(this life one leaf)

but love is the sky and i am for you

just so long and long enough


E.E. Cummings: love is more thicker than forget

more thinner than recall

more seldom than a wave is wet

more frequent than to fail


it is most mad and moonly

and less it shall unbe

than all the sea which only

is deeper than the sea


love is less always than to win

less never than alive

less bigger than the least begin

less littler than forgive


it is most sane and sunly

and more it cannot die

than all the sky which only

is higher than the sky


That was E.E. Cummings recorded at the YMHA Poetry Center in New York Center in 1959, and used by permission of Live Write Publishing Corporation. You’ve been listening to the Essential Poets Podcast, produced by The Poetry Foundation in collaboration with To learn more about E.E. Cummings and other essential poets, and to hear more poems, go to

Archival recordings of poet E.E. Cummings, with an introduction to his life and work. Recorded at the YMHA Poetry Center New York, NY in 1959.

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