Buffalo Bill's | Study Guide

e.e. cummings

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e.e. cummings | Biography

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Early Life

Edward Estlin Cummings, better known as E.E. Cummings, was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cummings loved poetry as a child. He wrote one poem a day from ages 8–22. He uses punctuation, capitalization, spacing, and other aspects of language in unique ways that defy rules or categorization. Cummings's name is sometimes printed as "e.e. cummings." Some mistakenly apply to his name his tendency to use capital letters sparingly in poetry. But the poet did not use lowercase letters for his name. He referred to himself in print as E.E. Cummings.

Education and Military Service

Cummings received a bachelor's degree in 1915 and a master's degree in 1916 from Harvard University. He served as a driver with an ambulance service in France during World War I (1914–18), the global conflict that involved much of the world and resulted in millions of deaths. Like many young men, Cummings's service in the ambulance corps may have been a way to remain a pacifist, or one who opposes war as a way to solve conflicts, while still contributing to the war effort. He developed friendships with Americans and other soldiers serving nearby. As a prank Cummings and his friends wrote letters back home with secret messages in an attempt to confuse French authorities examining the mail for suspicious topics. These letters did catch the eye of the French government who suspected treason. Cummings spent about three months in an internment camp in Normandy, France. After his release he was drafted into the United States Army and spent approximately six months at a military training camp in Massachusetts.

A Productive Scholar

E.E. Cummings published "Buffalo Bill 's" as part of a collection titled "Seven Poems" in Dial magazine in 1920. By this time the poet had created his signature unconventional, lowercased style. "Seven Poems" and other collections published in Dial and other magazines in the 1920s received critical and popular acclaim and established his reputation as a poet. E.E. Cummings communicated profound thoughts and feelings about life and death through "Buffalo Bill 's" and other short, uniquely punctuated poems.

Cummings published his first book The Enormous Room in 1922. The book retold Cummings's imprisonment in France in a fictionalized narrative. In 1923 he published his first book of poetry Tulips and Chimneys. Some of the poems in this book use unconventional style, spacing, and punctuation. Other poems stick to more traditional styles. Cummings published two more collections of poetry in 1925. He won the Dial Award for distinguished service to American letters in 1925 and received a prize of $2,000, the equivalent of a year's salary for a writer at the time.

Cummings earned a national and international reputation as a poet with an experimental and unconventional style. He used language, punctuation, spacing, and other style changes in new ways to express feelings, thoughts, and images. He published 12 books of poetry that he later compiled as his Complete Poems in 1968. He also wrote a play titled him in 1927 and an experimental prose book titled Eimi in 1933. Eimi was a poetic expression of Cummings's three-month trip to the Soviet Union.

Legacy

Cummings summed up his outlook and artistic philosophy in a series of lectures that he called "nonlectures" at Harvard University in 1952 and 1953. He published these "nonlectures" in 1953 as i: six nonlectures. The "nonlectures" stressed the individual nature of artistic expression. Cummings expressed that a poet's individual creative expression is much more important than following language's rules.

Cummings wrote highly esteemed, unconventional, experimental poetry. Cummings's poetry was popular with both critics and the public. Some of the awards and honors he received include the 1957 Bollingen Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a Ford Foundation grant. He died of a brain hemorrhage on September 3, 1962.

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