This poem, like many by e.e.cummings, is experimental, abstract and irregular. He wrote in this unconventional style for most of his career and was unapologetic. A skilful artist, he also ‘sketched’ his often fragmentary poems on the page.
Some critics thought him childish and sentimental and claimed he was undermining the progress of poetry. But e.e.cummings stuck to his guns and at the time of his death in 1962 he was second only to Robert Frost in popularity.
Innovative, anarchic and playful, his poetry takes leaps and bounds where others dare to even tread. It’s this spirit of adventure that endears him so much to those who prefer to stay outside of the formal ‘regulations’ of poetry.
For example, in somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond the title is taken from the first line and is immediately controversial, a small i being used instead of a capital, to signify the self. No other poet attempted such radical rearrangement of grammar and form. But why?
E.E.Cummings spent some time in Paris and was influenced by none other than James Joyce and T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound, who encouraged him to break away from genteel mainstream verse and go for something a little more idiosyncratic.
It’s not difficult to see the stream-of-consciousness technique bubbling through the surface of his poetry at times. Think of the poet taking a deep breath, or lots of little ones, and discovering the intimacies of heart and mind, laid bare in difficult lines, upside down syntax and unique form.
Little wonder fellow poet Randall Jarrell called him a “moonshiner of language“.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
You have to have your wits about you when reading a cummings poem! Take time to follow the unusual rhythms and don’t be afraid to slow down if you get caught up in the spontaneous chaos of his syntax.
For starters, the punctuation can mislead the reader so scan with care. Read through twice, slowly, then read a third time at a more relaxed pace. By doing this the rhythms become more obvious, and internal rhymes and devices begin to show through.
Note down any odd structural features – parentheses for example (brackets in the UK) – and metrical irregularities.
Due to the enjambment and careful placement of colons, commas, parentheses and so on, the five stanzas could well be one long monologue whispered into the ear of an intimate. It takes time to get the breaks right but several attempts lead to much clearer understanding.
The speaker is trying to convey something that transcends normality – probably love, or the idea of love – which could be construed as a journey/travel, beyond words almost, taking us straight to the silent eyes of the lover. A frail gesture points to this being a female lover, but despite this there’s power enough to enclose the male, the speaker, the poet, who cannot use his sense of touch to try and comprehend.
Again the visual aspect of this love affair is emphasised, the speaker suggesting that, although he is closed, (like a tight fist?), the slightest look will open him up. To enhance the imagery a rose, the supreme flower associated with passionate love, is introduced and it is the season of Spring opening it petal by petal. Note the parentheses with the adverbs, a sort of fine tuning.
In contrast, the speaker now says that he will end his life should she wish it; he will fade away somewhat like the rose when it feels the cold kiss of snow flakes. Note the separate i and my life and the two adverbs in tandem, beautifully,suddenly. The personified rose gains a consciousness at the same time.
The speaker, in Shakespearean fashion, compares his lover’s fragility to all the things of the world, which can never measure up. In each breath is death, and forever. So we have a profound mix of power, texture and colour combining metaphysically to force – compel – this lover into a kind of paradise rearranged.
Note the long vowels of the last line: rendering death and forever with each breathing
Again the parentheses appear which suggests immediacy and reflection. The speaker has no clue as to why she has such an effect on him, like opening and closing, light and dark, winter and spring, something magical exists in her eyes that speaks mysterious but meaningful things, beyond the language of roses. The rain is not a thing but a body in a paradoxical universe.
This is an in-the-moment love poem written for a special partner. Perhaps the speaker has fallen under the spell of love and is trying to put into words what it feels like to look into a special one’s eyes.
And what an unusual and informal declaration we have here. It’s both profound and mysterious.
Note the reference to the season of Spring, the traditional time of year when poets find their Muse, and also to the rose, the iconic flower, a symbol of love and dedication.
It is a soulful, spontaneous outburst expressing the mystery and beauty of that elusive creature called love.
The first line suggests that the speaker is taking a journey, or not, somewhere, but only in the metaphysical sense, beyond experience. You could say this is not a road less travelled, it’s a metaphor yet to be unravelled.
Note the closeness of the comma to travelled and gladly, as if the poet is trying to squeeze every last drop out of the line. Out of his relationship? And it’s repeated twice in the third stanza, between me and i and beautifully and suddenly.
Cummings adds parentheses () from time to time, to emphasise the immediate feel of the words, as if the speaker is whispering an aside to a would be audience.
There is no formal end rhyme in this free verse poem, except in the last stanza, but there is some internal rhyme which provides a thread from stanza to stanza. Note the use of enclose/unclose/closed/rose/close/closes/roses.
Personification is used in stanza two, as Spring opens/(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose and again in the final stanza – nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
Whilst the majority of lines are hexameters – 6 beats per line, 12 syllables – one or two are pentameters, with feminine endings, de-stressed, where the voice tends to quieten.
The Poetry Handbook, John Lennard, OUP, 2005
100 Essential Modern Poems, Ivan Dee,2005