||Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) was brought up in a conservative Cambridge,
Massachusetts, home. His father, with degrees in both philosophy and divinity, taught
Harvard University until 1900 when he received ordination by the Unitarian Church
became a pastor at the South Congregational Church of Boston.
||According to family diaries, Cummings wanted to be a poet from an early age. He was
supported in this ambition by his mother who made up word games and other activities
encourage his creativity. Cummings attended public schools, including the Cambridge
and Latin School, prior to entering Harvard in 1911. While there, he concentrated
classics, including Latin, Greek, and literature, and he mastered the various forms
poetry, gaining the foundation he needed in order to begin the experimentation with
poetic form and shape that became his trademark. While at Harvard, Cummings published
poetry in the Harvard Monthly and the Harvard Advocate. Through these organizations he became acquainted
with S. Foster Damon, Stewart Mitchell, John Dos Passos, Scofield Thayer, and J. Sibley
Watson. These friends would encourage and support Cummings through much of his artistic
||Cummings earned his BA from Harvard in 1915, magna cum laude,
like his father before him, and was invited to speak at the commencement
ceremony. He presented a term paper on "The New Art."
This paper demonstrated Cummings' affinity with the modern artistic sensibility,
especially his interest in the overlap between the visual arts and literature, a
keystone in his distinctive typographical style.
||After finishing his Master's degree, also from Harvard, in 1916, Cummings moved to
York City in January of 1917. He worked at P. F. Collier for a few weeks, but became
bored and quit, deciding instead to pursue the freedom of life as a full-time artist
poet. In April, he volunteered for the Norton-Hajes Ambulance Service and shipped
for France. On the trip he met William Slater Brown and their friendship was cemented
an unexpected five weeks of free time in Paris awaiting the rest of their ambulance
||Several months later, events took a defining turn for Cummings when he and Brown were
detained by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities.
a result of censor-provoking letters home by Brown and a preference for the company
French soldiers over their fellow American ambulance drivers, the two young men were
held for three months in a concentration camp at La Ferté Mace. They were
kept, along with their fellow detainees, in a large room which was represented in
title of Cummings' book about this experience, The Enormous Room
(1922). Cummings' father worked through diplomatic channels and finally wrote a
letter to President Wilson to obtain Cummings' release in December 1917. Brown was
released two months later.
||Cummings returned to the United States, first to his parents' home in Massachusetts
then to New York, where he was joined by Brown. For the next several years, Cummings
painted and wrote. In 1924, he married Elaine Orr Thayer, the mother of his daughter
Nancy. They divorced after two months and in 1929, Cummings married Anne Minnerly
Barton. They spent much of the next two years living and traveling in Europe.
||In 1931, Cummings left Barton and traveled to the Soviet Union. Pre-disposed to enjoy
the trip, Cummings found his personal sense of individualism disturbed by the lack
intellectual and artistic freedom that he found. He published his diary from the trip
under the Greek title Eimi (1933), which translates to
||In 1932, while his divorce from Barton was being settled, Cummings met Marion Morehouse,
who was to be his companion and common law wife for the rest of his life. In 1933,
Cummings received the Guggenheim Fellowship for the purpose of writing a "book of poems." In 1935, unable to find a publisher for
his book, he published No Thanks (1935) with the help of
his mother. It was dedicated to the fourteen publishing houses that had turned him
||E. E. Cummings continued to produce a steady stream of poems and publications throughout
the forties and fifties. In 1952, Harvard offered him the Charles Eliot Norton
Professorship for the 1952-53 school year. Also during the fifties, Cummings began
tour, reading his poetry across America. In 1958, he won the Bollingen Prize for Poetry
from Yale University and published his final volume of new poems, 95 Poems.
||He died at his family farm on September 3, 1962.