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E. E. Cummings:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962
Title: E. E.Cummings Collection
Dates: 1902-1968
Extent: 12 document boxes (4 linear feet), 8 galley folders, 8 oversize folders
Abstract: Manuscripts of poems, short stories, and collections of verses, notes from his school days, and correspondence make up the bulk of the Cummings Collection.
Language English.
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Purchase and gifts, 1965-1983 (R3942, R3819, R11908, G1647, R7995, R7996, R5913, R5067, R4488, R4289, R2738, R2394)

Processed by:

Chelsea S. Jones, 1998

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin


Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) was brought up in a conservative Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. His father, with degrees in both philosophy and divinity, taught at Harvard University until 1900 when he received ordination by the Unitarian Church and 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 to encourage his creativity. Cummings attended public schools, including the Cambridge High and Latin School, prior to entering Harvard in 1911. While there, he concentrated in the classics, including Latin, Greek, and literature, and he mastered the various forms of 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 career.

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 New 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 and poet. In April, he volunteered for the Norton-Hajes Ambulance Service and shipped out for France. On the trip he met William Slater Brown and their friendship was cemented by an unexpected five weeks of free time in Paris awaiting the rest of their ambulance unit.

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. As a result of censor-provoking letters home by Brown and a preference for the company of 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 the 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 and 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 of intellectual and artistic freedom that he found. He published his diary from the trip under the Greek title Eimi (1933), which translates to "I am."

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 down.

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 to 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.


Dictionary of Literary Biography -- Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, Second Series. Peter Quartermain, Ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986).

For further information on E. E. Cummings see:

E. E. Cummings, The Magic Maker. Charles Norman. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972).

Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. Richard S. Kennedy. (New York: Liveright Publishers, Corp., 1980).


Manuscripts of poems, short stories, and collections of verses, notes from his school days, and correspondence make up the bulk of the Cummings Collection, 1902-1968. The collection is organized into four series, with materials arranged alphabetically by author or title: I. Works, 1908-1968 (6 boxes), II. Letters, 1902-1962 (.5 boxes), III. Recipient, 1913-1962 (1 box), and IV. Miscellaneous, 1902-1968 (4.5 boxes). This collection was previously accessible through a card catalog, but has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.

The Works series contains drafts of several collections of verse as well as individual poems. The editing of Poems: 1923-1954 is particularly well represented in both typed manuscript and galley format. There are also essays written by Cummings for college exams and two notebooks with notes and poetry fragments.

The Letters series is mostly composed of single letters to various people, with the exception of Howard L. Nelson, with whom Cummings maintained a lively correspondence concerning books, poets, and fatherhood over a 22 year period. The Recipient series contains letters from admirers, publishers, and friends, including Merle Armitage, Robert Bly, Hart Crane, Judson Crews, Foster Damon, John Dos Passos, Harvard University, Amy Lowell, Stewart Mitchell, Marianne Moore, Marion Morehouse, Charles Norman, James Purdy, Stephen Spender, Samuel Ward, and Louis Zukofsky.

The Miscellaneous series is largely composed of notes from Cummings' school days, some elementary, but mostly collegiate. Most of these are preprinted items and lecture notes, rather than original material. Additionally, a large number of letters sent to Marion Morehouse by several individuals, most of them written after Cummings' death, are present, along with quite a few letters to Charles Norman. Other miscellany includes manuscripts by other authors, a copy of Cummings' birth certificate, musical scores, and photostats of an advertisement series.


Elsewhere in the Ransom Center is a large collection of newspaper clippings covering the publication and criticism of Cummings' works, as well as programs, invitations and calendars (Vertical File folders and three scrapbooks). Located in the Art Collection are about 300 items, including oil paintings, sketches, portraits, self-portraits, anatomical studies, landscapes, and cartoons by Cummings. In the Literary Files of the Photography Collection, there are about 100 photographs of Cummings, his friends, and his art. The Center’s Book Collection includes Cummings’ personal library of 2,725 titles, described in "Exhibit Features Author’s Libraries,"   Library Chronicle, N.S. 34 (1986), 7-8


Correspondents

Armitage, Merle, 1893-1975.

Bly, Robert.

Crane, Hart, 1899-1932.

Crews, Judson.

Damon, S. Foster (Samuel Foster), 1893-1971.

Dos Passos, John, 1896-1970.

Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925.

Mitchell, Stewart, 1892-1957.

Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972.

Morehouse, Marion, 1906-1969.

Nelson, Howard.

Norman, Charles, 1904-.

Purdy, James.

Spender, Stephen, 1909-.

Ward, Samuel, fl. 1931.

Zukofsky, Louis, 1904-1978.

Subjects

American poetry

Children's poetry, American

Fairy tales

Poets, American -- 20th century

Young adult poetry

Document Types

Birthday cards

Christmas cards

Galley proofs

Juvenilia

Love letters

Postcards