|Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), son of Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke,
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
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 also drew prolifically, and his childhood drawings
often inspired by literature; his drawings included storyboards. Cummings attended
schools, including the Cambridge High and Latin School, prior to entering Harvard
While there, he concentrated in the classics, including Latin and Greek literature,
mastered the various forms of poetry, gaining the foundation he needed in order to
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;
them also shared his interest in the visual arts as well as poetry and literature.
music student, introduced Cummings to the works of El Greco, William Blake, Paul Cézanne,
James McNeill Whistler, the French Impressionists, and the Fauves. Through Thayer,
Cummings became acquainted with the works of Pablo Picasso,
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley, the Post Impressionists, and the Cubists.
still in school, Thayer gave Cummings a copy of Willard Huntington Wright's Modern Painting, which Cummings annotated extensively.
John Dos Passos also painted and drew. Cummings never had formal art lessons, but
new oil painting techniques from his Harvard group of friends.
|Cummings earned his B.A. from Harvard in 1915, magna cum laude, like his father before
and was invited to speak at the commencement ceremony. He presented a term paper on
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
his distinctive typographical style.
|After finishing his Master's degree in 1916, also from Harvard, Cummings moved to
City in January of 1917. He worked for the publishing house P. F. Collier & Son 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
their friendship was cemented by an unexpected five weeks of free time in Paris awaiting
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.
result of censor-provoking letters home by Brown and a preference for the company
soldiers over their fellow American ambulance drivers, the two young men were held
months in a concentration camp at La Ferté Mace. They were kept, along with their
detainees, in a large room which was represented in the title of Cummings' book about
experience, The Enormous Room (1922). Cummings'
father worked through diplomatic channels and finally wrote a letter to President
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
York, where he was joined by Brown.
|For the next several years, Cummings painted and wrote. His paintings were now inspired
what he had seen in Paris, and a futurist influence started to appear. In 1919, he
two paintings in the spring show of the New York Society of Independent Artists, and
Lachaise (whom Cummings had met through Lachaise's stepson, Edward Pierce Nagle) reported
Cummings that Albert Gleizes had expressed enthusiasm about Cummings' paintings. In
again entered two large paintings in the society of Independent Artists exhibition,
were mentioned favorably by S. Jay Kaufman in the The New York
Globe and Advertiser. In
1921, he entered his painting Noise Number 10 in
the Independent exhibition, but this painting was attacked in a New York newspaper
|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
next two years living and traveling in Europe.
|In May 1931, Cummings left Barton and traveled to the Soviet Union. Pre-disposed to
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
the Greek title Eimi (1933), which translates to
|In August 1931, Cummings exhibited 162 works at a show arranged by Philip Kaplan at
Kokoon Arts Club in Cleveland, Ohio. His book CIOPW, a collection of works in charcoal, ink, oil, pastel, and
watercolors, was published in 1931.
|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,
received the Guggenheim Fellowship for the purpose of writing a book of poems. In
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
poetry across AmeriCirca In 1958, he won the Bollingen Prize for Poetry from Yale
and published his final volume of new poems, 95
|He died at his family farm on September 3, 1962.
|Critics have generally divided Cummings' career as a painter into two stylistic phases.
first phase, about 1915-1928, was represented by his experimental large-scale abstracts
his drawings and caricatures published in The
Dial. During the 1920s, Cummings started to drop out of the gallery scene,
and he came to view the art establishment as anti-intellectual. The second phase of
was from about 1928 until his death; this phase was characterized by representational
still lifes, landscapes, nudes, and portraits.