18 November 2011

__________Cummings:____________"next to of course god america i

E. E. Cummings

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water


Why I love this poem by E. E. Cummings:  (and yes, I capitalized his name on purpose.  It is hip to do so these days, apparently.   For a lengthy discussion as to why, see here:)

  •  It's a brilliant little character sketch done nearly entirely with dialogue.
  • It skewers simpleminded patriotism & criminally confused political rhetoric.
  • (Most astonishingly): It is a sonnet.  Look:  14 lines, and those end rhymes!  abab/cdcd/efg/feg.  Wow!
I remembered this little satirical gem while writing a blogpiece about my habit of memorizing poetry.  Watch this space for that one soon!
For compounded delight:
Hear the poet read his poem, here!


  1. I don't know, Herm. I regard this poem as a flip, unfeeling, putdown. As if we needed Cummings to set us straight on the meaning of patriotism. I regard the skewering of patriotism as just as simpleminded, but calculated and mean-spirited. I'd rather be around a bunch of flag-wavers singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic than around the smug scorners who think they've evolved past such primal urges. I think the patriots are far more human. Zeke

  2. I don't think the poem is satirizing "patriotism" per se, because I don't regard and don't think Cummings regarded the speaker of the lines as any kind of real patriot. The guy is obviously not a deep thinker, but a character whose brain boils up a stew of half-remembered song lines, said stew thickening to a paint to whitewash his true cruelty. Anyone who describes the vicious slaughter of young men sacrificed in battle as "beautiful," justifying it with half-digested sloganeering is not a true patriot and deserves such skewereing.

  3. aah, cummings is too full of himself and too arrogant. I don't like sneering poets or sneering anybodies for that matter. I didn't always think so poorly of cummings, that's why I bought "The Complete Poems 1913-1962" new in the days before Amazon, about thirty years ago, maybe more. It's an orange hardback by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich with title, author and publisher on the spine and author in all caps. After reading this very interesting piece about the controversy between lower and upper case use, I dug it out to check. Loved that cartoon.

  4. Leocadia, thanks for reading my blog and thanks for commenting. I'm glad you visit!

    Even if you find this poem sneering, didn't Cummings write a lot that is sheerly beautiful, full of tender feeling, gentle. He has a great sense of beauty, to my mind.

    I, too, bought that same big book back in the day and still have it.

    If he has a weakness, I'd say it is limited themes. He wrote about 2 or 4 basic things over and over.

    But I still think he deserves a lot more credit than he gets these days for his courageous, playful, and delight-stuffed experimentation.

    And isn't being full of oneself a prerequisite or at least a frequent character trait that makes poets poets?

  5. You make many good points. I haven't read his poems for a very long time but I do remember a time that I was inspired by him, very inspired, to the point of wanting to become a poet myself, so I owe him that. I loved most the way he broke the rules. The only other poet who has inspired me to that great degree is Anne Sexton.

    "And isn't being full of oneself a prerequisite or at least a frequent character trait that makes poets poets?"

    That's a hard question to answer. It's both yes and no at the same time I would say. I think that good poet, a true poet, must be full and empty of self in equal proportions so that each portion rules the other out. That's the short answer. You have a very interesting and enjoyable blog. I haven't read it all, but as I write I am scanning your topics off to my left and see many that appeal to me.