Reading Poetry: somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond by e.e. cummings

Unqualified Analysis / Monday, April 30th, 2018

Despite popular misconception, I am not super into poetry. When I mention I write, people just take one look at how my eyes are round like marbles and my hair is always frizzy and they’re like, “Ah. Poetry, right?”

Not really, no. I’ve tried to write song lyrics before, the popular form of poetry, and it always ends in a complete disaster. I always make it way too narrative-y and leave out all of the magic. ‘Cause I don’t know how to make the magic. And in fact, I hardly even know how to recognize it. The magic.

There are only a few poets who have ever given me the Feels. Rumi. The occasional Emily Dickinson. ee cummings. (I’d like you to know that as I write this, my word processor keeps trying to make me capitalize his name properly, and I frankly find that disrespectful.)

So today I’d like to talk about a poem that uncharacteristically gave me feelings. You can read it here, there, and everywhere on the internet because apparently I am not the only sappy loser who falls for his love poetry. Read it and report back.

Okay, did you have feelings? Or is your heart made of stony, stony rocks (not just any rocks; stony rocks. I’m writing this on my lunch break, give me a break. And by that I mean, give me a second lunch break. Please.)

In “somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond,” ee cummings engages with the unknowability of love. I have absolutely no idea how to explicate a poem, so I’m just going to briefly talk about things I liked about it and that will have to do:

1. Word Choice: Enclose and Unclose

ee cummings plays with words like no other poet. In line three, he says “in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,” which to me is a beautiful way of saying that his lover encircles, encompasses, embraces him with her affection.

But then in line five: “your slightest look easily will unclose me,” which means that his lover has the power not only to embrace and enfold, but also to open him up.  With enclose and unclose, he uses similar-but-different words to explore different-but-similar ideas. Love is a multi-faceted force that opens you up to the world while simultaneously drawing you inwards to closeness and introspection .And that motif of opening and closing continues throughout the poem, drawing out strong themes that love is a complicated and contradictory mystery.

2. Outer vs. inner experience

The first line sets up this theme: “somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond/any experience,” which is a way of saying that this connection, between the narrator and the person he loves, transcends any experience possible in the physical world. In the fourth stanza, he continues with this idea, and I’ll quote three lines here: “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,”

Again, love this deep is outside the power of our normal perception: it’s outside the “world,” it’s not something you’re going to discover on a journey. It’s an inward knowing. In fact, just one aspect of her, her fragility (which I interpret as her humanity, her softness) has “countries” of meaning to him.

3. Figurative Language & Melding of Senses

I love it when writers engage with the capriciousness of senses, and this is something ee cummings does beautifully. In a kind of gleeful synesthesia, he describes: “the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)/nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands.”

I think we can all agree that the rain doesn’t generally have hands, let alone small ones. And our eyes see; they don’t have voices; and what does that have to do with roses? It’s like he’s grasping for metaphors, similes, and comparisons but nothing is quite doing justice to his experience. Her hands, so special and unique to him, defy definition. When he mixes and melds senses and sensations, it transcends the common or expected meaning of perception, and elevates love to something beyond explanation.

I’m not tryna say I really understand ee cummings. He’s inscrutable. He doesn’t follow any of the rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, or simile. He plays with language to draw out complicated concepts, which makes it difficult to apply the rules of analysis to his work. All I know is that this poem, to me (remember, poetry is super subjective: it’s possible you totally hated it!) helps capture the elusive nature of deep love and attraction. It’s a full-length novel of experiences simmered down to just a handful of lines.


Write like ee cummings

So I think we all agree that…poetry’s a thing. And sometimes it’s good. So let’s put on our poetry pants, and practice!

For this prompt, write a poem. Start with a huge concept. Take a marriage that went on for 50 years. Take the death of your mother. Take the worst moment of your life. Take something so big you can even hardly touch it. Distill it down to one image, one scene. One line of prose. Or maybe five or maybe ten. The point is: don’t write a novel about it, though I’m sure you could.

Focus on your senses, if that helps. Focus on the way even your senses can’t always be trusted in times of extreme emotion or conflict. Mix the senses, play with reality: “the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)”

Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar. I agree that it would be absolutely brutal to read a full-length novel filled with slippery syntax, but that’s the beauty of a poem. It’s short, it’s crisp, its eccentricities throw you off just enough to leave you open to new experiences. And as ee cummings shows us, there aren’t any rules worth sticking to when writing about profound topics.


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