Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Poetry Corner

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 By Norah Christianson

Spring is like a perhaps hand

~~ e. e. cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window,into which people look (while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps

Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there) and

without breaking anything.

Well. I wanted to bring you a poem about spring. It was harder than I thought to find one. Many poems about spring are rather religious. Many are (in my book) overly optimistic. I wanted a simple poem which would simply describe what spring was like. So here is e.e.cummings. However, though his idea is simple enough, his language is not. 

Cummings, being a “modernist,” experimented with language—and punctuation and spacing and capitalization. He made a famous name for himself doing this. It was wild and crazy, at the time. Certainly idiosyncratic. Some readers love him. Others, who find grammar to be a help in understanding a written thing, think his shenanigans are just a gimmick to cover up his rather ordinary thoughts. Whatever you think, he is playful. And if you find you have to struggle to understand what he’s saying, well, that’s part of the fun, I guess. A kind of exercise for the intellect. Like a crossword puzzle, maybe. 

So, Cummings is not traditional. I am (with regard to the English language, anyway). So I’m just going to “translate” what he’s saying into traditional-type verse. I do like his metaphor of spring being like a window dresser (I do think cummings must mean a window dresser) moving things around while people watch. (The way we notice the little things of spring as though through a shop window—here’s a crocus, there’s a robin, now the ants appear on the kitchen counter—all the little subtle signs.) And spring, that so-delicate season, manages to bring to us the loveliness of the season “without breaking anything.” 

Here is my “translation,” using ordinary grammar. We’ll begin with the blasphemy of capitalizing his title and his famous name.

Spring is, Perhaps, Like a Hand

~~ E. E. Cummings

Spring is, perhaps, like a hand
which appears in a shop window

carefully arranging
familiar and unfamiliar things

while people on the other side watch.

And spring is, perhaps, like a hand
in a shop window which— 

while people stare—

carefully moves things around,

such as a flower or an inch of air,


without breaking anything.

So there it is in plainsong. It’s kinda a dud. You’ll prefer cummings’ poem, I’m sure. More interesting. But what would my teachers, the Sisters of Mercy at St. Leo’s School eighty years ago, have to say about cummings spitting in grammar’s eye? Whatever it would be, they would say it with a ruler on my dear knuckles.

e.e.cummings was born in 1894 in Cambridge, MA. and died in 1962 in New Hampshire. Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, he wrote a poem a day.

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