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is a child
‘s hand)very carefully
to you and to
me(and quite with
papery weightless diminutive
with a hole in
of which demons with wings would be streaming if
something had(maybe they couldn’t
agree)not happened(and floating-
Theodicy has been too long in the hands of philosophers. Men with minds least likely to enter heaven are ill equipped to deal with the issue. Poets do better with their deep play. ”Amen, I say unto you, unless you turn and become as children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” saith the man from Nazareth. Here, Cummings, in the voice of a child, posits the problem of evil and its resolution. Maybe god is a child’s hand bringing to us the world out of which demons would be streaming had he not placed his hand into it. [Here is a more full discussion of the above poem]
I was reminded of Cummings’ poem when I read the following poem by Rae Armantrout:
A joke, of course, is a story that has a punchline, but what joke ends with deviled eggs? Perhaps: what does the devil eat for breakfast? or more likely: from where does the devil come? This is the question of the poem: whence evil? In the dream, the speaker is telling the joke and some “idiot” asks the origin of “deviled eggs” (the ole chicken or the egg dilemma). The speaker finds this funny/unfair; funny because the idiot is missing the point, unfair because the pursuit of theodicy is not for bullies.
Launched into this telling, the speaker records two people putting “their heads together” to solve a problem (perhaps butting their heads? there’s the idiot, but who is the other addressed?), “hatching” something over “the crosswords”. The scene is the kitchen table, the newspaper before them, and the idiot and the other are solving (resolving) a problem over over the crossword puzzle, but there’s more than that. In her economy Armantrout has excised ”puzzle” and rather than say “crossword” she uses “the crosswords”. So the idiot and the other entity are indeed opposed, using cross words, angry words, to solve this problem of evil. But perhaps even further these crosswords are the words of the Cross, the answer, perhaps the punchline to the problem of evil.
The speaker here, searching for answers, taunted by dreams (no doubt “chicken! chicken!”), feels the anxiety, feels the puzzle and gives us the yearning for these answers, the resolution, for the final waking.
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I like to toy with the classics. I’ve rewritten several famous poems (see my Red Wheelbarrow poem after W.C. Williams, my Grasshopper poem after E.E. Cummings, and my Wasteland poem after T.S. Eliot).
These are poems that fit into Edgar Lee Master’s imminently readable Spoon River Anthology. The Spoon River is, to quote from the wiki, “a collection of short free-form poems that collectively describe the life of the fictional small town of Spoon River… Each poem is an epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect: some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. Speaking without reason to lie or fear the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that is shorn of façades. The interplay of various villagers forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole.”
Here are my offerings:
I ought not have struggled
when they took Grandfather’s watch.
At the time it was right
but twice a day. I died knowing
my son would share my recklessness.
I gave them every dime and even
my new hat, but refused the heirloom
I loved the most. I died for it
before the golden chain
was ripped from my prideful hand.
You were a bolt from the blue,
a blinding light on earth.
I wrote five letters weekly
professing my love. I kept them
in my chester drawers too fearful to send them
till one day I wrote the greatest line I ever wrote.
I ran too swiftly across the street, loveblind,
and was struck by a speeding car.
Imagine my unbroken joy when I looked up
and saw you behind the wheel
tearful at the passing of my life.
“The tall haystacks are great sugar mounds
These are the fairies’ camping grounds”
-John Ashbery, at age 8
“Oh the pretty birdie,
with his little toe, toe, toe.”
-E. E. Cummings, at age 3
witches and tingling
little hoppy happy
toad in tweeds
little itchy mousies
eyes rustle and run and
whisk look out for the old woman
with the wart on her nose
what she’ll do to yer
for she knows the devil ooch
the devil ouch
ach the great
if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
This is my beloved my
suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow)
-E. E. Cummings, W [ViVa]
the Noster was a ship of swank
(as gallant as they come)
until she hit a mine and sank
just off the coast of Sum
precisely where a craft of cost
the Ergo perished later
all hands (you may recall)being lost
including captain Pater
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Psalm of Life”:
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not the goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
E. E. Cummings, 26 from No Thanks:
what does little Ernest croon
in his death at afternoon?
(kow dow r 2 bul retoinis
wus de woids uf lil Oinis
in time’s a noble mercy of proportion
with generosities beyond believing
(though flesh and blood accuse him of coercion
or mind and soul convict him of deceiving)
whose ways are neither reasoned nor unreasoned,
his wisdom cancels conflict and agreement
-saharas have their centuries, ten thousand
of which are smaller than a rose’s moment
there’s time for laughing and there time for crying-
for hoping for despair for peace for longing
-a time for growing and a time for dying:
a night for silence and a day for singing
but more than all (as all your more than eyes
tell me) there is a time for timelessness
There is a Being that is generous beyond belief, whose ways are beyond logic, whose wisdom trumps conflict and agreement. What –you may ask– is wisdom that cancels even agreement? It is a picture of complete harmony, for agreement necessitates a separation that requires a coming together. This is true despite the accusations of flesh and blood or the conviction of mind and soul.
The first line has: “in time’s” which should be read as “in time is” rather than possessive. After the opening six lines there are a series of comments about objects in time. The first takes a large object, the Sahara, and takes its everlastingness (its ten thousand centuries) and compares it diminutively to “a rose’s moment”. The image invokes the seemingly bigness of death (a desert) and shows it to be smaller than the singular climax of life in a rose’s blooming. Then it incorporates the well known passage from Ecclesiastes, tweaking it along the way.
Cummings invested into various words his own meanings, which are best understood in considering the whole of his work. The “more than eyes” invokes the soul; see the prayer poem number 65 in XAIPE: “now the ears of my ears awake and/ now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”.
With the emphasis on time, the list of events that occur in time, the conclusion brings in transcendence. Time is a common enemy to the poet, to the lover, but there is something bigger and wiser and more powerful than time. The whole of the poem rises to the final line in which Timelessness touches time.
Written in the form of a Shakespearean Sonnet, Number 11 from 95 Poems.