Edward Estlin Cummings was a great innovative poet in the 20th century, with a nonconformist approach to style and structure. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 14, 1894, he earned his Master’s degree at Harvard University before he served in World War I. Because he lacked traditional style, with intentional grammatical errors such as lack of capitalization and punctuation, he was forced to self publish his works. These include nearly three thousand poems, four plays and two autobiographical novels. He passed away September 3, 1962 in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Born to Unitarian parents, Robert and Whelma, Edward Estlin Cummings grew up with a very personal relationship to God. His father was a minister and a professor at Harvard University. Many of his early notebooks include written prayers for inspiration. He had always wanted to be a writer; from the ages of eight to twenty-two he wrote daily. Cummings went on to attend Harvard, where he earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. After his graduation he went on to work for a book dealer.
In 1917, with the first World War raging in Europe, Cummings and his good friend John Dos Passos, volunteered for the Ambulance Corps. Due to a clerical mix up, Cummings was redirected to Paris for several weeks before joining his assigned corps. He fell in love with the city and returned there often throughout his life. His lack of hatred towards the Germans, and voicing anti-war opinions, led to his arrest in September 1917. He was held under suspicion of espionage in a detention camp in Normandy for three and a half months. Unable to secure his son’s release through his diplomatic connections, Robert Cummings wrote a letter to President Wilson in December 1917. Edward was released shortly afterwards. Upon his return home, he was drafted into the Army in 1918, and served for less than a year.
Through much of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Cummings travelled the world. He moved to Paris in 1921, and stayed there for two years before returning to New York City. He would continue to visit Paris several times. He also travelled across Europe, North Africa, Mexico and the Soviet Union. It was during some of this time travelling, from 1924 to 1927, that he worked writing articles and essays for Vanity Fair magazine. It was also in 1926 that his parents were in a terrible accident. Their car was hit by a train, killing his father instantly and severely injuring his mother, who did survive the accident.
Cummings began a personal relationship with the wife of his good friend in 1918. It was during this affair that he wrote most of his erotic poetry. Eventually in 1924 the couple were divorced and Cummings was finally able to marry his lover, Elaine. They had one daughter together; she is Cummings only child. They were together only two months before Elaine fell in love with a banker, moved to Ireland and took their daughter with her. Cummings was granted visitation but Elaine refused to obey the order. It was over twenty years before he saw his daughter again. Cummings was married again, to Anne in 1929. They were wed for three years before ending their union with a divorce. His longest relationship was with Marion Morehouse. They met in 1932, the year he separated from Anne, and stayed together for the remainder of their lives.
Cummings published “The Enormous Room” in 1922. This novel told about his experiences while being held in Normandy. He published his second book a year later. “Tulips and Chimneys” was a collection of poetry. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he would publish a few more collections. He wrote a few plays and ballets, in addition to his poetry and novels. He became known for his erratic spacing, lack of grammatical skills and structure. During the 1950’s he received a fellowship to the Academy of American Poets. Cummings also abbreviated his name, using his lack of capitalization, becoming simply 'e e cummings'.
e e cummings suffered from a brain hemorrhage that killed him on September 3, 1962. He was cremated and buried in Boston, Massachusetts. His long time life companion, Marion, was buried next to him when she passed in 1969. His immense collection of writings are held at the University of Texas and at Harvard. It is his freedom from the rules that dictated literature that have helped he become a prominent voice in the 20th century.