23 March 2009

1(a by ee cummings

It is spring (or almost so!) and Lent as well: a bittersweet and holy time of preparation for new growth and new life even as older things die away or fall by the wayside. This morning I found myself thinking of a poem by ee cummings, one of the most perfect poems I have ever read or seen. I wanted to share it here because in just four words (give or take!) it captures the bittersweetness of this time so very well, and, in its own way it captures the nature of the eremitical vocation too. Like a single raindrop, or a diamond culled from the earth it encapsulates the story of the cosmos. I would ask you to pay attention to every nuance in the orthography, the ambiguities in meaning, what cummings manages to suggest visually by his division and spacing of letters, what happens within and without the parentheses, etc. Remember too that in the original font the lower case L looked like a 1 -- something I tried to duplicate but which is unclear in the published version.






So, when I read this poem I see two interrelated portions. Outside the parentheses there is: 1 (. . .) oneliness and this can also be read as loneliness. The section within the parentheses captures the fall of a leaf: "a leaf falls" with the visual zig-zagging or to-ing and fro-ing that might occur during such an event. The fall of the leaf points to an entire life cycle --- a cycle we each reprise as individuals. For ee cummings I think that "oneliness" or being "1" also points to integrity and integrity is a challenging and lonely business sometimes. It involves dying -- and for the hermit dying to self as well as living and dying "alone". Ultimately, however, every life is essentially solitary. For e.e. cummings a leaf is completely itself --- and so too are we each meant to be. This essential integrity as value, especially as it linked to love and the capacity for love (including love of God) seems to me to run throughout cummings' poetry. The beauty and simplicity of such a life is certainly captured amazingly well in this poem-as-snapshot.