E. E. Cummings

Poem 42

n
OthI
n

g can

s
urPas
s

the m

y
SteR
y

of

s
tilLnes
s

— E. E. Cummings

From 73 Poems (1963).

Commentary: “A perfect example of a theme being enhanced typographically…What amounts to a single seven-word sentence, is spread with symmetrical precision across seven ‘stanzas’ and fifteen lines. The three line units begin and end with the same lower case letter, the capital letter of the middle line shifts from the ends to the centre point, back to the ends, and once again to the centre. Each of the first two one line units consists of four lower case letters, consisting firstly of a single letter, space, and three letters; and then reversed, three letters, space, and the first of the next word. The final one line unit, ‘of’ launches the denouement of the phrase, revealing exactly what it is that nothing can surpass the mystery of. What is revealed to be a simple aphorism is presented in a complex and precise manner, a skillful act of balancing, using each letter to work for the poem’s effect. However, before we notice the symmetry, we are forced to reconstitute the words of the phrase, piece by piece over the hurdles that Cummings has laid down for us. The resulting effect is to reduce the speed at which we comprehend its message, echoing the ‘stillness’ of the poem’s conclusion. What is clear when examining the structure of the above piece is that any examination of the positions of letters or the shape of the stanza does not reveal anything more than the aphorism itself, but it does amplify its effect, so that we may feel its meaning instead of merely acknowledging it. The effect of the piece is holistic, its meaning comes in a rush, hopefully providing the reader with a greater sense of his intention.” -Alan Tranter

More background, and other poems:

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