Tag Archives: short poetry

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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Aram Saroyan

click to enlarge

Commentary: “I…can still scarcely believe that the government once gave an award to so wonderful an artwork…[One should] encounter it properly, at the center of an otherwise blank page—to emphasize its deserving a full page’s worth of attention (as an expression of light, and only light)…[T]he extra ‘gh’ is neither trivial nor obscure. By putting it into his word, Saroyan brings us face-to-face with the ineffability of light, a mysterious substance whose components are somehow there but absent, as ‘ghgh’ is there (and delicately shimmering) but unpronounced in the word, ‘lighght.’ And he leaves us with intimations of his single syllable of light’s expanding, silently and weightlessly, ‘gh’ by ‘gh,’ into…Final Illumination.” -Bob Grumman

Here are some other examples of Minimalist poetry, also with commentary by Bob Grumman.

More background, and other poems:

Ezra Pound

Two versions of one of Pound’s best-known pieces:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition       of these faces     in the crowd  :
Petals      on a wet, black    bough  .

— Ezra Pound

Yes, the earlier version of the poem is really supposed to be formatted like this. (Here’s how it was originally published in Poetry in April 1913.)

Here’s how it was published in Pound’s Personae:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

— Ezra Pound

Pound on the process of writing this poem: “I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work ‘of second intensity.’ Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made [this] hokku-like sentence.”

Here’s more commentary on this poem.

Which version do you think is better?

More background, and other poems:

H. D. Imagiste

“In Greek mythology, an Oread…was a type of nymph that lived in mountains, valleys, or ravines.”

Oread

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

— H. D.

Published in 1915. Only two words in the poem have more than one syllable!

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Juxtaposed: Merwin and Atwood

I like juxtaposing these two short poems because they both take familiar (and similar) images and turn them on their heads, and yet do so to opposite effects and purposes:

Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

— W. S. Merwin

From The Moving Target (1963).

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

— Margaret Atwood

From Power Politics (1971).

More background, and other poems: