Ever since I first laid eyes on e e cummings’ most famous poem ‘i carry your heart with me (i carry it in’, I have been utterly in love with his gorgeously offhand response to traditional poetic form.
In digging around his work, I was drawn to ‘a connotation of infinity’. It is one of his less popular pieces, but is so rich in meaning and allusion that I never grow tired of reading it:
a connotation of infinity
sharpens the temporal splendor of this night
when souls which have forgot frivolity
in lowliness, noting the fatal flight
of worlds whereto this earth’s a hurled dream
down eager avenues of lifelessness
consider for how much themselves shall gleam,
in the poised radiance of perpetualness.
When what’s in velvet beyond doomed thought
is like a woman amorous to be known;
and man, whose here is always worse than naught,
feels the tremendous yonder for his own—
on such a night the sea through her blind miles
of crumbling silence seriously smiles
— e e cummings
I’m going to start by looking into the first line and title for a moment. ‘A connotation of infinity’ is a lovely juxtaposition in itself. It denotes an oblique reference or suggestion of utter enormity. The way in which these two elements interact in the subsequent line is really interesting. The proposition here is that even the intimation of the fact that the here and now extends infinitely in every direction can bring into focus the unique nature of the present moment. Somewhere in this realisation lies both despair and hope, which the rest of the poem expands upon.
Even on a superficial level, the language of this piece is absolutely sublime, especially the phonological aspects. Throughout the poem there are an abundance of elongated vowel sounds, in particular different forms of the ‘o’ or ‘oo’ sound. For instance, take the section beginning on the third line; if you read it aloud, you’re compelled to draw out the consecutive ‘o’ sounds, causing the pace of the poem to slow. This parallels with the actual content of the poem, cummings describing the state of being encumbered with the mortal drudgery of one’s own existence. Undertones of existential dread are also present here, those aforementioned ‘souls’ being acutely aware of both their own and the world’s meaninglessness.
This takes a turn after the eighth line (this being a significant point which I will return to soon). The tone turns from that of pessimism to a curious optimism. Once the concealing veil of ‘doomed thought’ is pulled away, the future and all of its complexities are considered alluring and perhaps even something to fall in a kind of love with. And when this realisation is reached, the physical world is described to feed back with positivity as it ‘seriously smiles’, as if a balance as been restored.
What is also intriguing about this poem is that it adheres to a sonnet format. Consisting of 14 lines and an ‘ABABCDCDEFEFGG’ rhyme scheme, it is distinctive in its structure. It also includes a volta at the eighth line, this representing a delineation in the poem and a precursor to a tonal shift. However, the inconsistent spacing goes a step beyond what the sonnet prescribes, but this is significant in itself. It is a well-known fact about cummings that he did not make a habit of abiding by prescriptivist traditions of poetry, and this is what makes this poem so interesting. To have incorporated his ideas into such a distinguished format would not have been a decision made lightly, and in the context of his other works it is a rare choice. Without straying too far into presuming the poet’s intention, it could hold the implication that cummings is attempting the condense this vast realisation of infinity into a structured form which is concrete and tangible. This makes the original ‘connotation of infinity’ somewhat bearable and possible to form into a constructive and positive experience.
I could ramble on and write reams and reams about how fantastic e e cummings was as a poet. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly recommend it. It is a breath of fresh air in terms of pure creativity and subversion of tradition.
What are your thoughts on e e cummings? Love him or hate him? Let me know in the comments!
P. S. I know Sundays are not my scheduled posting days, but I’ve missed a couple of weeks and bridging the gap felt like the right choice. Thanks for reading!