Friday, July 22, 2011

I've been thinking of Cummings' poem "Somewhere I have never travelled." It's clearly a love poem, but it also works from the point of view of a parent to a child. Here's the poem:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

The opening stanza establishes a somewhat mystical 'otherness'. The subject--the person being addressed--carries certain experiences in (let's call it her) eyes from "somewhere (the narrator) has never travelled" (lines 1-2). So there is a difference of experience, which Cummings is glad about. Perhaps he wants this new life to have different experiences from his own. He is also extremely emotional--even powerless--when faced with his feelings. He considers himself closed off, but this other person opens him "as spring opens...her first rose" (7-8). So what is it about this person which enables her to penetrate his defenses--surprising him? Her "intense fragility" (14) which "render(s) death and forever with each breathing" (16). What is more fragile than a child? And what offers more surprises? Also, the reference to death and living beyond death supports the interpretation of the subject as a child--children tend to live beyond the death of their parents, after all.

Cummings seems to be studying his subject almost as though witnessing an alien. He is overwhelmed. He leaps from observation to observation. He is trying to understand something profoundly new. He uses images of new life--of flowers in spring--opening much like a child being born. Likewise, he sees himself changed. He sees the world anew. Finally, all he can do is marvel at this new life: "nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands" he concludes (20). Personally, I've always found this line somewhat troubling to have been included in a love poem. It is profoundly non-erotic, for one thing, while focusing passionately on a body part (my apologies to anyone who finds small hands sexy). Cummings could very well be marveling at a new life; these tiny hands could easily belong to a child.

There are moments in the poem that don't seem to completely support this interpretation. Much of Cummings' discussion of 'opening and closing' in the second and third stanzas would seem to belie uncertainty in terms of the emotional relationship. It is a little melodramatic to be parental love. Still, taken in conjunction with Cummings' opening--detailing a difficult path--perhaps this intense emotion is more Cummings' attempt to find a balance in this relationship--to not be distant, for example, but to also not be smothering.

Regardless, though I've loved this poem for several years, I've found that I never truly, completely, connected with it until I viewed it from the point of view of a parent.

1 comment:

jsandq said...

I don’t believe that the middle stanzas are overly dramatic. They express the wonder that a parent has of his/her newborn. The power that a newborn has on its parent(s) is profound; the wonder, as great. ‘This life I hold in my hand is part of me’, a parent may think. And, the joy imparted by the relationship is formed of a deep love that can open and close the parent. The poem is a perfect expression of such an experience.