Friday, January 22, 2010

A mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped inside a poet who didn't like punctuation (Friday's Sunday's Poem 41)

I was going to post more stuff by Renee Mangunay, who wrote the excellent poem Paradox, but then I got into a discussion with a secretary here at the office. It went like this:

I had to stop up by her and help her edit into a seminar article some information I'd supplied another lawyer. I suggested that one part of what I'd added be all in parentheses, as I really like to put stuff into parentheses. (Seriously, I do.) (Try it some time.) (It's really fun.)(And it never gets old.)

Putting my blurb into parentheses posed a problem, as my blurb already had things in parentheses in it -- parenthetical expressions put there by the people I was quoting from. So I suggested that my blurb begin with brackets: [Like this (which is what you're supposed to do when you have parenthetical expressions inside other parenthetical expressions) I explained.]

She then said that it was perfectly acceptable to have "double parens," which went against everything I've learned about grammar, and I was about to say so when I realized that "everything I know about grammar" really amounts to nothing more than "a bunch of rules I assume I learned in school but which might as well be made up, for all I know, given that I never really paid attention in school and given that I've often times throughout my life shown a complete disregard for, if not utter contempt of, the rules of grammar (especially parentheses and semicolons.)"

So I instead said "Well, if you think double parens are okay, go with it." Then I said: "That's kind of fun, saying double parens. Although when you shorten it to parens, you're walking on the legacy of the great poet/punctuation nihilist e e cummings."

Secretary then asked me why that was and I explained that e e cummings had written the poem "since feeling is first," which includes the line "and death i think is no parenthesis." I went on to note that e e cummings is one of my favorite poets of all time and that I liked the line about death and parenthesis.

Secretary then said that there was a cummings poem that she liked which included the line where are the girls whose breasts begin, and asked if I knew that one. I didn't, but I looked it up for her today, and I found that:

(a) There is such a poem, making my searching for "e e cummings breast" a legitimate thing to do, Sweetie, and
(b) It's not clear what the poem is called, and
(c) It's not clear that what I think is the whole poem is the whole poem.
(d) The poem is very neat; it's a dialogue between two people and read that way is fascinating.

I found the poem, or what I think is the whole poem, in this article, and I can't find it anywhere else, or even what it's called, and I confess to not having read even a small portion of the article, because I'm not a scholar, not like that. I'm the kind of scholar who googles things and then puts them on his blog and acts like he knows stuff about them.

Anyway, here's the poem, and the mystery/riddle of the title is whether this is the whole poem, and what it's called. e e cummings, when you read this, let me know the answer to those questions:


[? untitled]
e e cummings

“think of it: not so long ago
this was a village”

“yes;i know”

“of human beings who prayed and sang:
or am i wrong?”

“no,you‟re not wrong”

“and worked like hell six days out of seven”

“to die as they lived:in the hope of heaven”

“didn‟t two roads meet here?”

“they did;
and over yonder a schoolhouse stood”

“do i remember a girl with blue-
sky eyes and sun-yellow hair?”

“do you?”


“that‟s very odd,
for i‟ve never forgotten one frecklefaced lad”

“what could have happened to her and him?”

“maybe they waked and called it a dream”

“in this dream were there green and gold

“through which a lazy brook strolled”

“wonder if clover still smells that way;
up in the mow”

“full of newmown hay”

“and the shadows and sounds and silences”

“yes,a barn could be a magical place”

“nothing‟s the same:is it”

“something still
remains,my friend;and always will”


“if any woman knows,
one man in a million ought to guess”

“what of the dreams that never die?”

“turn to your left at the end of the sky”

“where are the girls whose breasts begin?”

“under the boys who fish with a pin"

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