Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"nobody loses all the time"

i had an uncle named
Sol who was a born failure and
nearly everybody said he should have gone
into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle

Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
of all to use a highfalootin phrase
luxuries that is or to
wit farming and be
it needlessly

my Uncle Sol's farm
failed because the chickens
ate the vegetables so
my Uncle Sol had a
chicken farm till the
skunks ate the chickens when

my Uncle Sol
had a skunk farm but
the skunks caught cold and
died and so
my Uncle Sol imitated the
skunks in a subtle manner

or by drowning himself in the watertank
but somebody who'd given my Uncle Sol a Victor
Victrola and records while he lived presented to
him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
scrumptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and

i remember we all cried like the Missouri
when my Uncle Sol's coffin lurched because
somebody pressed a button
(and down went
my uncle

and started a worm farm)

by e.e.cummings

Try reading this aloud so that you can appreciate it properly, and just see how it sounds when you try it in a southern American accent! (Which I do, badly!)

How often do you get a poem that works like a joke complete with a punchline? What fun! Yet really - isn't this a tragic story about despair and suicide?

The story is about poor old Uncle Sol, who failed in every venture he tried, but the speaker emerges just as clearly as her subject. (I said "her" - why do I see a woman?)

The almost total lack of punctuation gives the impression of a speaker who is just not pausing for breath. Where you'd expect a full stop or a pause the speaker uses expressions like "which / may or may not account for the fact that", "be/ it needlessly/ added" - no-one else is given the room to elbow in on this discussion!

It's a tremendous, almost childish enthusiam that keeps this speaker going. I love the throwing in of little asides that have nothing to do with the main drift of the story (about the song, the record player) as the speaker gets diverted by particular memories, or apologises for a "high falootin phrase".

The line "the auspicious occasion of his decease" is amusing - when do we ever call a death an auspicious occasion? And the words "scrumptious" and "splendiferous" aren't exactly the ones we'd expect to describe a funeral.

I love poems that tell a story, and poems where you can hear the speaker's voice - I guess that comes from being a great fan of short fiction - so I find this poem very satisfying. I tried using a similar voice for a short story.

Picture is Cumming's Self-Portrait with Sketch Pad.

Labels: ,


Blogger ufukhati said...

I still have one poem by Cummings entitled MY LOVE. The first stanza of the poem reads :
my love
thy hair is one kingdom
the king whereof is darkness
thy forehead is a flight of
I think that's enough.

Your site is nice.

12:23 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

thanks a lot ufukhati, and i hope you'll be a frequent visitor

there's so much cummings i really love, it was hard to choose just one ...

the poem you quote is beautiful ... it's a bit like rumi and the sufi poets, isn't it ... i just googled those lines and came across the suggestion that it might be modelled on the song of solomon which appears in the old testament of the bible

3:36 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Hi Sharon, nice to see you have added some “fun” into this week with this so humorous piece from cummings, after all the gloom of loneliness and war of the past pieces.

You’ll have to excuse the way I tend to look into poems, but I really cannot help that, especially with this piece, when cummings leave all these bright (or dark, depending on how you see it) signs in there:

ee cummings liked to compose his poems as shapes sometimes. We can see some of this in the second and penultimate stanzas. They have a distinctive inverted pyramid form, most evocative of a big drill. The earlier stanza looks to presage Uncle Sol’s precipitate entry into the earth. “wit farming and be/it needlessly/added” seem to imply how Uncle Sol is, at the end, inadvertently “added” into the ground as food for starting a worm farm – and a successful one at that, it looks to be, thus the title’s implication.

I also find repetitions of “Sol” all over the poem, and their part or half rhymings with “so” in some lines (“ate the vegetables so/my Uncle Sol had a”; “died and so/my Uncle Sol imitated the”). They bring to mind – my mind, at least - how the worms “ate” Uncle Sol in the ground, and how he “died”.

cummings also tended to prefer not using capitalizing for words that require it, such as “I”, or at start of sentences, nor using punctuations, preferring to give readers surprises when he enjambs, particularly at short lines and ones that cut between stanzas, like at the end of stanza 1. Look at also how he highlights his enjambment further by alliterating in “my Uncle Sol's farm/failed …” and “but somebody who'd given my Uncle Sol a Victor/Victrola …”

Against cummings’s no-caps propensity, that long line going “sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which” is piled on high with caps. It takes your breath away reading it without pause. For me, “Hell” here tells how luckless is Uncle Sol to be left rotting and eaten in the ground, like where his soul – “Sol” repeating, and rhyming with “so” - is in Hell.

The way the story line goes, with first the farm failing when the vegs got eaten by the chickens, and in turn they got eaten by skunks, and these caught cold, and, last, Uncle Sol probably got cold as well drowning in the watertank : these actions have a falling motion, a direction of going down, of sinking even. Uncle Sol certainly “imitated” this when he fell into the ground.

4:07 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger ufukhati said...

Certainly. I will visit again.

I just want to make a correction that "I think that's enough" is purely mine and no connection to Cumming's poem. (Ref to my previous comment}.
Thank You.

6:09 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Definitely something 'lighter' this week. I really like the 'local' colloquial voice of the tone, as it rambles along with the tale of poor Uncle Sol. I didn't notice the puns 'so' and 'sol' which keeps the narrative going, which seems to me to have the style of a local 'folk' story teller.

I agree with the tapering shape of two of the poems' stanzas, which imitates not only a fall into failure, but also the fall of Uncle Sol's coffin at the end. However, that is lightened up by the humour at the end of at least being successful at having a worm farm going. The use of parenthesis acts like a kind of footnote that seeks to find something good to at least smile about even in the worst of circumstances (Is this in anyway related to wry Brit humour?)

6:25 PM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

I like the way that the speaker seems to take a deep breath before launching into a flood of words in each stanza.

Heh, I keep hearing an old friend's voice when I read this poem -- it certainly sounds just like the way he talks. But he comes from Stratford-on-Avon ... Shakespeare country. So I can't really try it in a southern American accent!

And the way the poem's shape rises and falls, it's almost as if you can hear the speaker's tone rising and falling as she tells her story.

12:04 PM, May 25, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home