Personal Evaluation:

The poem “since feeling is first” is one of E. E. Cummings’ most anthologized. The situation described is a male poet speaking to his lover, comforting her after she feels that her being guided by her emotions and intuition is inferior to her lover’s wisdom and intellect.

The subject is a contrast between masculine thought and feminine emotion. The speaker attempts to explain his reverence and respect for his lover’s intuition. Ironically, this is expressed through the same poetic logic and reason that he downplays. While the woman is awed by his words, his finest work is nothing compared to her simple gestures of love. Though a poet may describe life, a kiss is life. As goes the old saying: “You’ll know what love is when you’re in it.” Cummings’s prose throws conventional English grammar to the dogs. It seems at first haphazard and random, but after close scrutiny, it serves the rhythm of emotion and the meter of thought.

I selected this poem because it had reminded me of a part of my relationship with my own love, Teresa. She vividly expresses her own emotions, whether joy or sadness, excitement or fear. I find this one of her most beautiful traits; and she can often see the simple beauty in something I would miss due to my attempts to give it structure. In stark contrast to her, my decisions are made according to logic and careful thought. Sometimes she even thinks me boring. Even so, she feels that her unstable emotional nature is a flaw next to my reasoning. I’ve wanted to show her my acceptance and respect for her emotional thinking, but have not been able to. I look forward to reading this poem to her and offering my interpretation of it.

This piece, one of Cummings' best remembered, remains a somewhat defining highlight of much of the newness of his work. It is a highlight, however, largely on account of its referencing of "syntax", which could be understood as alluding to the "mystery" of the grammatical choices that Cummings was known to make. Indeed, what Cummings has to say here certainly works as something of an explanatory metaphor for his frequent strayings from grammatical norms. There is something to be learned here about Cummings, even if it does take the associations inherent to the word "syntax" to jump-start the analytical minds of those who still did not "get it", who still had questions as to why there is a space here and a hyphen there.

To say that to adhere to the "syntax of things" would make kissing impossible is to attack structuralism, voicing the poet's frustration with a world that insists on the early castration of all things spiritual by the cynical, point-by-point assessment of all that which is desired or enjoyed. Can a kiss be defined, can it be choreographed? Would not any attempt at all to systematize something like a kiss be effectively impossible? What about "wisdom"? Must not one keep one's guard at all times? Cummings iterates the suspicion that to immediately seek to understand is to preclude to feel. It is the nefarious and lasting itch that is the human capacity and appetite for reason that clouds human "instinct" and "purity", that is, human humanity.

The "paragraph" and the "parenthesis" at the end make clear and certain reference to the falsification that is the stubborn human propensity for systematization. Do not be choked by this fear and need, this needless addiction to the discipline of form, but rather escape into my arms. Our lives are not paragraphs, they are not pieces of some greater work, they are not humbly connected and at the mercy of a world which imbues them with this meaning or that, this value or that, no, they do not need the rules of grammar in order to exist. One need not confirm one's existence by contrived signs and structures when confirmation is her(/his) "eyelids' flutter". The languages that confirmed can now be abandoned that I have simpler confirmation. I am more free, no longer a slave to reason whereever I go and whatever I do, only a slave to the eyelids, which grant me a far greater freedom; or perhaps, more accurately, a far better enslavement.

That death is no parenthesis, this could imply that death is more neatly integrated into the whole. Or perhaps it is not a part at all. But it is certain that death is nothing lingering and ever-present, not something that cloaks itself insidiously in the shadows of parenthesis. Death cannot be something that exists necessarily in a book of rules and laws if this book of rules and laws necessarily does not exist.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

This is magnificent advice. The really shameful part is that as soon as any scholar gets ahold of this gem, he or she immediately sets to analyzing the syntax. The thing is, there’s nothing to dig for in this poem. It’s all right there on top. Once could certainly roll up a pair of sleeves and set to work trying find some hidden meaning, but such an endeavor would uncover no further epiphanies and would be horribly inefficient.

This work of art is telling people what life’s all about. It was meant for people, not scholars, unless those scholars deigned to also be people and operate at the human level. Cubism really turned Cummings on, as many of his visual artworks and a lot of his typographical antics show, and the crux of Cubism wasn’t to riddle a painting with imagery and symbolism, but to simply tell the story. Poetically, this meant dumping the innuendos and double entendres in favor of plain language and beautiful truth.

Unfortunately, while modern society is willing to agree that this is beautiful poetry with a very excellent story to tell, it refuses to take the damned advice. Who needs common sense, after all? The whole world is much too busily engaged in suicide to listen to any of its great thinkers, for this is not a new idea. The Greeks, at least, had this idea when they envisioned Hell in one of its incarnations as a ceaseless, meaningless toil that must endlessly be repeated. That boulder must mount that hill, but damned if it won’t stay put!

Society has essentially recreated Tartarus here on earth. All of those eschaton scares that spring up from time to time are moot: it’s already here! This is Hell on earth! Of course, the rock is eventually going to crush this deviant—-the world-—and then the jig will be up, but until then, everyone must struggle. It’s been built that way. If any significant portion of the population began to accept Cummings’ advice, the whole culture would collapse. That would be the glorious end of the end of the world.

Looking at the poem more personally, it becomes obviouss that its tru subject matter is love. Really, what else is there? Nearly everything this backwards society values is an impediment to love. In the United States in particular, the gross emphasis education receives is ill apportioned precisely because the system doesn't work, and nobody cares. What’s this, they say, a problem? Throw some money at it; see if it goes away. It didn’t? Throw some more money at it. Then there’s the family. All of these politicians valuing the family with family values when the institution of the family in America has become an international joke. Even that word, institution, when applied to the other word, family, is the mark of a doomed culture going nowhere. Then there’s marriage, another institution. There’s also pride, equality, freedom, and the American way. What does any of that add up to compared to love?

Ergo, let go, even if just for a little while. I don’t mean to suggest that you commit social suicide or join a cult or do anything that doesn’t feel quite wholesome to you, but only, make sure that it’s you you’re really concerned about and are listening to. Don’t let clutter bar your way to what’s important, instead, try to utilize what once was clutter and benefit from it. Work the system,

for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis.


Further reading: anyone lived in a pretty how town The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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