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