For several years one of e. e. cummings’ selections of his poems had sat calmly on my bookshelf, unread and almost forgotten, but, unbeknownst to me, waiting patiently for life to prepare me sufficiently to grasp its content.
All the while I’d known nothing of cummings’ work save a few quirky, cheekily risqué pieces to which I’d been pointed over time, and had rashly assumed that they were what it was all about — so when, in a mood for some impish light-heartedness, I stuffed that slim volume into my pocket and dived into the first few stanzas on an empty eastward Saturday evening Tube, the strength of the undercurrent pulled me completely off course.
Two pieces in particular left me stunned into silent contemplation — who knows if the moon’s a balloon, conjuring in my mind Chagall’s eery, idealised yet somehow troubled world of airborne lovers (particularly Promenade and Lovers in the Red Sky); and Humanity i love you: a sly sucker-punch, an indulgent sigh of gentle resignation tailing finally to a hoarse rattle of anger and despair.
Here is an elegant and innocent beauty, a playful naïveté shot through with a mournful, quietly desolate seam of profound and mature comprehension, the understated expression compounding the contrast’s potency. An unexpectedly powerful discovery, for me, of an unheralded eloquence and grace.