i am a little church(no great cathedral) I is spelled small cap to signify himself as diminutive
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities splendor and SQUALOR hear the sound of the screaming
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest, plays with the sound of briefest as a word this is rule fracturing
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april…….more s sounds like wind and spring to come hopeful
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower; repeating life cycle repeating his theme
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving…. environmentalist
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children…Taotist theme yin/yang he is yin female energy with dark
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness the dynamism of the universe at one with others
around me surges a miracle of unceasing… he breaks here for emphasis
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols the yang of sun and fire and fire tongues above Disciples heads
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains…Chinese symbol
i am a little church(far from the frantic……this humble building is not a skyscraper, it is not commercial
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature rapture not the religious kind
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest; I am not afraid of death
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to… Christ lifting the bread of his body to Heaven and the cycle of life
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:… Refers to Christ
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)… Death and not afraid
Words he repeats: Death Cycle Spring Church I My
I am a little Church- he puts church small letters as he does himself – Not a Worldwide Body of Christians, Not a Formal Congregation, I think he means I am a community- I am a wooden clapboard box that welcomes and brings people together not only to worship but to share love.
Prosaic style is straightforward. Rhythm flows in repeating sounds and words. Not deep erudite symbols that are vague the symbols are from the Seasons, the Cycle of Life- birth life death, Christ, and the little building itself
What we know about Cummings:
Father taught at Harvard and was a Unitarian Minister. Mother an important socialite. He studied the classics and attended Harvard. He knew other great poets of his time. Cummings dressed weird and anti-social in his early years (not like wearing a wire haired cave man jacket but wanted to look artistic). He drove an ambulance in France in WWI. There he saw many wounded bloody and gruesome things, but was not affected in the same way as other writers/poets and artists of his time who also experienced the rages of war. He was in a concentration camp in France. Cummings throws aside despair and moves on to create change. He stays in Paris and enjoys all those French women in the Dance Halls. He returns to America and is not accepted as an intellectual poet. He makes his living as a painter. This is important as he is a visual speaker – I mean by that - he has a movie in his mind’s eye and the poem opens it for you.
He was interested in Taoist theory and Chinese painting ( think calligraphy and how the artist must control the brush to make one perfect watercolor brushstroke or the painting is ruined- the Master has practiced painting the same tree a thousand times so it is abbreviated to the most simple form with grace). See picture … Cummings said he should have "lived in China where a poet is also a painter."
The poem is written about a real life experience after VE Day (when WWII was just announced to be over…) He and his wife are in rural New Hampshire driving and he sees this church lit up like Christmas. He stops the car and gets out to experience a spiritual event under the trees watching the people of the small town ( population 1500) all sharing community- being one together. Although some may read the poem as Religious in an organized way, I don’t read it so…There is Biblical clear reference to Christ’s life but the little “i” he is talking about is yes God’s unending love but to me the idea of love for community, love for family, love for this earth, passionate love and love of life.
Cummings the poet knew. “Every sound has its own peculiar silence,” he said, and to his mother once declared: “i am a small-i poet but not necessarily a small-i person.”
Structurally in his poetry he tried new things- purposeful bad punctuation, using all lower case… See in the poem he does not capitalize I – rather he uses the small “i”; however he does use Him to refer to God/Christ. This avant garde use of structure is not because the is a country bumpkin- it is a tool to get to the reader. He makes poetry “look easy” –this is a terribly impossible thing to accomplish without inherent practice and natural talent. How does the Olympic gymnast make a triple back handspring appear easy?- The must have genetics, and unending practice. His writing structure is like that-easy but labored upon to seem accessible. He wants you to think “natural”.
Read the poem aloud, have Boo read it aloud slowly. Cummings wants each individual reader to not pick apart the allusions but enjoy the personal to each soul. When Boo reads it – you will hear something different. The poem builds inside the reader’s heart.
Your teacher may want you to annotate and pick apart the poem and I will show this below. I think you give the picky-uni –Freudian-conventional analysis to the teacher and also say: this is not how you read Cummings.
Cummings was never a church-going man. He is deeply spiritual but more in a naturalist –seeing God in the “reaping and sowing(er)” of the seasons. He speaks about this cycle of life in the poem. Days grow shorter and dark nights longer (just as now in your life it is Fall in Atlanta and the cool sets in your daily rhythm and we look forward to spring and sunshine ). Cummings does use some signs in the poem though this is NOT his usual trick of language. The secret code he uses is about himself.
Was Cummings a granola cruncher before his time? Yes. He is a Beat Poet 20 years before them. He is anti-Big society, anti- massive Churches and anti-mass society. If Cummings were alive today would he be an Environmental Ethics / Social Environmentalist / Monkey Wrench Gang/ Earth First protester? Maybe he would paint about the ordinary beauty being destroyed?
|Church painting by Roz|
His paintings are not in my humble opinion “great” but help you understand what he was saying in words- being somewhat abstract but representational.
This is called “Poet on a Mountaintop” by Chen Zhou. Imagine the little house in the lower right is a church. This painter is also a wonderful poet.
This is the actual Church in New Hampshire that he experienced. It looks more cheerful and strong in the photo but look at the side windows it is really tiny- about 500 square feet
OK so how did you read his poem?