Ms. Amna Shahid
Stylistics Analysis of E. E. Cumming’s Poem: ‘Love is More Thicker than Forget’
This paper tends to carry out a stylistics analysis of E. E. Cumming’s poem, ‘Love is more thicker than forget’; through a study of the following: lexical categories (general and specific), figures of speech, morphological patterns, syntactical structures, tropes, similes, and phonological sound patterns, etcetera. An extensive deconstruction of the above grammatical and stylistic devices used in the poem shall be carried out, to allow one to not only understand the literary implications and linguistic requisites of the text under analysis; but also to develop a background about the scientific study of language, and its role in the structural development of any literary text.
The term ‘stylistics’ is derived from the word ‘style’ which is finely defined by R. A. Lawal as “an aspect of language that deals with choices of diction, phrases, sentences and linguistic materials that are consistent and harmonious with the subject matter” (Batool: 52). He further added that, “it (style) may be reckoned in terms of the socio linguistic contexts and it may also be reckoned or analyzed on linguistic, semantic and even semiotic terms” (Batool: 52). Hence, in the light of Lawal’s description of ‘stylistics’, one might deduce that such an analysis of any literary text is pertinent to a clearer understanding of the respective piece of writing; as evident from the following analysis of Cumming’s poem, which exploits the given text at various literary and grammatical levels during its quest to unveil the poet’s representation of ‘love’.
- TITLE OF THE POEM
The title of any poetic or prosaic narrative not only marks the formal beginning of that text, but also conveys the main theme or idea behind that particular narration. In this case, the title of Cumming’s poem, ‘Love is Thicker Than Forget’, exemplifies the poet’s point of view about mortal love and about the human experience of falling in love—that is, falling in love being an intense experience which can neither be ignored nor forgotten like other human experiences. Hence, such description of love as ‘thicker than forget’ through the title, then conveys the uncontrolled or burdensome nature of love which makes it beyond human control to (or not to) fall in love and to overcome the tragedy of such experience.
- BIOGRAPHY OF E. E. CUMMINGS
Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Massachusetts on 0ctober, 14,1894. He started writing poetry as early as 1904 and had mastery at the Greek, Latin and English languages. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1915, and his master’s degree from the same institution a year later, he published his earlier poems in 1917 in an anthology entitled ‘Eight Harved Poets’. Shortly after that, Cummings left the United States for France where he voluntarily served as an ambulance driver to the World War I victims for five good months. Interestingly, amidst his rescue services Cummings was prisoned by the French authorities for making anti-war remarks.
After the war ended, Cummings subjected himself to a summerhouse living in New Hampshire, during which he severally visited Paris and Europe to meet other poets and artists as Pablo Picasso, whose work he greatly admired. Cummings was renowned as second widely read poet of the United States (the first being Robert Frost), at the time of his death in Sep, 03, 1962; owing to his considerable experimentation with the form and styles of writing, as well as for his incorporation of various appealing subjects as love, sex, violence, and World War within his poems.
- THEMES IN THE POEM
The primary theme underlying Cumming’s ‘Love is Thicker Than Forget’ is of love or of human experience of falling in love. The poet here not only exposes the true nature of love (as an emotion)—which remains beyond human faculties to overcome or ignore it—but also presents a biological assumption that despite its uncontrolled and unavoidable nature, love is as pertinent to human survival as the ‘sea’ or the ‘sky’ would be. Hence, the poemmainly talks about the paradoxical nature of love, which is at one time “most mad and moonly” (Cummings: 05) and at another “most sane and sunly” (Cummings: 13); while several other sub-themes also come to surface over time, including:
- Sanity and Insanity
- LOVE IS MORE THICKER THAN FORGET—A LYRICAL POEM
The above mentioned poem by Cummings runs through a fine lyrical structure—for its employment of various linguistic and literary devices—which implies a similarly rhythmic or varied nature of mortal love.
After a brief preview of the poet and his poem through the preceding discussion, this section aims to deconstruct ‘Love is more thickerthan forget’ through various levels of stylistic analysis—including lexical level, grammatical level, morphological level, phonological level and semantic level. All these levels shall be further divided into categories and sub-categories according to their linguistic and grammatical implications, in order to sort out the various purposes that they serve in the poem. The main outline for the following analysis is as follows:
- Lexical Categories General: Vocabulary, Language, Language Variations, Semantic Field
- Morphological Categories: Morphemes (Free, Bound, Lexical, Grammatical, Prefixes, Suffixes)
- Lexical Categories Specific: Nouns. Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives
- Grammatical Categories: Sentences (According to Function, According to Structure), Phrases (Noun, Verb, Prepositional)
- Figures of Speech: Metaphor, Personification, Overstatement, Understatement, Euphemism, Repetition
- Schemes and Phonological Sound Patterns: Anaphora, Antithesis, Climax, Anti-climax, Alliteration, Consonance, Rhyme
- Tropes: Deviation (Lexical, Grammatical, Graphological, Semantic), Cohesion
- Lexical Categories: General
Cummings uses general as well as simple vocabulary in his verse, while at times; he even makes use of complex vocabulary. The general vocabulary used in the poem includes—love, more, less, than, win, cannot, all—terms which might be easily understood by any common reader. Similarly, examples of simple vocabulary used in the same text include—forest, fail, mad, never, begin, die—words which are regularly used amidst literary and real world conversations. Such use of a regular vocabulary not only allows the poet to convey his stance on love without any complexity, but also facilitates the reader to understand it clearly. Cunnings’ also uses complex vocabulary including words as—seldom, lest, sunly, moonly—words which represent Cunnings’ ability to coin new words, as well as to communicate complex and sensitive notions (as love) in a plausible manner.
The language used in the poem is at times colloquial while at others informal and/or descriptive. Instances of colloquial language include words as ‘unbe’ (instead of not be), ‘moonly’ (instead of lunar), and ‘sunly’ (in place of pleasant). Such employment of colloquial and coined language not only brings newness and rhythm to the respective verses, but also enables the writer to describe ‘love’ in an unconventional manner.
- Language Variations:
Anyvariations of language and structurefound in the poem are both deliberate and effective to portray the versatility of ‘love’. For instance, the use of terms ‘to fail’ (instead of falling) and ‘moonly’ (instead of lunar) points both to Cunnings’ non-adherence to contemporary grammatical and structural patterns of poetic narration; and to his inclination to employ such newly crafted words for rhythm and lyricism. Moreover, the inaccurate vocabulary and diction suggest an informal register, which further points to the use of slang terms—as ‘sunly’ and ‘moonly’—within the poetic verses in question.
- Semantic Field:
Though the poem addresses a very serious subject—that is, the human experience of falling in love—which, according to the poet is at times pleasant while at others almost insane, but never avoidable: yet, the tone here is unstressed (and at times even humorous), probably due to the use of such slang and coined expressions, which communicate the complexity of love in a lighter and unfelt manner.
Words as ‘love’, ‘moonly’, ‘wave’, ‘sea’, ‘sky’ show that the semantic field is most likely to be Love or Permanence of Love.
- Morphological Categories
Morphology refers to the use of words in such a manner that they may either stand alone to represent their inferred meanings (free morphemes), or might connect with other words to offer a meaningful representation of their main theme (bound morphemes). There is an extensive employment of free morphemes in the poem, including terms as love, wave, wet, sane, die, sky, etcetera; While, the lexical morphemes used here may be further divided into sub-categories as Nouns (love, wave, sea, sky), Verbs (fail, win, begin, die), Adjectives (mad, sane), and Adverbs (least, most). Likewise, the functional or grammatical morphemes incorporated here may be further divided into Prepositions (to, it), Conjunctions (than, and), Articles (a, the), Demonstratives (than), Auxilary Verbs (is), and Pronouns (which, it). These morphemes not only allow grammatical order to the verses but also interconnect the various clauses and phrases together.
Further, the bound or dependent morphemes imply such terms which are only meaningful whenadded to another word or phrase. These may be divided into prefixes (words which are added at the start of another word) and suffixes (words which are added at the end of another word). The prefixes used in the poem include ‘re’ (which is added to ‘call’ to become ‘recall’), and ‘un’ (which is added to ‘be’ to become ‘unbe’); while, the suffixes used here include ‘er’ (which is added to ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ to become ‘thicker’ and ‘thinner’, respectively), and ‘ly’ (which is added to ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ to become ‘sunly’ and ‘moonly’, respectively). These prefixes and suffixes when added to other words, not only bring a change in the overall meaning of the original word, but also allow their employer to define love with a greater clarity and emphasis.
Examining the derivation that takes place in the poem after the addition of such affixes and suffixes to existing morphemes—where words as thick, thin, call, moon, sun, little, high are transformed into words as thicker, thinner, recall, moonly, sunly, littler, highly—one realizes that these prefixes and suffixes allow Cunnings’ to offer an enhanced portrayal of love (which is not simply thin but thinner as it is not just thick but thicker.
- Lexical Categories: Specific
The lexical category may be further divided into nouns, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, and adjectives. The nouns used hereby include concrete nouns (wave, sea, sky), abstract nouns (love, recall, or memory), and pronouns (it, which). The adjectives used include ‘thicker’ (love ismore thicker…) and ‘wet’ (…than a wave is wet). All these nouns, pronouns, and adjectives allow Cunnings to portray love (which is originally an abstract notion), as a concrete object which is deeper than the sea, higher than the sky and thicker than memory.
Likewise, verbs as –to fail, to win—point to the literal experience of falling in love and to consequent success or failure in the attempt. The adverbs used in the poem—always, never, seldom, most, less, more—further enhance the mortal love experience by suggesting various degrees to which one might succeed or fail in love. Similarly,theconjunctions used by Cunnings’ (and, than) portray the diversity of love by practically associating it with several extremes as: ‘love is less always than to win’ and ‘less never than alive’ (Cunnings’: 9-10).
- Grammatical Categories
Observing the grammatical structuring of the poem, one might deduce that apparently there are no formal sentence constructions in the text—due to no use of commas (,), full stops (.)—and yet each verse stands independently as a complete unit. For instance, despite its brevity and a non-adherence to punctuation marks, the opening verse of the concerned poem finely reports the ‘permanence of love’; as it says: “love is more thicker than forget/ more thinner than recall/ more seldom than a wave is wet/ more frequent than to fail” (Cunnings: 1-4). Here, each of the verses in the first stanza starts without a capital letter, just as it ends without any punctuation mark.
Likewise, the remaining verses of the following stanzas also offer a meaningful representation (of love), though without any formal syntactical structure. Hence, the sentences in the poem are then assertive, as they do imply the intended theme (of love), thereby fulfilling their functional responsibility. However, these sentences are not structurally profound, since they do not follow the traditional sentence-formation patterns. The phrases used in poem include noun phrases (which mostly modify love) like: “love is more thicker, it is most mad, love is less always, it is most sane”. (Cunnings: 1,5,9,13)
- Figures of Speech
The various figures of speech used in ‘Love is more thicker then forget’include personification, repetition, anti-thesis, over-statement, understatement, and euphemism. Personification or the attribution of humanly qualities to non-living things, allows the poet to present love as ‘mad’ and ‘sane’, and/or as a tangible object than a mere abstraction. The anti-thesis and understatement as well as overstatement, go hand in hand to portray the ironical and paradoxical nature of love, which is ‘more seldom than a wave is wet’, and ‘less bigger than the least begin’; just as ‘less it shall unbe than all the sea’ and ‘more it cannot die than all the sky’ (Cunnings: 1, 11, 6, 7, 14, 15). Here, ‘more seldom’ represents rareness while a comparison to ‘a wave is wet’ represents the frequency of love—hence, both scarcity and abundance in love brought to attention through contrasting metaphors.
Similarly, the phrase ‘and less it shall unbe/ than all the sea’ (Cunnings: 6-7) shows the overstatement of love by the poet, who values an otherwise vague emotion as equally deep as a sea. Instances of understatement of love might be found in verses as ‘love is less always than to win’ (Cummings: 9), where the poet undermines love as complete failure or as a struggle which is never fully successful. The use of metaphorshereis also worth mentioning, as it considerably helps the poet to paint for his readers an imaginary picture of love. For instance, the comparison of love to the sun, moon, sea and sky provides a vivid representation of the multi-dimensionality of love. Likewise, the use of repetition or the recurrent usage of certain words and phrases—as ‘more thinner than, more thicker than, more seldom than, less bigger than, and less littler than’enables the poet to both create a rhythm (between verses) as well as to stress upon the complex nature of love:
- Schemes and Phonological Sound Patterns
While analyzing the scheme and phonology of Cunning’s poem, one finds a number of instances where through the use ofanaphora, uniform expressionsare recurrently placed at the beginnings, middle and endings of various verses—in order to generate rhythm as well as to stress the relative quality of ‘love’; terms as ‘love, less, and more’ are fine examples in this regard. Apart from anaphora, the poet also makes use of anti-thesis, to convey the opposing tendencies of a love experience. For instance, the use of completely opposite expressions as ‘most sane and sunly’ and ‘most mad and moonly’ shows the poet’s inclination to offer completely opposite description of love through the narrow alleys of his text. The climaxes and anti-climaxes used by Cunnings also indicate the uncertain or paradoxical nature of love (as an emotion), which can be ‘more…than all the sky’ and ‘less than… the sea’ at the same time.
Moving on, the phonological sound patterns in the text highlight the use of devices as alliteration, consonance, and rhyming scheme which add to the musicality and lyricism of the poem. For instance, the production of vowel sound ‘o’ in ‘only’ and ‘sunly’, and ‘th’ sound in ‘thicker’ and ‘thinner’ enhances the auditory quality of the poem, as well as its rhyming scheme.
There are several kinds of deviations working in Cunnings’ poem, including lexical deviation (for instance) whereby slang or coined words (as unbe, littler, and moonly) are used instead of grammatically correct alternate expressions (as not be, very little and lunatic). Similarly, the grammatical deviation is also evident in the poem, which allows the use of phrases as ‘love is less always’ (instead of ‘love is always less’), and ‘less never than’ (instead of ‘never less than’)—phrases which might be incorrect with respect to their form and structure, but nevertheless effective to convey their implied meanings. Likewise,graphological deviation—or deviation in the sentence structure—is also functional throughout the poem, allowing Cunnings to construct his verses in a free flowing manner and without any breaks or gaps (otherwise resulting from the use of punctuations or capital letters).
Similarly, the use of semantic deviation allows the poet to convey multiple meanings and interpretations for each of the metaphors he uses, rather than literally sticking to the literal and denotative interpretations of these symbols (and of the whole text at large). For instance, verses as ‘it (love) is most sane and sunly/ and more it cannot die’ (Cunnings: 13-14), present multiple interpretations to the targeted audience: as ‘sane and sunly’ might symbolize the liveliness of love (as an emotion), and/or even death of impulsive emotion due to too much rationality or sanity.
With respect to its cohesive nature, Cunnings’ ‘love is more thicker than forget’ offers a balanced structure, where all the verses gel together to offer a vivid picture of mortal love; without minding the fact that each stanza here reports an unprecedented exemplification of love; which might have otherwise lead to a complicated scenario (owing to the paradoxical presentation of love by Cunnings)– had not the poet been wise enough to immerse these diversities within the ominous rhythmic structures of his narrative.
- SUMMARIZED ANALYSIS
General vocabulary: Love, less, more, than, win, cannot, all
Simple vocabulary: Forest, fail, mad, less, never, begin, die
Complex vocabulary: Seldom, frequent, sane, lest, sunly, moonly
- Colloquial language:
Words: Unbe (not be)
Phrases: most mad and moonly, most sane and sunly, less littler than forgive
- Informal Language: Love is more thicker than forget/ More thinner than recall
- Descriptive Language: It is most sane and sunly. It is most mad and moonly
- Language Variations
- Register: Register is formal.
- Slang: Newly crafted words used to create rhyming slang—Mad and moonly rhymes with sane and sunly
- Semantic Field:
Love or the Permanence of Love
- Free Morphemes: Love, wave, wet, sane, die, sky
- Lexical Morphemes:
Nouns: love, wave, sea, sky
Verbs: fail, win, begin, die
Adjectives: mad, sane
Adverbs: least, most
- Functional or Grammatical Morphemes:
Prepositions: to, it
Conjunctions: than, and
Articles: a, the
Auxiliary Verbs: is
- Bound or Dependent Morphemes: Thicker, thinner, recall, moonly, deeper, alive, bigger, littler, sunly, higher
- Affixes (according to their position in the word)
Prefixes: recall, unbe, alive, always
Suffixes: thicker, thinner, moonly, deeper, bigger, littler, sunly, higher
- Affixes (according to their function in phrase or sentence)
Derivational Affixes (changing words): call → recall, thick → thicker, thin → thinner,
Derivational Affixes (changing parts of speech): Call (N) → recall (V), live (V) → alive (Adj.)
Inflexional Affixes: (comparative marker ‘er’): Thick → thicker, Thin → thinner
- Derivation: Forming new word out of an existing morpheme by changing its lexical category: Thicker (er), Thinner (er), Recall (re), Moonly (ly), Sunly (ly), Littler(r), Higher (er)
Concrete Nouns: wave, sea, sky
Abstract Nouns: love, recall
- Pronoun (personal): it
Pronoun (relative): which
- Adjectives: Love is more thicker than forgot, More seldom than a wave is wet
- Verbs: More frequent than to fail/ Love is less always than to win
- Adverbs: Always, never, seldom, most, less, more
- Conjunctions: And, than
- Kinds of Sentences:
According to Function—Assertive Sentences (asserting love)
“it is most mad and moonly”
“it is most sane and sunly”
According to Structure—(Subject, Verb, Object)
“it is most mad and moonly”
“it is most sane and sunly”
- Noun phrases: love is more thicker, it is most mad, love is less always
FIGURES OF SPEECH
‘it is most mad and moonly”
“it is most sane and sunly”
“more seldom than a wave is wet”
“less bigger than the lest begin”
“and less it shall unbe/ than all the sea”
‘and more it cannot die/ than all the sky”
“it is most mad and moonly”
“it is most sane and sunly/ and more it cannot die”
“more thinner than, more seldom than, more frequent than” (more)
“less never than, less bigger then, less littler than” (less)
SCHEMES AND PHONOLOGICAL SOUND PATTERNS
Love is less, less always than, less never than, less bigger than, less littler than
It is most sane and sunly/ it is most mad and moonly
- Climax/ Anti-climax
And more it cannot die/ than all the sky
Moonly, only, sunly
Moonly, sunly, unbe, littler
- Grammatical Deviation:
Less never than alive, less littler than forgive
- Graphological Deviation:
No capital letters, no use of punctuations, jumbled up expressions
- Semantic Deviation:
It (love) is most sane and sunly/ and more it cannot die
Lexical cohesion achieved through repetition.
- 9. SCOPE
The above analysis of Cummings’ poem in question is conducted through an analysis of following stylistic devices: vocabulary, morphology, semantics, lexicon, figures of speech, sentence structures, repetition, phonology, deviation, alliteration, rhyme, cohesion, and etcetera. Such an extensive analysis of the various stylistic devices used in the poem, is likely to probe a further deconstruction of the text-in-question and to serve as a sample for other researchers.
The existing analysis has tried its best to signify the various stylistic devices used in Cummings’ poem ‘Love is more thicker than forget’, and through these devices has tried to offer the closest possible interpretation of the concerned text. Still, owing to the inherently open-ended nature of poetry there might be certain other meanings (of the poem under observation); which the existing analysis might have overlooked, and which might be identified and addressed by later researchers in their respective stylistic analyses of the same poem.
- WORK CITATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAHY
Simpson, Paul. “Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students”. Taylor and Francis Group, Rotledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London. EC4P4EE. 2004. ISBN: 0-203-49658-2
- Batool, Sumera. “Stylistics Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem: The Road Not Taken”. Department of English, University of Lahore, Sargodha Campus, Pakistan. Journal of ELT and Applied Linguistics (JELTAL). Vol. 2, Issue 2-4. Dec. 2014. ISSN: 2347-6575
- Cummings, E. E. “Love is More Thicker than Forget”. Poetry Foundation. Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute. 05/01/017
- APPENDIX: LOVE IS MORE THICKER THAN FORGET
Love is more thicker than forget
By E. E. Cummings
love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
(Cummings: Poetry Foundation)