Stylistical Analysis of “I Will Be” by E.E. Cummings, Jari Ullah

Stylistical Analysis of “I Will Be” by E.E. Cummings

By: Jari Ullah

M.Phil

Punjab University

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Abstract

The paper will present a stylistical analysis of E E Cummings poem “I Will Be”. The analysis will be based on five levels lexical categories general, lexical categories specific, grammatical categories, figures of speech, schemes and phonological sound patterns (grammatical and lexical schemes, Deviation). The purpose of the paper is to explore how Cummings employs meanings through the systematic use of language and words and how the word choice affects the reader in terms of conveyance of meaning.

Biography of the Poet

            Edward Estlin “E. E.” Cummings (Oct 14, 1894 – Sep 3, 1962), often styled as “e e cummings” (as lower case letters in his poems) was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He wrote approximately 2,900 poems; two autobiographical novels; four plays and several essays. Cummings wrote poems and also drew as a child, that’s why most of his poetry is a canvas full of modern painting form and structure. He wrote poetry, rather painted it in unconventional pattern, his “attempts to articulate visual thinking and bring into poetry the aesthetic values of the painters.”(Kidder). Richard S. Kennedy says, “writing and self were never very far apart for E E Cummings” and Norman Friedman said, there are “varieties and methods in his masterpieces”. He graduated from Harvard University in 1915 and then received an advanced degree from Harvard in 1916. He wrote poetry daily aged 8 to 22, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard and developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. His collection Tulips and Chimneys came in 1923 and his inventive use of grammar and syntax is evident. The book was heavily cut by his editor. XLI Poems, was then published in 1925. With these collections Cummings made his reputation as an avant garde poet.

I Will Be is one of Cummings’s love poems which encapsulate themes of nature, childhood and time also in it. Its main theme of love for the beloved and for the nature dominates most. The poem is very short; it merely consists of two sentences constructed in a very complex structure, form and style. This poem is an example of his unconventional use of eccentric language which demonstrates the significance and value of poetry interpretation and exploration.

Poem “I Will Be

i will be
M o ving in the Street of her

bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe the traffic of
lovely;muscles-sinke x p i r i n    g S
uddeni
Y         totouch
the curvedship of
Her-
….kiss      her:hands
will play on,mE as
dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g
from Hideous trees or

Maybe Mandolins
1 oo k-
pigeons fly ingand

whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunLight
then)!-
ing all go BlacK wh-eel-ing

oh
ver
mYveRylitTle

street
where
you will come,

at twi li ght
s(oon & there’s
a             m oo
)n.                                                        (Cummings)

 

  1. Lexical Categories General

Vocabulary

E E Cummings has used simple, complex and specialized Vocabulary in this poem:

Simple Vocabulary

Street body around dead moon come
me traffic touch hideous muscle little
sink kiss ship play twilight look

Complex Vocabulary

moving lovely expiring wheeing tunes scrappy sprinkling
feeling curved suddenly fluttering maybe sunlight wheeling

Specialized Vocabulary

traffic ship

Such use of vocabulary enriches the poem through intertwined simple and complex word selection. The complex morphological structure of words elevates the poetic nature of the poem, especially the use of specialized vocabulary.  All word choice of simple and complex vocabulary adds to either the theme of love or nature in the poem. But specialized vocabulary of traffic and ship is used to modify the theme of love, which is not common i.e. “the traffic of lovely muscles”, “the curved ship of her kiss”. Such special vocabulary attracts the attention of the reader towards the subject at hand.

Language

Cummings has used colloquial and descriptive language in this poem. The poem does not include short form of morphemes to suggest the informal colloquial style rather it uses extra spacing, capitalization and lower case letters to achieve the colloquialism. Unlike most of the other poets E E Cummings has written this poem as if it is spoken; the spacing and capitalization is based on the audibility and the stress of a word as spoken in the informal dialect. Such as: “ M o ving in the Street of her / bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe”, “sinke x p i r i n    g S / uddeni /  Y         totouch”, “hands / will play on,mE as / dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g”, “pigeons fly ingand / whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg / … mYveRylitTle / m oo )n”.

Words like M o ving, fee l ing,s uddeni y, dea d, flut te rin g etc. convey stress point of words through separating the stressed letter through spacing . Some stress points are conveyed through capitalization of letters in the middle of an ongoing word i.e. a ro undMe, onMe, SpRiNkLiNg, mYveRylitTle etc. The colloquialism is again achieved through combining words by yoking them together so as the reader may speak them as a run-on word without pause i.e. totouch, mYveRylitTle, onMe etc.

The language of the poem is very “Descriptive”. The poem is composed of only two sentences but both of them are fairly descriptive in their nature. The first sentence’s description adds to the theme of love which is expressed in the poem i.e. “Street of her / bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe the traffic of / lovely;muscles / … sinke x p i r i n    g S/ uddeni / Y         totouch / the curvedship of / Her-/ ….kiss      her:hands / will play on,mE as/  dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g / from Hideous trees or/ Maybe Mandolins”. Cummings first describes the body of the beloves as a traffic of muscles and then goes on describing it further in detail as curved ship of her kiss, her hands will play on me as dead tunes… may be mandolins. The second sentence gives the description of the theme of nature i.e. “pigeons fly ingand / whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunlight / then)!- /  ing all go BlacK wh-eel-ing… twilight… a moon”. Nature is described in detail in this sentence through giving the description of pigeons, sparkling, sunlight, twilight and moon. Such descriptive details of the poem set the mood of the reader and the tone of the poem, which is about love and nature.

Language Variations

The poem also employs language variations; Cummings has used the jargon of nature throughout the poem i.e. scrappy leaves fluttering, trees, pigeons, sunlight, twilight, and moon. Cummings has also used the love jargon in the poem’s first sentence i.e. body, muscles, touch and kiss. Such word choice aids the poet to achieve certain semantic field that he/she wants to create.

Semantic Field

There are two sentences in the poem and both of them create the semantic field of love, desire, nature and consummation. The first sentence builds up the desire of love through the usage of love jargon and description of it i.e. “moving in the street of her body… lovely muscles… curved ship of her kiss… her hands will play on me”. Such sexual imagery and description conveys the theme of love in the poem. This desire is further built in the second sentence also as the poem goes through its spacio-temporal movement and the time of meeting comes closer which is “twilight” i.e. “pigeons flying … my very little street where you will come… at twilight soon and there is a moon”. The “moon” is the ultimate symbol of love and consummation, the desire id achieved at the end in the form of moon. Besides love Cummings also sets up the semantic field to the theme of nature. In the second sentence the whole imagery is of natural setting. Words like trees, pigeons flying, wheeing and wheeling, twilight and moon set up semantic field of nature. The pattern of the poem also adds to the theme of the poem as Wang says about Cummings’s poetry, his poetry is “designed in an unconventional way so that it may be suggestive of a certain literary theme” (30).

Morphological / Lexical Categories Specific

Free Bound Adj. Noun Pronoun Verb Adverb  
Will Moving Curved Street I Be Around  
Be Feeling Scrappy Body Her Moving Suddenly  
In Lovely Fluttering Traffic Me Feeling Instant  
Street Muscles Wheeing Muscles My Sink Over  
Body Expiring Wheeling Ship You Expiring Where  
Around Curved Sprinkling Hands   Play At  
Traffic Hands little Leaves   Fluttering Soon  
Sink Tunes   Hideous   Flying    
Touch Scrappy   Trees   Wheeing    
ship leaves   Mandolin   Sprinkling    
Kiss Fluttering   Pigeons   Wheeling    
Play Trees   Black   Come    
As Mandolins            
Dead Pigeons            
Hideous Flying            
Look Sparkling            
Instant Sunlight            
All Wheeing            
Go              
Black              
Very              
Little              
Street              
Where              
Come              
               
               
Derivational Affixes Inflectional Affixes Prefix Suffix Preposition Article Conjuncti-on
Lovely Moving Instant Suddenly Of The As
Scrappy Feeling   Lovely To   Or
Sunlight Muscles   Scrappy On   And
  Expiring     From    
  Curved     With    
  Hands     At    
  Tunes          
  Leaves          
  Mandolins          
  Pigeons          
  Fluttering          
  Trees          
  Flying          
  Wheeing          
  Wheeling          

 

Morphology is the study of word formation. How free and bound words are build up together from smaller units to larger to form meaningful sentences. We can easily analyze through the above table the fair amount of free and bound morphemes used and connected through various conjunctions, articles, prepositions and adverbs. The large amount of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and especially derivational/inflectional affixes gives the poem its descriptive nature. Cummings gives a noun and then adds to its description through connecting various adjectives to it i.e. “Curved ship, Scrappy leaves, pigeons fluttering, wheeing and Wheeling, sun sprinkling, little street” etc.

The poem is written in the first person persona “I” which allows reader to connect personally to the poem. The assertion upon “I” and “you” (which is the beloved) creates the romantic tone and atmosphere of the poem adding to its semantic field.

There is a lot of movement in the poem too which can be seen through the large amount of verb usage in the poem i.e. moving, feeling, fluttering, flying, wheeing, wheeling, sparkling and come. This word choice suggests the action taking place in the poem. The poem also plays with the notion of “Time”. Cummings has used adverbs to suggest the element of “Time” in the poem i.e. around, suddenly, instant, over, where, at and soon. The usage of verbs and time gives the poem its spacio-temporal quality where the reader can see the action happening in reality.

  1. Grammatical Categories

Kinds of Sentences (Function)

In the poem Cummings has used only sentences and both of them are declarative sentences which assert and declare the nature of love and also the nature itself. The first sentence declare about the love theme and the second about the theme of nature; as first describes “street of her body… lovely muscles… to touch the curved ship of her kiss… her hands will play on me” and the second sentence asserts upon the theme of nature through “pigeons flying… sprinkling sunlight… twilight… moon”. The poem also uses an imperative sentence i.e. “1 oo k pigeons fly ing”. The word “look” suggests that it is a command to the third person and this attracts the attention of the reader. Exclamatory sentence is also used in the poem, “SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunLight then)!-”. This exclamatory sentence expresses the strong emotion of the closeness of consummation time for the lover and the beloved.

Kinds of Sentences (Structure)

Both of the sentences of the poem comprises of complex sentences where the usage of conjunction and sentence breakage within the sentence makes it a complex sentence, which we can call a deviation.  The poem has no simple sentence structure that’s why even its reading and comprehensibility is hard. As in the first sentence the compound sentence is:

“her:hands
will play on,mE as
dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g
from Hideous trees or
Maybe Mandolins”

This sentence is composed of two clauses the first clause is independent “her:hands will play on,mE as dea d tunes” which conveys the full meaning in itself, and the second clause is dependent because the simile of hands playing remains incomplete without the first clause “ s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g from Hideous trees or Maybe Mandolins”. Both of these clauses are joined by the co-ordinating conjunction “OR”. In the second sentence there is a complex sentence:

“i will be

M o ving in the Street of her

bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe the traffic of

lovely;muscles-sinke x p i r i n    g S

uddeni

Y         totouch

the curvedship of

Her-

….kiss      ”

“I will be moving in the street of her body” is an independent clause and the dependent clauses are “feeling around me the traffic of lovely”, “muscles sink expiring suddenly … ”. These clauses are joined by the subordinating conjunction of semi-colon.

The Phrases

The poem is full of phrases which modify nouns and verbs adding to their details. Phrases used in the poem are given below.

Noun Phrases: Street of her body, traffic of lovely muscles, leaves fluttering from hideous trees, pigeons flying and wheeing. All these phrases modify nouns ie body, muscles, leaves and pigeons.

Prepositional Phrases: “I will be moving in the street of her body (as adverb)…Where you will come at twilight (as adverb)” (the preposition “in” and “at” is used).

Adjective Phrase:Very little street” (modifies street).

Adverb Phrase: “Pigeons … black wheeling” (modifies pigeons).

Verb Phrase:will be moving will play on me, where you will come”(verb phrases are in italics which modify the status of the verb).

Participle Phrase: I will be moving in the street(modifies “I”), curved ship of her kiss(modifies “kiss”), leaves fluttering from hideous trees(modifies “leaves”).

Absolute Phrase: “pigeons fly ingand
whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunLight
then
)!-
ing all go BlacK wh-eel-ing” (the line in the parenthesis modifies the whole meaning of the sentence along with the whole visual imagery of pigeons flying).

  1. Figures of Speech

Metaphors: “Street of her body… traffic of lovely muscles… curvedship of her kiss… her hands will play on me.”

Simile: “ her:hands will play on,mE as dea d tunes”(“as” is used for simile)

Onomatopoeia: “fluttering… wheeing”

Alliteration: “muscles-sinke x p i r i n    g S uddeni” (“S”), totouch the(T), may be Mandolins(M).

E E Cummings has used highly figurative language in the poem which adds to its ornamentation and to the clarity of meanings. The reader is attracted towards the poetic quality of the poem through its figurative appeal. The poem metaphorically relates female body to street, muscles to traffic and lips to the shape of a ship. The sound-words of “fluttering” and “wheeing” and alliteration of T, S and M sounds add to the musicality of the poem which give words the sound effect. The simile “her hands will play on me as dead tunes” clarify the status of playing hands into the mind of the reader and adds to the nature of playing. Figurative language of the poem enhances its themes of love and nature.

  1. Grammatical and Lexical Speech

Climax

From the very beginning of the poem the desire of love and consummation is build in the form of sexual and natural imagery enhanced by the figurative language. The street of her body, lovely muscles, and ship of her kiss reaches its climax in the last line of the poem, “and there is a moon”. The moon is symbol of ultimate union with the beloved as in the poem “Little Frieda and Moon”. The moon can possibly represent the beloved herself and the literal moon too; in both cases the poem reaches its love climax (as moon represents the beloved) and the climax of nature (as moon is the ultimate beauty of nature).

Rhyme and Meter

The poem uses no rhyme and meter. E E Cummings is a modernist poet and hence he has a modernist approach toward poetry. In addition he has his own style of eccentric use of language which will be described in the analysis of “Deviation”.

  1. Foregrounding / Deviation

Deviation

Deviation is a type of foregrounding that describes the unexpected irregularity in the text. E E Cummings is the pioneer of experimental poetry. “Cummings poems illustrate linguistic deviations”, says Leech. He has an unprecedented unconventional treatment of poetic language which represents his way of experimenting upon poetry. His eccentric use of language gives his poems an artistic aesthetic quality which appeals the reader in a very intriguing manner. He has employed morphological, syntactical, phonological and graphological deviation in this poem which give this poem its disturbing pleasant quality, an iconic element of E E Cummings.

            Morphological Deviation

“Cummings rejected to accept the morphological patterns formed in 20th century”, says Welsh. The poem is full of deviation in morphemes. Different morphemes are yoked together to form a single morpheme. Cummings has divided a single word into two or three parts and has yoked these parts with the other parts of words i.e.

“bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe , sinke x p i r i n    g S
uddeni
Y         totouch

lea Ves flut te rin g

mYveRylitTle”

Words like feeling, around, sink, expiring, suddenly, touch, leaves and fluttering are yoked in each other which is a morphological deviation.

Syntactic Deviation

The poet has used deviation in the grammatical structure of the sentences i.e.

“the traffic of
lovely;muscles, pigeons fly ingand
whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunLight
then)!-
ing all go BlacK wh-eel-ing”

In the first sentence he has used semi-colon which is grammatically wrong and so is the use of parenthesis in the middle of a bound morpheme “wheeing”. Between “whee” and “ing” he has yoked “(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunlight then)!-” which is a deviation.

Phonological Deviation

Paul Griffiths says, Cummings has a “musical background” in his poems and his “perception of phonetic values served as a valuable starting point for constructing new patterns of context”.E E Cummings has used phonological deviation by giving the poem its phonology and stress marks through extra spacing and capitalization of letters (which suggests stress points) i.e. “M o ving in the Street of her
bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe”

“o” in “moving” and “l” in “feeling” are the stress points ,the extra spacing suggests pause and omitted spaces suggest unbroken spoken words. This pattern runs throughout the poem “    dea d tunes OR s-crap p-y lea Ves flut te rin g… SpRiN,k,LiNg… mYveRylitTle” etc.

Graphological Deviation

Richard Cureton says, Cummings poetry’s “visual forms surpass the conventional poems”. E E Cummings is known for his graphological deviation in the poems. This poem also has this element in it. If we look at the form and structure of the poem we will come to know that the poem has no form, rather it reflects deformity, and had no structure. It is composed of only two sentences and both are long sentences made through joining small sentences with comas, semi-colons and colons. There is no stanza pattern followed. There are lines which are of only one word, and also which are composed of only half a word i.e.

“oh

ver”(the word is “over”)

Poem’s graphological deviation is achieved through punctuation, ellipses, colon, semi-colon, comma, dash, capitalization, extra spacing, parenthesis, jumbling of words i.e.

“bodyfee 1 inga ro undMe the traffic of                                (yoking of words, capitalization)
lovely;muscles-sinke x p i r i n    g S                                   (semi colon, hyphen, extra spacing)
uddeni                                                                         (broken incomplete word)

Her-

….kiss                                                                                 (elipses)

whee(:are,SpRiN,k,LiNg an in-stant with sunlight                        (parenthesis, comma, capitalization)
then)!-”

Cohesion (Semantic Cohesion)

Though Cummings deviation is the most prominent element of the poem but it still the poem doesn’t loses its cohesion at any point. In the first sentence the theme of love is repeated in each clause which cohere the semantic field of the poem. Words like street, traffic and ship add in the cohesion of “street of her body” and “curvedship of her lips”; the “tunes” cohere with the “Mandolins”. The second sentence also conveys the theme of nature coherently as it uses words like pigeons, flying, sunlight sparkling, twilight and moon. This morphological choice cohese and cohere the poem semantically. In the beginning there is a “street of her body” and in the end there is “my very little street”, which also connects the first part of the poem with its last.

Conclusion

The word choice which Cummings has used in the poem resonates with the theme of love and nature. Above stylistical analysis conveys the scientific study of language usage in the poem and how it affects the reader. It also explores the ways in which language use has been synthesized in the poem aiming to enhance the understanding of the reader. “I Will Be” is a love poem which creates sense of romance and love for nature in reader through its rich vocabulary and figurative language.

Works Cited

Cummings, E E. E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1994. Print.

Friedman, N. E.E. Cummings:The Art of His Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1960. Print.

Kennedy,R.S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E.E. Cummings. New York: Liverlight, 1980.Print.

Leech,G.N. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. London: Longman, 1969. Print.

Welsh,R. The Linguistic Paintings of E.E. Cummings, Painter-Poet. Language and Literature,9,nos.1-3,1984.Print.

Cureton, R.D. Visual form in E.E. Cummings: No Thanks. Word & Image,3,45-56,1985.Print.

Wang,S. Essentials of English Stylistics. Jinan: Shandong University Press, 2000. Print.

Kidder, R.M. E.E. Cummings:An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Colombia University Press, 1979. Print.