EE Cummings Childhood & Early Years
Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. He was the eldest child of his parents and had younger sister Elizabeth, born in 1901. Although named after his father, his family used to call him by his middle name, Estlin. Cummings was brought up in a well-educated family and was exceptionally smart. His father was a professor of sociology and political science at Harvard University and afterwards became a Unitarian minister. According to Cummings, his father was capable of accomplishing anything he desired for. His father was talented and was always engaged in repairing things. The father-son shared an amicable relationship, Edward being amongst the most zealous supporter of Estlin. Cummings’s mother never got into stereotypical “feminine” stuffs and loved reading poetry to her children. Estlin received great encouragement from his mother’s side to write poetry on a daily basis. At the small age of three, Cummings wrote his first poem titled “Oh, the pretty birdie, O; with his little toe, toe, toe!” The house where he spent his boyhood at Cambridge, Massachusetts is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cummings got admitted at Harvard University in September 1911 and received a degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1915, graduating “magna cum laude”. The same year, his poems were published in Harvard Advocate. The following year in 1916, he acquired his Master’s degree in English and Classical Studies again from the Harvard University itself. During his time in Harvard he acquainted with “John Dos Passos”. Numerous poems of Cummings were published in the Harvard Monthly before the beginning of his second year. Cummings, along with his fellows of “Harvard Aesthetes” John Dos Passos and S. Foster Damon, worked very hard on the school newspaper. During his final year at the University, he was quite influenced by some writers like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Also, he imparted a controversial starting address to his graduating class titled “The New Art”. This speech introduced his to notoriety as he maintained to deliver the wrong impression that the highly admired imagist poet “Amy Lowell”, whom he himself appreciated, was “abnormal”. For the same, Cumming was criticized greatly in the newspapers. His first published poems were issued in a collection of poetry titled “Eight Harvard Poets” in 1917.
Cummings was appointed in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his friend John Dos Passos, in 1917. But following some administrative mix-up, Cummings was not allotted any ambulance unit for five weeks. During this time, he resided in Paris and fell deeply in love with the beautiful city. While doing service in the Ambulance Corps, they had posted letters home that dragged the attention of the military censors and favored the company of French soldiers over fellow ambulance drivers. The two publicly expressed their views on anti-war. Cummings talked about his lack of hatred for the Germans. Just five months post his belated assignment, on 21 September, 1917, Cummings and his friend, William Slater Brown were arrested by the French military following the doubt of espionage and undesirable activities. They were adhered for 3 ½ months in a concentration camp at the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy. Cummings’s father was unsuccessful in acquiring his son’s release with the help of diplomatic channels. Finally, in December 1917, his father wrote a letter to President Wilson and he was released on December 19, 1917 while his friend was released after two months.
Cummings utilized his experience in the prison to write his novel “The Enormous Room”. On a New Year’s Day in 1918, he came back to the United States. The same year he was selected in the army. He performed service in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918. In 1921, Cummings returned to Paris and stayed for the following two years, then moved back to New York. During the years in the 1920s and 1930s, Cummings returned to Paris several times and journeyed all around Europe. During the years 1924-27, he traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico working as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine. In 1926, Cummings’s father died in a car accident, while his mother got severely injured but survived. The death of his father left a great impact on Cummings and he commenced focusing on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He commenced this new period of his life by bestowing homage to his father in the poem “my father moved through dooms of love”. Cummings went to the Soviet Union in 1931, recollecting his experiences in “Eimi”, which was published after two years. The papers of Cumming are present at the Houghton Library at Harvard University and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Cummings had a love affair with Elaine Orr while she was already married to Scofield Thayer, one of his Harvard friends in 1918. Cummings and Elaine also had a daughter, Nancy who was born on December 20, 1919. Nancy was the Cummings only child. After the divorce of Elaine from Thayer, Cummings married Elaine on 19 March, 1924. But the marriage broke up just after two months and the couple got divorced in less than nine months of their wedding as Elaine left Cummings for a richer Irish banker. She shifted to Ireland taking her daughter, Nancy with her. As per the divorce terms, the custody of Nancy was granted to Cummings for three months each year but Elaine denied to follow the agreement. After she went, Cummings didn’t saw her daughter until 1946. Cummings tied the knot again with Anne Minnerly Barton on 1st May, 1929. However, this unison also did not last long as the couple separated after three years in 1932. The same year, Anne acquired a “Mexican Divorce” which was not applicable in the United States until August 1934. In 1932 itself, Cummings met Marion Morehouse who was a fashion model and photographer. It is still unclear that the two even legally married or not but lived together in a common-law marriage until Cummings’s death.
Cummings died on 3rd September, 1962 due to cerebral hemorrhage in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital. He was buried in Lot 748 Althaeas Path, in Section 6, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory in Boston.
Awards & Honors
Dial Award (1925)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1933)
Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry (1944)
Harriet Monroe Prize from Poetry magazine (1950)
Fellowship of American Academy of Poets (1950)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1951)
Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard (1952–1953)
Special citation from the National Book Award Committee for his Poems, 1923-1954 (1957)
Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1958)
Boston Arts Festival Award (1957)
Two-year Ford Foundation grant of $15,000 (1959)