E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in October of 1894. He was born Edward Estlin Cummings to parents Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke. His father was a professor at Harvard University and then later a minister of South Congregational Church in Boston, while his mother stayed at home with the children. Cummings and his sister had a very close relationship with their mother as they spent almost all of their time with her as children.
As a child he spent a great deal of time outdoors and at Silver Lake in New Hampshire. Cummings was quite young when he first began composing poetry and would write everyday from eight to twenty-two. He spent time experimenting with different forms and attended Cambridge Latin High School. It was here that he first began to seriously study Latin and Greek. He would go on to receive his Bachelors in Arts and Masters in Arts from Harvard University.
Cummings first poems were published in Eight Harvard Poets in 1917. His work is noted for its experimental style and distinct word choices. He would later make use of a number of different originally coined compound words within his verse. After graduating from University he worked as a book dealer.
In the early years of the First World War Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. He was able to spend some time in Paris and quickly learned to love the city. Cummings, and a close friend he made while in France, wrote a number of letters during the war which drew the attention of the censors. He expressed anti-war views and was eventually arrested by the French military as they suspected him of spying.
Cummings was released two months after his arrest when his father wrote to President Woodrow Wilson. These experiences formed the basis of his novel, The Enormous Room, which was published in 1922. In 1918, Cummings returned to the United States but was soon drafted into the army.
It was also during this time period that Cummings met and began an affair with Elaine Orr, who was married at the time. The two were married in 1924 and had a daughter together. The relationship did not last long, ending in divorce approximately two months later.
After the war the poet made a home in Paris and then New York. It was there that he published, Tulips and Chimneys, in which his original use of language was present. This collection was followed by XLI Poems in 1925. These two works solidified his reputation as a poet of the avant-garde. The later years of the decade saw Cummings return to Europe a number of times. He even went to the Soviet Union, a trip which inspired Eimi. The poet also spent time working for Vanity Fair magazine as an essayist and portrait artist.
Tragedy struck in 1926 with the death of his father in a disastrous car crash which also severely injured his mother. This incident and the loss which resulted from it had a deep impact on the poet. In 1929 Cummings married for the second time, this time to Anne Minnerly Barton. The two were only together for three years though, separating in 1932.
Although Cummings would not officially marry again, he spent most of the rest of his life with Marion Morehouse, a fashion model. The two were in a common-law marriage until Cumming’s death in 1962.
Legacy and Other Publications
Throughout his life, Cummings entered into the spotlight for a variety of reasons. He wrote a number of erotic poems in the early 20s and then again stepped into dangerous literary territory in the 50s. The work, Xaipe: Seventy-One Poems, was the source of a great deal of outrage. He also published four plays, one of which, HIM, was performed by the Provincetown Players in New York City. He also wrote the dramatic works, Tom, A Ballet, and Santa Clause: A Morality, as well as Anthropos, or the Future of Art.
The poet was also the recipient of a number of different awards throughout his life. These included a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1933 and 1951, the Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry in 1945 and the Bollingen Prize. Cummings was also the recipient of the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard as well as a fellowship with the American Academy of Poets.