‘next to of course god america i’ seems to be spoken from the heart of E.E. Cummings himself. He removes himself from the poem by using a speaker within a speaker, but the content of the poem directly corresponds with Cummings’ life experiences. As a volunteer during World War I, Cummings acquired a bitterness for war which he did not scruple to express. He was outspoken and willing to go against the grain to stand up for what he believed in, no matter what the cost. This poem reveals some of his deepest, if unpopular, beliefs.
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Analysis of next to of course god america i
next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
The opening lines of ‘next to of course god america i’, which you can read in full here, reveal the speaker’s sarcastic tone toward patriotism. The fact that he does not capitalize “god” nor “america” reveals his irreverent tone from the onset. He then goes into patriotic songs, but does not finish them. It is as if he does not know the rest of the words, and does not really care to know them. He says, “I love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth”. The use of the phrase “and so forth” reveals that he does not say these things in a serious nature but in jest. He cannot finish the songs that he begins, and he clearly does not take the words to heart. The words that seem to be serious, are the ones that say, “My country tis of centuries come and go and are no more”. This is the one thing that the speaker takes seriously, the mortality of himself and all other human beings. Patriotism aside, he knows that each and every human being will one-day face death. He knows that centuries come and go. Generations come and go. People are born, and they die. In light of this, patriotism seems small. This is the point the speaker intends to make when he juxtaposes the lines from patriotic songs with the thought of centuries coming and going.
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
With these lines, the speaker reveals that people of every language, and yes even deaf people have “acclaim[ed” the “glorious” name of patriotism through the “gory details of war”. The use of the words “jingo”, “gee”, “gosh” and “gum” suggest that the speaker believes the gory wars in the name of patriotism to be senseless, just like the words he uses to describe it.
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?
With these lines of ‘next to of course god america i’, the speaker is again heavily sarcastic. He asks a sarcastic and yet rhetorical question, “What could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead?” In effect, he causes the readers to question the point of patriotism to a dead person. At that point, it does not seem to matter. Thus, as a form of jest, the speaker refers to the dead as “heroic” and “happy”. His lack of respect for those who have lost their lives for the freedom of the country only serves to further cause his readers to consider his point. He seems to be most concerned with human life itself. He is concerned with the generations of people who have come and gone. He is concerned with the many people who have died for the sake of patriotism. He does not believe that patriotism is worth dying for, and his sarcasm in this poem makes that very clear.
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
With the last line of ‘next to of course god america i’, the speaker reveals the readers that all that he has been saying is not spoken by him but to him. However, his decision to repeat what he has been told reveals that the ideas resonate with him. However, it puts some distance between himself and these words. This way, the speaker himself cannot be accused of being irreverent and disrespectful of the dead. Rather, it is simply an unknown person who spoke with the speaker. However, the way the speaker relates the message certainly causes the readers to think about patriotism and whether or not is really worth the sacrifice of human life.
Structure of next to of course god america i
One biographer describes Cummings as someone who “experimented radically with form, punctuation, spelling, and syntax, abandoning traditional techniques and structures to create a new, highly idiosyncratic means of poetic expression.” This is clearly evident in this poem. He breaks up lines right in the middle of sentences, does not capitalize “god”, “america” or “i”. His sentence structure and errors go along with his personality as one to go against the grain and write about his beliefs even when they were not popular. His free-verse writing in which he breaks the rules of proper English, corresponds with his beliefs and personality.
E.E. Cummings Background
E.E. Cumming’s status as an American by birth gives this poem all the more meaning. He has the authority to speak on the patriotism of the United States, because he is a U.S citizen by birth. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894. In 1917, Cummings left the U.S to go to France and work as a volunteer ambulance driver during World War I. This fact gives the author even more authority to write about U.S patriotism. Being an ambulance driver, he would have seen the worst atrocities there were to be seen in World War I. After some time of volunteering, Cummings and a friend were detained in a prison camp, as the authorities became suspicious of them, partly due to Cumming’s habit of being rather outspoken about his anti-war beliefs. It is no surprise, then, that Cummings wrote about his anti-war beliefs. Not only did he experience the tragedies of war first hand, but he was also detained for being outspoken about these beliefs. This clearly did not stop Cummings from continuing to speak and write according to his beliefs. He was a man who valued humanity and hated war.
- “E.E. Cummings.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.