Within ‘what if a much of a which of a wind’ Cummings engages with themes of destruction, the nature of the human race, and the apocalypse. His tone is deep and serious throughout the text allowing him to create a mood that is just as serious, solemn, and thoughtful.
Explore what if a much of a which of a wind
The poem takes the reader through a series of three disasters. The first two are related to naturally occurring events, a tornado, and a blizzard. In the third stanza, the speaker introduces the reader to a human-made disaster that alludes to a nuclear apocalypse. Only humanity, the speaker asserts, is capable of produces a disaster from which there is no return.
‘what if a much of a which of a wind’ by e.e. Cummings is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into sets of eight lines. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
As is common in Cummings’ works, there is no capitalization, nor is the syntax ordered concisely and clearly as an English speaker should be used to. Cummings engaged with an intentional, modernist rearrangement of verse and word order so that he might transform what poetry is capable of; as well as what a reader should come to expect from the written word. This makes his poetry notoriously hard to interpret but a pleasure to read.
Additionally, the stanzas have a similar structure to one another. Each begins with “what if” and suggests a kind of destruction that consumes the world, some more completely than others.
Cummings makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘what if a much of a which of a wind’. These include alliteration, enjambment, allusion and juxtaposition. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “Blow” and “beggar” in line five of the first stanza and “blow” and “blind” in live five of the second stanza.
Juxtaposition is when two contrasting things are placed near one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. For example, the reference to the immortality of stars in the first stanza and then the all-consuming destruction that follows. There are also moments of hope and rebirth, such as at the end of stanza two that are compared to human-made apocalyptic forces in the third.
An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In all three stanzas, Cummings uses this technique skillfully. Without ever actually stating what the destructive events are, a reader can understand he’s speaking about a tornado, a blizzard, and a human-made apocalypse likely caused by a nuclear bomb.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and five and six of the third.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer’s lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
-when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man
In the first stanza of ‘what if a much of a which of a wind’ the mood is gloomy and the future of humanity is dark. The speaker asks a rhetorical question. He addresses the possibility that the “wind / gives the truth to summer’s lie”. The phrase “summer’s lie,” seems to refer to the temporary happiness as symbolized through the perfectly sunny days of summer. These will end and everyone will be returned to the dark cold of winter. What if, he suggests, the wind comes and “bloodies the dizzying leaves the sun” and disorganizes the “immortal stars?”
It is clear in these lines, despite the intentionally confusing and jumbled syntax, that the poet is alluding to destruction. It seems to be all-consuming and is in reference to a tornado-like event. The imagery that Cummings creates in these lines is vague, multilayered, and will likely bring up different references to different readers.
The rearrangement and destruction of the world continue in the next lines. The poet suggests that any natural event like a tornado could come and transform the world. Kings might become beggars and friends—fiends. All of “space” and “time” might be disrupted. Despite this all-consuming destruction, it is still “man” who has the ability to completely destroy the world. Natural destructive forces, like tornadoes or blizzards, as addressed in the next stanza, are nothing compared to what humankind can do to itself.
what if a keen of a lean wind flays
screaming hills with sleet and snow:
strangles valleys by ropes of things
and stifles forests in white ago?
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
-whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
it’s they shall cry hello to the spring
Next, the poet brings in “sleet and snow”. He is referencing an incoming blizzard that wreaks havoc on the world. Through words like “screaming” and “strangles,” he personifies the landscape and relates it to genuine human suffering. But, the same structure of the lines remains. He began these lines with “what if”. These things might happen and the forest might be stifled with white. But, it is still humankind that is the biggest risk to the earth and to itself.
A blizzard could come and transform human “hope to terror” and take away our ability to see. Things can all be remade. If the blizzard destroys natural life, it may be reborn in spring. This stanza ends with a little bit of hope. The same cannot be said for the final eight lines.
what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
Blow soon to never and never to twice
(blow life to isn’t: blow death towas)
-all nothing’s only our hugest home;
the most who die, the more we live.
In the third stanza of ‘what if a much of a which of a wind’ the speaker presents the reader with a true end to the human race. As has been alluded to throughout the previous two stanzas, it is humankind, and presumably nuclear war, that ends our race. “What if,” the poet offers, the human race “bites this universe in two”. We could, he suggests, destroy ourselves easily and finally. We’d leave behind nothing, “nowhere with me and you”.
It would be easy for us to “Blow soon to never and never to twice”. The use and reuse of the word “blow” throughout these lines relate to the first stanza and the reference to wind, and to the second stanza and the blizzard imagery. But, in this stanza, it relates to the destruction of a different kind in which a bomb blows everything to nothing and “death to was”. The poem concludes with the solemn line, “the most who die, the more we live”. This phrase suggests that there is no way we can stop ourselves from seeking out the destruction of others in an effort to better our own lives.