E.E. Cummings

may i feel said he by E.E. Cummings

‘may i feel said he’ by E.E. Cummings is a deceptively complicated poem that describes two people engaged in an affair and the various emotions associated with it.

Readers who are familiar with Cummings’ poetry will immediately recognize his use of short lines and somewhat complicated syntax. Despite this, ‘may i feel said he’ is a Cummings’ poem that is fairly easy to interpret as long as one takes the time to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. 

may i feel said he by E.E. Cummings


Summary

may i feel said he’ by E.E. Cummings uses simple dialogue to explore a complicated relationship between a man and a woman with whom he’s having an affair.

In the first stanza of the poem, Cummings describes the playful banter between two lovers. The man asks how far he can go sexually with his female partner, and she warns him not to go “too far.” But, at the same time, it’s clear that she’s enjoying their encounter. As the stanzas progress, the woman appears to be looking for emotional validation. She cares about the man, and it’s unclear whether or not he wholly reciprocates. 

The central conflict is revealed towards the end of the piece when Cummings’ female speaker notes that the man she’s having sex with has a wife. He is having an affair with the woman in the poem and is trying to keep their relationship lighthearted. Despite this, the woman longs to be closer to him and even declares at the end of the piece he belongs to her. 

You can read the full poem here

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

may i feel said he
(i’ll squeal said she

(…)

a lot said he)
why not said she

In the first stanzas of this poem, Cummings sets up the format with which he will be working with for the rest of the poem. Throughout, he repeats “said he” and, “said she.” Each line ends with one of these phrases. The male partner asks the woman something, and she replies. In this first stanza, the man asks if he can touch the woman in a playful and intimate way. She says that she’ll “squeal” but then says, “it’s fun.” This makes it clear that the two are engaged in a lighthearted and playful romantic encounter.

The tone continues into the next stanzas as the man asks more questions, and the woman replies. For example, the man asks if he can touch her, the female asks “how much,” and then the man says “a lot.” There is a lack of detail in this poem and a lack of imagery that makes this an interesting read. It requires some interpretation on the part of the reader as to the relationship between the two people.

Stanzas Three and Four 

(let’s go said he
not too far said she

(…)

like this said he
if you kiss said she

The woman cautions the man not to go “too far” in the third stanza of the poem. He wants to touch her in every way that he feels inclined to, but she warns him off lightly. In fact, he’s already “too far.” At this point, wherever he has progressed in their sexual relationship inspires him to ask if he can stay there. He’s hoping that if he goes no farther, she’ll be content with what they’ve done so far. 

The woman asks for a kiss in the fourth stanza. Here, readers might interpret the woman’s desire for more simple physical intimacy as an indication that she is far more interested in exploring their feelings for one another than taking sexual pleasure from her partner.

Stanzas Five and Six 

may i move said he
is it love said she)

(…)

now said he)
ow said she

The fifth and sixth stanzas are more complicated than those which preceded them. The man appears to be asking the woman if he can move in, and then the woman responds by saying, “it is love.” This is a curious line that presents itself as a statement but is, in reality, a question. It seems likely that the woman hopes they share a deep love, but she isn’t sure. She then says that the man is “killing” her. The reason for this statement is revealed in the sixth stanza. 

It soon becomes clear that the woman is a mistress. The male figure in this poem is already married. This seriously complicates their relationship and likely counts for much of the tension that readers may interpret from the first lines. The uncertainty about their emotional connection is due to the fact that the man can’t commit to his mistress in a real way. 

The man tries to keep the conversation from getting too serious. He says “it’s life,” a statement that suggests that pain in love and relationships is normal. The woman is dealing with something that many before her have experienced. He tries to relieve the tension in the room by saying “now,” as if trying to move on to something else or distract his mistress. She says “ow” in response, perhaps indicating that he has poked or squeezed her in a playful way. It also creates a great internal rhyme.

Stanzas Seven and Eight 

(tiptop said he
don’t stop said she

(…)

you’re divine!said he
(you are Mine said she)

In the seventh stanza, the dialogue between the two indicates that the man has successfully distracted his mistress from the more complicated elements of the relationship. She says, “don’t stop,” indicating that their love-making has resumed and that she’s happy with their sexual connection. This is furthered by her use of the phrase “go slow,” asking him to take his time. 

The poem is filled with innuendos that allude to the couple having sex, such as “cccome?” in the final stanza. Here, the male speaker is asking if the woman climaxed. Her response is “ummm,” indicating that perhaps she hasn’t. But, the man is satisfied nonetheless. 

The poem ends with the woman saying, “you are Mine.” She is content with their less-than-satisfying sexual encounter because of the feelings she has for this person. The last line contains a capital letter, the only one that this poem (and many other Cummings’ poems) uses. It ensures that readers interpret the woman’s feelings as very possessive (even more so for readers who are aware of how unusual capital letters are within the poet’s work). 

Structure and Form 

may i feel said he’ by E.E. Cummings is an eight-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. Interestingly, the poet makes use of a consistent rhyme scheme throughout this piece that follows the pattern of AAAA. Each line ends with either “he” or “she.” Readers are also likely to immediately take note of Cummings’ choice to remove any examples of capitalization from his poem. This is something that he often experimented with and was a stylistic choice.

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Caesura: occurs when a poet inserts a pause in a line of verse. This could be through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “(cccome?said he.” 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “squeal said she” in line two of the first stanza and “which way” in line two of the fourth stanza. 
  • Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats one or more elements of a poem. This could be the structure, an image, a word, phrase, or more. In this case, the poet uses several examples of repetition, including anaphora and epistrophe. The same format, with parentheses and lack of capitalization is used as well. 


FAQs 

Why did Cummings write ‘may i feel said he?’ 

Cummings wrote this poem to explore a playful yet complicated relationship between a man and a woman having an affair. The text requires a bit of interpretation to understand the relationship between the two people and their feelings, or lack thereof, for one another.

Who is the speaker in ‘may i feel said he?’

The poem is told from a third-person narrative perspective and contains a dialogue between a man and a woman. The woman is aware that the man with whom she has a relationship is already married. She cares for him, but it’s unclear how emotionally connected he is to her.

What is the theme of ‘may i feel said he?’ 

The central theme of this poem is the complexity of relationships. Although the lines are quite simple, Cummings uses a great deal of repetition. There is much to be interpreted beneath the surface if readers take the time.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other E.E. Cummings poems. For example:

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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