‘my father moved through dooms of love’ is a personal elegy Cummings wrote about his father, Edward Cummings, and their relationship. The poem was published in 50 Poems in 1940 and included some of, although not all, of Cumming’s traditional typographical alterations. He’s known for experimenting with punctuation, capitalization, spacing, and more.
Explore my father moved through dooms of love
The speaker, who is Cummings himself, describes his father through nature-related images. The poem starts off with spring, moves to summer and winter while also referring back to the initial brightness of spring. He describes his father as someone who brought joy and satisfaction to everyone’s lives. He brightened the world around him and woke people up, making sure they, too, made the most of every moment. The speaker adds that his father did not conform to society’s standards. He was his own person until his death.
When that death was on its way, in September and October, his father remained strong. He stared the darkness in the face and prepared himself for it, although he wasn’t exactly happy to die. When he did, the speaker says that he did so as himself. He never compromised the person he wanted to be.
You can read the full poem here.
In ‘my father moved through dooms of love,’ the poet engages with themes of death, nature, and individualism. The first two are perhaps the more prominent, although individuality goes right along with the speaker’s depictions of his father’s life. He lived as he chose to, without regard to how people viewed him. This is something that the speaker, and the poet, clearly admire. When the poet uses nature-related imagery, he does so in an effort to allude more broadly to the cycle of life and death. It comes for everyone eventually, and humanity has only one life to live to the best of their ability.
Structure and Form
‘my father moved through dooms of love’ by E.E. Cummings is a seventeen stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines. As Cummings use of typography goes, this poem is more traditional. He refrains from using capitalization in the text or in the title, though. Plus, there is very little end-punctuation. The poet uses a loose rhyme scheme of AABB in ‘my father moved through dooms of love,’ but there are numerous examples of half-rhyme that keep the poem from maintaining a perfect structure. Cummings also floats in and out of using iambic tetrameter. This refers to the metrical pattern that appears in some of the lines. There are enough in this pattern of four sets of two beats per line, the first unstressed and the second stressed, to make it noteworthy.
Cummings makes use of several literary devices in ‘my father moved through dooms of love.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, imagery, and similes. The latter is a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, lines three and four of stanza nine which read: “his anger was as right as rain / his pity was as green as grain.”
Imagery is one of the most important literary devices a writer can use in their work. It occurs when they use particularly vibrant images and interesting descriptions that engage the reader’s senses. For example, these lines from stanza two: “that if (so timid air is firm) / under his eyes would stir and squirm” as well as these lines from stanza eight: “his flesh was flesh his blood was blood: / no hungry man but wished him food.”
Alliteration is a type of repetition that focuses on the use of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “stir” and “squirm” in line four of the second stanza and “father’s fingers” in line two of the fourth stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
my father moved through dooms of love
my father moved through depths of height
In the first stanza of ‘my father moved through dooms of love,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. The speaker describes his father in the past tense, suggesting that he’s passed away. He “moved through dooms of love,” he says to start off. He lived a life in which love was felt in equal measure with sorrow and disappointment. The second line provides the reader with a syntactically complex phrase that suggests his father persevered through the “same” of life to become his own person. He didn’t give in to what society wanted him to be.
The next line is an interesting example of imagery in which Cummings describes his father as turning “night” into “morning” through song. The same feeling comes through in the final line of the stanza, suggesting that his father was optimistic when things looked bad and were able to sue that to his advantage.
this motionless forgetful where
under his eyes would stir and squirm
The following stanza is just as complex as the first. Cummings is attempting to describe, through his complicated language, the same fact about his father that the first stanza touched on. He made the best of every moment and focused on the “shining here” whenever he could.
The father could look at the “firm” air and make it “stir and squirm.” He brought power, charisma, light, and life to everything he did.
Stanzas Three and Four
newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.
Just as his father made the best of his life, he also brightened the lives of those around him. His “April touch” made new flowers sprout in the lives of those he came into contact with. He awakened the dreamers and reminded them to live before they met death. The two are intertwined, and spring is often a symbol of that fact.
Cumming’s father was also good at improving people’s moods. He uses an example of a crying woman in the fourth stanza. She’s troubled by questions of “why,” and he brought her sleep and helped her forget about her troubles. Those troubles are related to her smallness in the world. Cumming’s speaker’s father is a different kind of person. He could “feel the mountains grow.” This suggests that he’s tapped into a different kind of existence.
Stanzas Five and Six
Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
the wrists of twilight would rejoice
The fifth stanza begins similarly to the first stanza of the poem. He “moved through griefs of joy,” suggesting that he experienced all the ups and downs of joy and sorrow. He is also described as “lifting the valleys of the sea,” which seems to be related to the mountain imagery in the previous line. The next line might have to do with the father’s intellect and his willingness to engage with the world.
More song comes into the poem next. His song was “joy,” a joy so pure that someone whose heart was “of star,” or as bright as a star, could see where they’re going by the light of the father’s song. His brightness outshines everyone else’s so much so that the “wrists of twilight,” or perhaps bands of stars, celebrated him.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
uphill to only see him smile
Repetition is used in the seventh stanza again when Cummings uses “keen” and “so” twice. He also repeats the image of light/heat with the sun and summer. The first lines talked about the light of spring though, this time, Cummings is taking the poem into the light of summer.
With the repetition of “keen,” readers should perceive Cumming’s speaker’s belief that his father was quite sharp. This was the “summer” or height of his life. The father moved through his life with conviction, and “over utmost him / so hugely” were his dreams. Moving on, the speaker says that his father was as human as he could be. He was an all-around good person, one that even starving people sought to feed. Cripples, the speaker adds, would creep to see this man “smile.” He brought out the best in everyone he met while at the same time inspiring them to love him.
Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
his pity was as green as grain
The ninth stanza is similar in its first lines to the start of stanza five and stanza one. He reiterates the fact that his father moved through various emotional states, truly living his life. He also scorned pomp or looked down on ceremony and pretentiousness for their own sake. The following lines describe the father’s “anger” and “pity.” They were at the peak of what those motions can be. Cummings also uses words like “right” and “rain” as well as “green” and “grain” to increase the rhythm of the lines.
septembering arms of year extend
offered immeasurable is
In the tenth stanza, the seasons move on to fall. He uses the invented word “septembering” to describe the fact that his father was aging. He’s still the same good person as he was before, even though he’s older. He gives generously to those around him, including those one might say are his “foes.” He helped those who needed help and woke men and women up to their lives.
proudly and (by octobering flame
his shoulders marched against the dark
Now Cummings uses the word “octobering” to remind the reader that time is still progressing. He stood proudly as he aged, unafraid of death that will be coming for him in the next season. He’s also ready for “immortal work” in heaven. He marched towards it, “against the dark.” This is a brave and evocative image and helpfully explores the father’s strengths.
his sorrow was as true as bread:
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.
The next stanza reveals that while the father might be meeting death bravely, he isn’t happy to die. His sorrow is true and real, like bread. This might be a way of suggesting that it’s also integral, as bread is an important food for many. It also relates back to the description of his pity as “green as grain.” The next line complicates things when the speaker says that the father’s way of dealing with aging meant that no one could lie to him. He made friends with his foes and was prepared for the end of his world.
My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
The speaker’s father “moved through theys of we,” the first line of stanza thirteen begins. This is a wonderful example of the type of syntax that Cummings is known for. He’s still “singing” as he moves through death’s door into his next life. The people in his life, the “wes” are becoming the “theys,” as if they are getting more distant as his father gets closer to his end. No matter his age, he still has the ability to lift everyone’s spirit and make them feel as though it’s spring. This suggests that he’s much the same person as he was before.
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold
The fourteenth stanza is darker than those which have come before it. The speaker talks about killing, blood, and flesh. As well as scheming and drugs. He brings in images of men killing one another for selfish reasons and images of blood and flesh becoming “mud and mire” (a good example of alliteration). This is one great example of how dark and terrifying the world is. It is juxtaposed against the person the speaker sees his father as.
giving to steal and cruel kind,
conform the pinnacle of am
The fifteenth stanza is similar to that which came before it. The speaker continues to describe the dark features of the world. He speaks of disease and doubt, things that did not seem to be a part of his father’s life. The “pinnacle of am” is an important line in the same stanza. It refers to the most individual part of a human being’s personality and life. Cumming’s speaker has already mentioned the fact that his father did not conform to the life that society might’ve wanted him to live.
though dull were all we taste as bright,
all we inherit, all bequeath
The imagery in this line is quite important as the speaker describes how “we taste as bright” but are really “dull.” The following images are ones of death, coming at the end of the poem when the speaker’s father is supposed to be passing away. All human beings are bound to die. We all eventually meet the maggoty end and “dumb death” where our senses no longer function.
and nothing quite so least as truth
love is the whole and more than all
In the final stanza of ‘my father moved through dooms of love,’ the speaker says that the world is full of lies and truth is only a small part of the darker elements that surround and inhabit humanity. He also suggests that “hate” is the reason “why men breathe.” In contrast to these horrible facts of life, the speaker says that his “Father lived his soul” and therefore “love is the whole and more than all.” Love is the thing that binds human beings together and his father carried that inside him his whole life.
Readers who enjoyed ‘my father moved through dooms of love’ should also consider reading some of Cumming’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ – This was also included in 50 Poems and depicts the life and death of “anyone” and “noone.”
- ‘i carry your heart with me(i carry it’ – In this poem, the poet speaks to his beloved, telling this person that he’s going to carry their heart with him no matter where he goes.
- ‘All in green my love went riding by.’ – This is one of Cummings best-known poems. In it, the speaker discusses a dangerous relationship through the metaphor of a hunt.‘
- if everything happens that can’t be done‘ – This poem is a very complex, yet strikingly powerful love poem that plays with the English language.