E.E. Cummings

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r by E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings is known for his innovative versification. He wrote extremely experimental poems, but he also wrote traditional poems, like sonnets. ‘r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r’ is the pinnacle of his experimental poems where diverse linguistic transmutations take place. This poem contains typographical, grammatical, and syntactical eccentricities. Therefore, r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r is the extreme form of poetical experimentation conveyed through multiple permutations.

‘r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r’ by E.E Cummings is written in free-verse form. There is a deep union between form and content, generating a deeper connection between the display of the poem and its words. There is an emphasis on the structure of the poem and in the shape that it forms. The poet takes the text to another level by giving the form the main relevance.  The central aspect of ‘r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r’ is how the words, and its meanings, play with the drawing that the poem makes, generating a new significance that arises from this relationship between form and content.

The title of the poem, and the linguistic playfulness in it, suggests the need for awareness. The reader should experience and feel the poem rather than decipher it. The lyrical voice conveys this experience by having a broader vision in which he/she can experiment and play with language and its form. E.E. Cummings uses figurative language in this poem in the way he arranges words, phrases, and sentences.

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r by E.E Cummings


Analysis of r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r 

One of the main elements of ‘r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r’, which can be read in full here, is its typographical devices. By looking at the poem, it is clear that it has an unconventional form that focuses on the shape of the text and how the words create that configuration. The word grasshopper appears four times in the poem. The letters of three of the four apparitions of this word are disarranged and disorganized. Notice how the phrase and word order are distorted. There is confusion in the order of words and syllables creating a dissimilar form of approaching the poetical creation. The letters are strangely arranged throughout the poem, creating both legible and illegible text. The words are set to form a grasshopper leaping, capturing the essence of the insect. The main attraction of the poem is the different rearrangements of the insect’s name and how these words play with meaning and with the shape they build.

Another element that is crucial for this poem is the dissimilar organization of the elements found in the text. The poet reformulates and combines spelling, syntax, and meaning in an extravagant and unfamiliar way. A resource to achieve this is through the use of the parenthesis. These are spread over the poem and break up words, creating different configurations of syllables and their denotations. The parenthesis may be interpreted as the isolation of the speaker’s reaction or as the description of the lyrical voice’s impression. Moreover, the punctuation marks are used in a peculiar way. These are not accompanied by the usual spaces that punctuation has in language. Notice how colons, commas, and exclamation marks are used to achieve this.

In the center of the poem, there is the word “leaps” which connects two “grasshopper” words to another two. The word “leaps” is the literal and physical center of the poem, but also the metaphorical one, uniting the words and the meaning that the text depicts. Furthermore, the word is separated from the rest in order to emphasize it.

The final line of the poem culminates with the arrangement of the word grasshopper in a legible and clear way. This final appearance of the word “grasshopper” gives a new approach to the rest of the poem, as it is intelligible. The poem, then, acquires a different signification thanks to the uncomplicated final line. r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r illustrates a dissimilar poetic technique that communicates fullness of awareness.

For a better understanding, the poem can be laid out in a more traditional way:


who as we look up now, gathering into a


leaps, arriving


to become rearrangingly a


Or it can be decoded:



as we look

up now gathering

into the


arriving to

become arrangingly,



About Edward Estlin Cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings was born in 1894 and died in 1962. He was an American poet, an author, a playwright, an essayist, and a painter. E.E. Cummings lived to be 67 years old and wrote a great number of texts, from poems to plays. He is said to be one of the great voices of the 20th century English Language. E.E. Cummings wrote more than 2900 poems, 2 novels, published a great number of plays and essays, and made a lot of artwork. From age eight to twenty-two, he wrote one poem per day. Also, Cummings was a pacifist. He rode an ambulance in World War I instead of enlisting to fight. E.E. Cummings’ poetry conveys themes of love, nature, and the relationship between the individual, the masses, and the world. He is also known for having a satiric and humorous tone and for being controversial, not only with his visual poems but with his erotic poems too.  Cummings, his publishers, and others have echoed his form of writing, his unconventional orthography, in his name and often write his name in lowercase and without periods. However, scholars and publishers prefer to write his name in a conventional way.

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Julieta Abella Poetry Expert
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
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