E E.E. Cummings

when god lets my body be by E.E. Cummings

‘when god lets my body be’ is a poem about the cycle of life and death. The poet E.E. Cummings describes how he wishes to be part of nature through death.

when god lets my body be by E.E. Cummings Visual Representation

‘when god lets my body be’ is a simple wish from the poet E.E. Cummings to God the almighty. The title hints at his wish to be alive after his death. In order to do so, he needs to change his shape to other forms that are eternal. One such example is that of the trees that outlast human beings. In this poem, Cummings talks about how he wants to get transformed into a tree or any other shape to be part of nature.

when god lets my body be by E.E. Cummings


Summary

‘when god lets my body be’ by E.E. Cummings describes a speaker’s wish to be part of nature after death and how he wants to take different shapes in order to keep his mark in the creation.

The poem begins with the wish of the speaker. He prays to God when his body returns to nature it must be turned into a sprout. The sprout will come out from his eyes and fruits will dangle from its branches in the future. His lips which once moved while singing will now be part of the ground. People will dance on it. He might also get transformed into a rose which maidens like. When he becomes a tree, birds will gather around him. Lastly, the poet says after his death one can hear the sound of the sea in his heart.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-7

when god lets my body be

(…)

a rose shall beget the spring

that maidens whom passions wastes

The poem’s title is taken from the first line. In this line, the poetic persona anticipates what will happen with his body after his demise. It contains a simple wish of the speaker to be part of eternal nature. In the first couplet, the speaker describes how his eyes shall sprout a tree. The tree is a symbol of life and rejuvenation. So, after his death, he seeks to be alive in the form of a tree.

In the near future, there will be fruits dangling from its branches. Cummings uses the “fruits” as a symbol of reproduction and new life. By this reference, the cycle of life and death is portrayed. The following couplet centers on another wish of the speaker.

When his body will be lying in the grave, gradually his body will be assimilated into the soil. In this way, he will be part of the ground on which the people of this colorful world will dance. Once he sang through his lips. Now, people will be dancing upon his body. In this way, the poet describes how he will still be part of others’ happiness.

Cummings uses the symbol of “rose” in the following section in order to portray the idea of passion and love. According to him, the rose begets the spring. As he is part of nature, he will also be a precursor of spring by blooming flowers in his branches.

Lines 8-14

will lay between their little breasts

My strong fingers beneath the snow

(…)

With the bulge and nuzzle of the sea

In the following section, Cummings visualizes how the passionate maidens will place roses between their breasts. This image describes the underlying passion in the poet’s heart. He does not want to leave the pleasures after his death. By being a flower, he will remain close to their hearts.

In the following line, the poet metaphorically describes his “strong fingers” as the roots of a tree. After his death, his roots will dig deeper beneath the snow. The symbolic “snow” of death cannot subdue his spirit. In his branches, the birds will come and go.

In the next line, the speaker visualizes how he can also be turned into the grass. Then he will express his love through the grass. Those who are going to walk on him can sense the softness of his heart. His leaves, metaphorically portrayed as “wings” will touch with the faces of those lying on them. At that moment, one can listen to the sound of his heart that resonates with the bulging and nuzzling sound of the sea.

Structure

This poem is written in the free form which Cummings mostly used in his poetry. The syntax of this piece is idiosyncratic and uses lower-case spellings for his poetic expressions. For instance, the first line begins with a lower-case letter. The overall poem does not contain a punctuation mark. In this piece, Cummings does not use a specific rhyme scheme but there are a few instances where rhyming occurs. For example, in the first two lines, “be” and “tree” rhyme together. The other rhyming words include “sing” and “spring”, “wastes” and “breasts”, “snow” and “go”, and “be” and “sea”.

Literary Devices

This piece includes the following literary devices:

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. Cummings uses this device in order to connect the lines and create suspense in the transition.
  • Personification: This device can be found in “a rose shall beget the spring” and “Into strenuous birds shall go”. 
  • Imagery: In this piece, Cummings uses visual imagery to depict how a tree sprouts from his eyes and fruits dangling from it. He also uses tactile imagery to convey the feelings associated with touch.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “body be”, “shall sprout”, “dangles therefrom”, “world will”, etc.


Historical Context

Edward Estlin Cummings, the poet of ‘when god lets my body be’, is known for his modernist free-form poetry. He is often regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. His unique verse style marked him differently from his contemporaries. E.E. Cummings’ poems often deal with themes of love and nature, as well as the relationship of the individual to the world. In this poem mentioned above, readers can also find the use of this theme. By using this idea, the poet highlights his wish to be part of everlasting nature through death.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘when god lets my body be’ about?

This poem is about the poet’s wish to be part of nature after his death. He wishes to be a tree in order to be ever-present in this world. His fruits will sweeten others and his flowers will adorn passionate maidens’ breasts.

What is the theme of the poem?

This poem taps on themes of nature and creatine, the cycle of life and death, and transformation. The main theme of this piece centers on the poet’s wish to be part of eternal nature.

What type of poem is ‘when god lets my body be’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem. It is written in the couplet form. There are few instances of rhyming as well.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

The speaker of this piece is E.E. Cummings himself. He uses the first-person narrative technique to bring home his ideas.

What does the speaker wish?

The speaker wishes God to make him a tree. From his eyes, the tree will sprout. In the near future, it will bore fruits of rejuvenation. Thus, he can outlast mortal beings and will be alive forever.


Similar Poems

Readers who enjoyed reading E.E. Cummings poem ‘when god lets my body be’ will also find the following poems interesting.

You can also read about these incredible poems on death.

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when god lets my body be by E.E. Cummings Visual Representation
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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