‘pity this busy monster, manunkind’ by E.E. Cummings is a fifteen line poem which is not separated by any line breaks. The text is contained within one stanza and although Cummings has chosen to make sure of punctuation, he has not used it consistently. This is a fact which is immediately striking upon glancing at the text. One might become unsure while reading through the text where an appropriate stopping point is, or which words are the most important in the verses.
Cummings choice to format his poem in this way was not unusual for him. His poems were noted for their often novel patterns and indentions. Cummings often created new compounded words for his works, such as “manunkind,” which is used in this particular piece. While these words might seem impenetrable at first, they are well incorporated into his texts so that their meaning becomes clear through a close reading.
Summary of pity this busy monster, manunkind
‘pity this busy monster, manunkind’ by E.E. Cummings describes the destructive nature of progress and how it has damaged humankind’s view of the world.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that “Progress” is like a “comfortable disease.” It is something which is afflicting “manunkind” and from which humanity cannot escape. The progress to which the speaker refers is revealed to be scientific in nature. He sees all of the problems that altering one’s own body and the surrounding environment can cause. The speaker is also extremely worried about humanity’s changing opinion of nature.
The most important elements of the world are being put to the side in favour of destructive progress. In the last lines the speaker alludes to what he sees to be the worse choice humanity could make, to abandon earth and strive for a new world.
Analysis of pity this busy monster, manunkind
In the first three lines of this piece the speaker begins by restating the line which would become the title of the poem. He is asking the reader to take a moment and realize that they should not feel “pity” for a certain entity. It is not described in any great depth at first and a reader must make a leap as to what or whom the speaker is talking about. The entity to which he refers is a “busy monster.” This group of beings is then spoken of as being “manunkind.” This originally coined word refers to humankind itself.
The monster that the speaker is engaged with is all of humanity. They are described as being both “busy” and monstrous. The reason for this description is flushed out in the next few lines. It is important to note that from the perspective the speaker is writing in he does not seem to include himself in the grouping. He is exempt from the judgements he is about to pass.
Humankind is spoken of as participating in “Progress.” At first this term is only loosely defined— later in the text the speaker expands on what it is exactly he has a problem with. For now all the reader knows is that “Progress” is like a “comfortable disease.” It is something one does not want to make any effort to stop but is slowly eating away at humankind. There is some aspect of what humankind is attempting, which the speaker disapproves of, that is putting “death and life” somewhere “beyond.” They are, or will soon be, no longer a threat to human existence.
This section of the text defines what the speaker means when he describes progress. It is any advancement in science, with all of its broad reach, that changes humankind. The speaker is particularly bothered by a number of different parts of scientific research. He describes the first as moments in which humankind…
Plays with the bigness of [their] littleness
Examples of this type of science are ample. They are any lines of research which seek to further humankind beyond its current limits. This could mean either physically or mentally. The speaker does believe that people should reach beyond that which they understand. There is no reason to do this kind of research as, he thinks, it will only come back to harm humanity.
The next lines speak of how humankind is attempting to “deify,” or make a god of, “electrons.” Science has become the new religion. It is taking the place of God. He does not approve of this transition and does not want to see the world transform.
Science should not only stay away from the realm of God, but also that of his creation. The speaker mentions a “mountainrange” which is altered by science, and the world as a whole being remade as something completely different.
This is the overarching theme of this piece— that nature should not be altered or supplanted by science. Humanity, the speaker thinks, is going to “extend” itself “through curving” until the “unwish / returns on its unself.” That which humanity did not wish for, or seek out through science, will come back to harm them. At this point they will not be as they were, humans will be “unself.” They will have become a new form of life completely changed by their own hands.
The last lines of this section ask the reader to understand that a world which has been “made” by humankind is not a word “born.” They are not the same, as one is unnaturally contrived. The final phrase asks that the reader pity the “flesh” which is being transformed.
In the next set of three lines the speaker continues in the same way. He asks that the reader pity a few elements of the world which are in the firing line of science. These include the “flesh” which was mentioned previously, as well as…
…trees, poor stars and stones
It is not humankind which deserves one’s pity but those elements of the world which are changed by humanity’s hand. The “fine specimen of the hypermagical,” which is what people have become, control the world through “ultraomnipotence.” They now have an ability which is beyond God’s. Humankind is in control of everything they touch.
In the final two lines of the poem the speaker concludes his narrative by stating that “Doctors” know when there is a “hopeless case.” The point of view from which the narrator is now speaking comes from both his own beliefs and those of the rest of humanity. He is mimicking humankind’s impulse to write off and abandon that which does not service them.
In the last line humanity has chosen to abandon their own world. They have either reached a breaking point or come to the conclusion that they will live better elsewhere. This is the epitome of what the speaker hates. He would never choose to see the planet abandoned. These actions, and the progress which initiates them, are seen as the greatest threat to humankind.