“The Sky Was”


(Tulips & Chimneys, 1923)



The literary effects produced by the poet’s

break with the institutionalized poetry.



Considered one of the most important poets of the 20th Century, Cummings has his poetry frequently cited because of its experimental form, printing, grammar, coinage of words, sensitive feelings, perceptions and subtleties. He created a work of an individualistic idiosyncrasy which belongs to no school or movement in particular. A leading, original work, not a mere copy of anything else already written before. And, despite the poet’s popularity during the first half of the century, many people today do not know his poetry.


And, besides being a totally experimental and intelligent writer, probably very few people would know that Cummings was also a highly experimental painter. Indeed, Cummings took his painting on an equal footing with his writings. And to both he applied the same curiosity, attention and aesthetic principles.


Cummings developed a literary technique which consisted on the fragmentation of words, dismembering language into autonomous parts but mot loosing their relations. This resource was largely used with the aim to accomplish the feat of obtaining some linguistic fidelity capable of producing a specific aesthetic effect in the readers. So, he reduced language to its lowest common denominators: morphemes and graphemes.


Then, instead of simply placing words in their normal syntactical order and group them into poetic stanzas, Cummings rearranged such linguistic units into a visual representation of an experience. By using this technique, Cummings believed that such separation of phrases, words and morphemes could provide an unusual stress, giving emphasis on the spatial elements surrounding them and, thus, heightening reader’s aesthetic visual experience.


Similarly, Cummings felt that the technique of ‘tmesis’ (from τμσις<τέμνω=  “a cutting”: linguistic phenomenon in which a word is separated into two parts, with other words occurring between them) could illustrate well both overlapping and interrelatedness of events which, in reality or perceived by illusion, would be simultaneously occurring.


So, in a similar way to the techniques used by the Cubist painters to illustrate the most different viewpoints of a same physical object, Cummings' verbal-graphic techniques were able to demonstrated that the new arrangement of language structures and components could also provide remarkable formal sensations, in addition to the mere semantic value of what it was written.


In a very first moment, readers would face scattered letters and punctuation marks and, thus, experiment the same wild impression that we have whenever viewing the unusual representation of cones and cubes in a Cubist painting for the first time. Thence, readers will realize that the external elements of language have merely been dislocated and juxtaposed in a jumbled typography in order to enhance the impressions and sensations contained in the own written text.


Edward Estlin Cummings works encompass more than 900 poems besides two novels, several plays and essays, as well as numerous drawings, sketches, and paintings.





the sky was


can    dy    lu
        pinks shy
greens    coo    l choc

  un    der,
  a    lo
      tive      s      pout

Poem by E.E. Cummings







·     Lane, Jim – “Cummings, the Artist”

On the website: http://www.humanitiesweb.org

(Consulted on June, 30th 2008)


·     Welch, Regis L. “The Linguistic Paintings of E.E.Cummings”

In: Language and Literature #9 (1984): pp.79-89. Department of English Studies / The Lake Michigan Writing Project - Grand Valley State University - Allendale, MI, USA.