e e cummings style is never more evident than in his poem about a grasshopper.
a)s w(e loo)k
The poem is about a grasshopper jumping . The poem uses words, punctuation, and space to create the visual image of a grasshopper jumping. Looking at it for the first time it is hard to make sense of any of it. It appears to be nothing more then a jumble of letters and punctuation… Which it is, in a sense. By removing all of the spaces it still makes little sense, “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r who a)s w(e loo)k up now gath PPEGORHRASS ering t(o-aThe): leA!p:s a (rrIvInG.gRrEaPsPhOs) rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly ,grasshopper;” It is as if the poem was not written to be read, but to be looked at and to stumble through.
It is apparent that this poem is not a traditional poem by any stretch of the imagination. As it is such a jumble, it is difficult to read. If it is hard to read, it doesn’t fit well into the normal poetic style. e.e. cummings in fact invented his own literary techniques unlike anything seen before. These devices to name a few are, punctuation, idiomatic speech, compressed words, line division, spelling, and even cubism not unlike that of Picasso.
Looking at “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” the first thing that stands out is the line division. The entire poem seems to be empty space and random clusters of letters. The first step in understanding this literary device is to look at the middle of the poem. This is where the most spacing is. As you look at it you start to see a grasshopper. “aThe): l”(7) forms the top of the leg which comes down with “eA”(8), “!p:” (9), and “(r”(11). The body is of course “.gRrEaPsPhOs)”(12) and the lone “a”(10) makes up the antenna. This becomes a direct attack on the definition of the term imagery by making a picture instead of describing the image. So through his use of line division he creates imagery in a very literal sense.
The second thing you notice is the extreme use of punctuation. This is a second literary device that does not completely define traditional poems. This is not to say that it isn’t used traditionally but this poem takes it to the extreme. The punctuation further hinders the reading of the poem by separating the words even more, creating new words and clusters. This slows the reader down and adds to the abstract or cubist nature of the poem. A good look at this is “rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly”(14) where we can see a distinct division of two words, “rearranging” and “become”. The way the two words are mingled in fact further help the meaning of the line. The words, rearranging became, are mixed together so that it directly reflects the meaning that you need to unscramble or that the subject is unscrambling. The subject being “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r”(1) which as it is rearranged it becomes the word “,grasshopper;,”(15) the last line of the poem. So by the use of parenthesis we see the division and the action of the rearranging.
An important device in all of cummings’ poems is the use of upper and lower case letters. An example of this is his name, “e e cummings.” He wanted it to be lowercase. So reading “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” we are bound to see dramatic use of upper and lower case letters. In the line,“.gRrEaPsPhOs)”(12), every other letter is capitalized. This compared to the early line “PPEGORHRASS”(5) and the last line “,grasshopper;” (15) which are all the same case. Looking at this it is as if the capital letters represent energy or motion and it goes down as the grasshopper moves around the poem before coming to a rest. This is another devise which helps define the imagery of the poem by creating the effect of motion, energy, and jumping.
As the list of more obvious literary devices is shrinking another important one comes up, spelling. Reading the poem the subject is completely missing until it is revealed in the last line. Through the scrambling of grasshopper in “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r,”(1) “PPEGORHRASS,”(5) and “.gRrEaPsPhOs)”(12) the subject appears a total of four times and only the last one, “,grasshopper;”(15) do we realize what it means. This forces the reader to read it at least one more time to even get an idea of what is going on. Even knowing the subject, the poem is still hard to understand because of the spelling and the scrambling of most of the words. The scrambling of grasshopper also becomes imagery as it seems to be active by changing. This changing and scrambling is used to represent the jumping and movement of the grasshopper, both literally and symbolically.
Moving on to the poem’s theme we face the same difficulty. First through the look at the literary devices the theme stands out as being the leaping of a grasshopper. cummings uses his word “upgathering” which has been scrambled amongst three lines to describe the actual motion of the grasshopper.
eringint (o-“ (4-6)
Upgathering and leap become the only two cases in which the action is clearly stated and not just shown visually. Another important theme builder is in fact the line division which creates the important picture of the grasshopper. This image is also enhanced by the use of letter case, word scrambling, and punctuation which all create the poems movement and bring it to life. In this sense the poem itself becomes the leaping grasshopper.