Saturday, August 22, 2009

"pity this busy monster, manunkind"

It’s been a week with some palpable darkness in the news here in the U.S., & it’s gotten me brooding a bit. I’d planned to post a Stevens poem about the transformative power of the imagination (naturally), but as the week drew to a close it just didn’t resonate with me. Then I thought of a poem I first encountered either in high school or as an under-graduate—anyway, long time since—& I decided to post that one instead.

It’s a poem by E.E. Cummings, a poet who I think is unfairly pigeonholed as all typographical flurry & verbal hijinks. In fact, Cummings could capture a pretty wide range of lyric experience; I’ve long thought that “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” is one of the most remarkable love poems I’ve ever read.

Today’s poem, “pity this busy monster, manunkind” is a much darker poem, & really hinges on the lines “A world of made/is not a world of born” as it discusses mankind’s servitude to its own creations—not just the sinister make-believe world of advertising (the “deified” razorblade), but ultimately the whole impulse to shape the world from a position of “hypermagical omnipotence.” A dark vision in this quirky poem—appropriate, perhaps, as we in the U.S. wrestle with various dreams & creations that have unleashed some rather disturbing forces.

Hope you enjoy the poem.

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
—electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
                                    A world of made
is not a world of born—pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if—listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

E. E. Cummings


  1. Undergraduate flashback for me, too. Masterful poem.

  2. Hi Jacqueline:

    Interesting connection--yes, glad you liked it.

  3. Been needing to escape myself...

    Peace - Rene

  4. Birth is a monster ,life is a monster, death is a monster.The whole kit and Kaboodle is a horror film, thank god for the back row, the trailers and the popcorn.Love these poems John, like really!

  5. What a brave poet, don't you think? Who else would start a piece with a negative, uncapitalized? He gives me hope for my maladjusted punctuation.

    A great little gem. I will now be exploring more e.e. for sure.

    Thanks, John! (The next universe IS looking better and better, isn't it?)


  6. One of my favorites, John, in my dark English major days...

  7. (forgot to say - still resonates today)

  8. truly shades of yesteryear so important still today and into the morrow - thanks so much for thinking of it and allowing me to remember as well - and to carry it with me through these days - great post, as usual! peace - jenean

  9. Yet again you introduce me to poetry which, a few months ago I would have passed by without a second look. You've a lot to answer for Mr Hayes. Thanks

  10. Hi everybody:

    Sure nice to see all your comments!

    Rene: I know the feeling. Thanks for stopping by!

    TFE: The popcorn really does help. Thanks!

    Kat: Yes, I think you'd get something from e.e. cummings, tho it's always hard to know just what to do with him!

    Karen: Ah, yes, I had those days. Glad you still like it. Thanks.

    Jenean: Glad to remind you of it, & have a wonderful day!

    Alan: Oh-oh, sounds like I'm in trouble! Thanks.

  11. Quite the literary Bedouin, I don't know many poems by name or author. However, I have seen that title on a bathroom wall in a coffee house in New Orleans named Zotz. Don't know how the place fared after the Flood of '05, but that line stayed with me along the back hand path like a shadow of flies.
    To say the least, finally seeing the entire poem and hearing EE Cummings in its wake leaves me listless though not alone.

    I called it "Kafkatrina" at first. Then it got so beyond the pale to where I dared not call it by any name. Now I refer to that time when the levees failed euphemistically as "The Troubles".

    We all took on a compound fracture then, but our nation remains a busy monster indeed and completely at the mercy of its own momentum I'm afraid.

    But that is what make Cummings so great, and poets such a necessity. They make philosophers like Wittgenstein seem more like a flippant dilettante because, though "What can be said can be said clearly", these days we see things that no poet could pass over in silence.

    Thanks youz,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  12. Hi Editilla:

    Thanks for stopping by. Kafkatrina is a wild concept--guess that's probably right, eh. & yes, I worry about that momentum thing.

    Thanks again--really have appreciated your support of RFB at the NO Ladder!

  13. Whew. That's quite a journey. I love the way Cummings bends the English language to his will.

  14. Hi Sandra: Yes, that's well put--he does "bend" language. Glad you liked it.

  15. I've always had a fondness for Cummings. And what a great comment from Editilla!

  16. Hi T:

    Yes, Cummings really is quite a good read. & Editilla's comment is great!


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