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1(a by E.E Cummings

In: English and Literature

Submitted By analiealarba
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"l(a" is a poem by E. E. Cummings. It is the first poem in his 1958 collection 95 Poems.[1]
"l(a" is arranged vertically in groups of one to five letters. When the text is laid out horizontally, it reads as l(a leaf falls)oneliness —in other words, a leaf falls inserted within the first two letters of loneliness.[2]
Robert DiYanni notes that the image of a single falling leaf is a common symbol for loneliness, and that this sense of loneliness is enhanced by the structure of the poem. He writes that the fragmentation of the words "illustrates visually the separation that is the primary cause of loneliness". The fragmentation of the word loneliness is especially significant, since it highlights the fact that that word contains the word one. In addition, the isolated letter l can initially appear to be the numeral one.[3] Robert Scott Root-Bernstein observes that the overall shape of the poem resembles a 1.[4]
Further suggestions for interpretation (collected at an English language-class in Germany in the 1980ies, all underlining the “loneliness”) may be: • The “a” in the first line (as indefinite article) represents singularity. • The “le” in the second line is the French equivalent to “the” (again “singularity”). • If the first letters of line 6 to 9 are read downward, they read “soli”, which in Latin means “only”.

• e.e. cummings's "L(a".

• Measured by sheer boldness of experiment, no American poet compares to him, for he slipped Houdini-like out of the locked box of the stanza, then leaped from the platform of the poetic line into an unheard-of way of writing poetry. -- Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, writing about e.e. cummings --

The poetry of e.e. cummings (1894-1962) is something that is extremely new to me, and I cannot emphasize that enough. Truly, I do not even begin to assume that I understand anything about his work. But it intrigues me, it really does, and I want to learn more about it. And a dear friend who does know the work of this poet shared with me the simple secret of how to read what is known in the poetry world as the ideogram format. Here is a wonderful example of it, seen in cummings’s untitled poem, commonly referred to and anthologized as “l(a”.


le af fa


s) one l


This poetic structure combines simplicity and complexity, and is meant to be seen, moreso than heard. As is quite obvious, it is not something that is going to WOW a listener at a public reading! No, the reader must observe it on the page, spatially investigate it, if you will. To some readers, in fact, it may look like gibberish at first, until you read the letters within the parentheses, apart from the ones outside. It’s cheating, but perhaps setting the thing horizontally would help.... l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness. Cummings is placing the phrase “a leaf falls” within the surrounding word “loneliness.” Loneliness / a leaf falls.

But placing it horizontally is a bit worse than cheating. It is like nailing Van Gogh’s Starry Night upside down on your wall and then thinking this wouldn't bother the painter. Both acts are just WRONG. The poem is vertical, and every single letter is placed exactly so, very purposefully. The truth is, there is so much going on with the way cummings has presented these 22 characters that it can boggle the mind. This poem is about individuality – oneness. [What an understatement, but seriously, one must set some sort of parameters in order to discuss something. A true thinker could speak about this poem until the world’s trees were bare....] Each line, in one way or another, highlights the theme of oneness, from the first “L”, deliberately lower case, and looking like a numeric "one". [One should remember that in the pre-computer era in which this poem was written, typewriter keyboards did not even have a character for the numeral “1” as our keyboards nowadays do.... and so, a lower case “L” was quite literally a 1.] And then there is the very next letter, following the first bracket in the first line. An “a” denoting singularity. Lack of plurality. Even the next grouping of “le” is the French definite article denoting “the” which would precede a masculine subject in its singularity. [Anything in the plural would be preceded by “les”.] The fifth line has “ll” which is really two ones, while the seventh line actually spells out the word “one”, which (I think significantly) is the only entire English word presented horizontally in the poem. This is followed by yet another “l” or 1. And then, “iness” which could mean “the state of being I”.... the state of my me-ness. [Do you begin to see how such a discussion could be nearly endless? It is truly remarkable]. I mean... aside from all of this, the WHOLE POEM almost looks like a letter “I” [not “el” but “eye” as in “me”].

But it gets even more interesting when we begin looking at the motif (or metaphor) of the falling leaf. The whole poem seems constructed (designed) to resemble the very action of a leaf in descent. Pairs of letters flit downwards... (af & fa, for instance, reversing themselves in the 3rd and 4th) just as a leaf would flutter, twist and turn. This flip-flop is quickly followed by the “ll” which could signify a quicker drop, the leaf itself being perpendicular to the ground in that moment before flattening out again, gliding downwards, one more swoop with the next “l” and then into the wider “iness” at the base of the poem, as though not only joining other leaves that have previously fallen, but we even have a bit of the sibilance of what it might sound like were there a slight breeze. Leaves, perhaps swirling around a bit....

And this is still just sort of a bit of technical stuff. We have not even spoken about what the poem means to the reader. But this is the holy ground stuff. It is where we experience the poem, and ask ourselves why a leaf falling is like loneliness. It is the unspoken revelation. And untaught. We can only know what the poem says to our self. We cannot know what it says to someone else. This poem is a wonderful illustration of this fact, as it defies the reader to even speak it, as presented. We can each focus upon so many aspects. Upon the leaf’s brief journey, upon its coming to a place of rest. We can think about timeliness (“for everything there is a season” and all of that). We can think about why the tree lets go. We can think about how the leaf held on. Loneliness surrounds the leaf, and notice, even does so while it is still attached to the tree. Loneliness is proper. Loneliness is cruel. Loneliness is a severing. Loneliness is a meeting of others.

It might look like gibberish at first sight. But this poem is a work of art, and the work of a genius. Loneliness: a leaf falling is sort of like a Hallmark card. Loneliness is a leaf falling is sort of like a bumper sticker. But l(a le af fa ll s) one l iness will forever be e.e. cummings. Pure genius.

This poem by e. e. cummings fascinates me, because it exists outside of the aural dimension we usually associate with poetry. It functions like visual art, but sticks in the head like poetry. The words we can extract from the poem are "loneliness", and "a leaf falls." Interestingly, "a leaf falls" is embedded within "loneliness." This is a meaning that can only exist in a visual mode that relies on visual arrangement of words. A short film of a leaf falling may suggest loneliness, but it can't carry the same impact as this poem, which literally embeds a leaf falling into the image of loneliness.

In terms of content, the statement, "a leaf falls" is active. It's a statement. The physical structure of the poem enforces that, forcing the eye to dart back and forth across the hyper-short lines, much as a leaf zigs and zags towards the ground. It's a perfect representation of a leaf falling. But why must a leaf falling be lonely? The poem conjures such a strong image of solitude that any other mood would be inappropriate. It's a lonesome death, but somehow beautiful and thoughtful.

Does the image of the poem carry weight for you in a way that words cannot? Do you disagree with my assertion that the active nature of reading is perfectly suited to reflect the act of a leaf falling? Are there any ways to convey the same activity without resorting to a visual arrangement? And is it poetry, if it relies on its visual medium so heavily that it cannot be properly pronounced? Let me know your reaction.

I believe the poem is about a relationship where two people come together in the first line and live life as a couple till one dies near the end. Here is my proof:
In the first line we see the "1" and the "a" being 'joined' by the beginning bracket. Brackets are used to group things or ideas together. (Cummings also used grouping brackets near the end of "grasshopper" to separate words of a sentence.) get it?
The letters fall down the page as a couple, paired together until the ending bracket.(death)
The first time we see a 'word' is the line just after the one with the ending bracket. The word "one" appears. The line just after that is where we find the one and only line with a single character. A "1" Both lines represent singularity. Now look up a few lines where the "11" appears. Two singular symbols for 'one' placed next to each other on the line with white space above and below for emphasis. This is symbolic of a couple.
Also, ask why does a leaf fall? Leaves fall when they die. Where does it fall from? Leaves fall from trees. Trees are symbolic of life. "Family tree" or "tree of life" and so on. The loneliness outside the brackets represents the feelings of the one left behind. And the final line of the poem is read as 'one-ness', again singular. BTW- "la" and "le" on the first two lines are also singular in French and other foreign languages.



le af fa


s) one l


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