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On "O sweet spontaneous"

Barry A. Marks (1964)

Cummings presents philosophy, science, and theology as dirty old men disgustingly attempting to recapture their lost youth. They are victims of what Cummings called..."mental concupiscence." Their specific ills are their effort to reduce life to abstractions and their underlying effort to make life conform to the purposes of man. From this kind of desire earth withholds her charms. By contrast, the natural relationship of earth and death issues in the spontaneous vitality of SPRING. The arrangement of the poem on the page is Cummings' experimental effort to represent his theme. Negatively, it is a rebuff to literary conventions (which parallel the conventions of philosophy, science, and theology). Positively, it forces us to a dramatic sense of the poem's meaning. The clearest instance is the placement of "spring." The wide spaces separating the last three lines function as musical rests of varying length. The consequence is a great sudden stress on the word "spring," so that, in effect, it springs at us....

...In a way which is, in the conventional sense of the term, clear--and yet poetically not very impressive--Cummings here used sex as a symbol of uninhibited spontaneity, of natural vitality in contrast to sterile human conventionality. It is a rather blunt instrument, however; and, at the least, Cummings left undefined the relationship between sex and death. The poem says that true vitality results from a relationship with death which is, somehow, like the cycle of the seasons. The nature of the relationship, however, is by no means clear. Cummings' best poems about sex fully and precisely render this relationship....

From Barry A. Marks, E. E. Cummings (New York: Twayne, 1964): 70 and 71.

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