Sunday, June 1, 2014

[somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond] - E. E. Cummings

somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence;
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fraglility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Open and close.  Fingers like flower-petals, Cummings depicts fragility as a source of great strength, which have the capacity to contain and "unclose" the narrator.  I'd feel fairly comfortable calling this a love poem, but more comfortable calling it a wonder poem.  Everything about it wonders in amazement and deep appreciation, heartfelt admiration of the great power wielded by one so outwardly fragile.

The dominant image of the poem is that of opening and closing.  The narrator has "closed himself as fingers" and it is only through the intercession of the object, the "you" of the poem, can he open and bloom.  Bloom is a fitting word, considering that it is not the fists of a finger being opened, rather, "you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens her first rose."  It's a mystery how, but the touch is skillful.

The "you" of the poem, the love/admiration object, by sense, slowly opens Cummings.  Their "silence" and "frail gesture enclose" the narrator, cradling him softly.  The "look" does not enclose, but "unclose," opening the narrator up to new experience.  So willing is Cummings to bend to this you that if it is their wish, his life will "shut very beautifully."  Continuing the flower simile, Cummings, comparing himself to a flower, at the slightest suggestion that the love object may want him to close will shut "as when the heart of this flower [my heart] imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending."

"Intense fragility" is the most interesting image in the poem for me.  It's like a statement of radical openness.  For something fragile to be intense seems like a contradiction, but I think it's that the delicacy and fragility of this love object are so powerful, so touching, that they are an intense emotional experience.  Prying open a fist flower with nothing but a look is an intense power over man.  Indeed, it "compels" Cummings, and the breath of this love object is life and death itself.  He admits it, too, and confesses that he does not know, but something inside him understands.

What a lovely image that is!  And haven't we all felt that?  Something which we could not know with our minds, could not explain rationally, but on some fundamental emotional level, we understood?  The images all throughout the poem carry that trademark Cummings quality of wispy yet clear images, things that sound strange together and yet make perfect sense.  Imagining that the rain has small hands seems bizarre, but then again, doesn't it touch us like so many small fingers, so many light, cool touches?  "i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses."  The voice of your eyes!  What an image.  We do speak with our eyes, of course.  You can have a full conversation in nothing but glances, blinks, and glares.  A lovely, refreshing poem.


  1. I imagined he was speaking to and of a cherished infant or an infirm elder, either of which he communicates through looks and delicate touches.

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