Jillian Huang-Tiller has written a delightful blog post and article in the lastest edition of Spring, the journal of the EEC Society, detailing the Society’s re-visit to Joy Farm and the Silver Lake area in August 2015.
perished have safe small
facts of hilltop
(barn house wellsweep
forest & clearing)
gone are enormous
near far silent
truths of mountain
(strolling is there here
warm sweet mistfully
ourselves exist sans
shallbe or was
(laws clocks fears hopes
doubts & corners)
worlds are to dream now
dreams are to breathe
E.E. Cummings (CP 755)
“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.”
Many people do not know that E E Cummings’, the well-known poet who lived part of the year near Silver Lake, in Madison, NH, first ambition was to become a painter, not a poet. Born on October 14, 1894, most people know E.E. Cummings the writer. As a poet, Edward Estlin Cummings was very popular throughout the 20th century and received widespread critical acclaim. Less well-known is Cummings’ accomplishment as a visual artist.
Born to a pair of genteel Cambridge parents, Estlin’s parents (he preferred being called this) were anxious that he have the best education and environment he possibly could to be a successful and happy man. Schooled at home nearly until he enrolled in Harvard at sixteen, his parents were willing participants in enacting plays, costumed, with great drama. Many of the drama props are on view at the Madison Historical Society.
Cummings thought endlessly about visual art and its relation to the other arts. He devoted a tremendous amount of time to his art, writing copious notes on his ideas about painting, color theory, the human body, the ‘intelligence’ of painting, and the Masters. He spent several years in Europe and studied all forms of art in museums.
His father was a minister of the Unitarian Church and a teacher at Harvard, where Estlin always had access to the best educators of the times. Estlin himself never became a devout churchgoer, but more of a transcendentalist in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who constantly apprehended spiritual truth through intellect, nature, and reading. His numerous studies of Mount Chocorua, while in the tradition of Cezanne, suggest an endless search for the truth—that of the ultimate ‘eyeball’—seeing and understanding all—which Emerson referred to in his essays.
At an early age he showed promise as a writer and an illustrator, creating his own storybooks that he also illustrated. These “ twin obsessions”—painting and poetry—were the focus of his life, but by the 1930s, he was recognized most for his poetry.
There were four major aesthetic concerns of Cummings’ adult work: perception, three-dimensional form, motion, and the interrelation of the arts were his focus in the early part of his life. Expert biographer Milton Cohen characterizes him as a ‘poet, cerebral aesthetician, and lifelong painter.’ Cummings was always struggling to earn a living, and owes much to a group of wealthy supporters who were happy to commission him to paint.
Cummings painted primarily in oils on canvas, canvas board, particleboard, cardboard, and sometimes burlap. His painting is generally divided into two phases. Between 1915 and 1928, he produced large-scale abstractions that were widely acclaimed.
Some of his early successes were a series entitled “Sounds” in which he portrayed sounds. These intrigued his cerebral friends. He was fascinated with color and often counterbalanced the colors of the color wheel in his landscapes. One of his favorite gifts as a young man was his own color wheel.
Then a tectonic shift in the focus of his art was near simultaneous with the deadly car accident that his parents experienced one winter night at a railroad crossing in Ossipee, NH, in November of 1926. His mother survived but his father did not. This is not to suggest causation, but often great trauma does signal dramatic change in a person’s life. His life, once he retired to Silver Lake, was generally divided into two parts during the day: painting in the morning, and poetry in the afternoon.
Between 1928 and 1962, Cummings created primarily representational works including still lifes, landscapes, nudes, and portraits.
He produced highly popular drawings and caricatures that were published in “The Dial” journal, printed by the Dial Press, a publishing house founded in 1923 by Lincoln MacVeagh. Dial Press shared a building with The Dial and Scofield Thayer worked with both. Both were friends of Cummings.
Known for cutting a dramatic though small figure when he swept through Silver Lake, his long duster swirling about him, gloves on hands, hat on head, he made an impressive figure. The gloves, of course, were to cover his highly chapped hands which were exposed daily to turpentine.
Once he settled in Silver Lake, his painting routine took the form of Mount Chocorua studies in its many attitude, poses, color, shade, and angles. They are a delight to the Chocorua lover.
Cummings’ touchstones of expression were his erotic poetry and line drawings which are favorites of the collector. They are inspirational, illustrating the depth of his emotion and understanding of the nature of life and the human form.
Later in his life, he was an invited speaker and found great success with the dramatic delivery of his poetry. These were a terrific effort for him, but he enjoyed the attention and money that they brought him.
Cummings spent the last ten years of his life traveling, and producing speaking engagements, and living at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire of a stroke.
His line drawings and aphorisms highlight his resistance to instruction of any kind:
“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.”
Get to know E E Cummings through the Friends of Madison Library’s Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend, July 10 & 11, 2015. On Saturday, visit his favorite landscapes and see the view from his beloved Joy Farm. View the Cummings’ Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society and the Mount Washington Valley Arts Association art show and silent auction at the Madison Library. On Friday night at 7 pm enjoy the “nonlecture” of music, art, readings and discussion at the Madison Elementary School. All proceeds from the weekend benefit the Madison Library. Tickets are available through the Madison Library or through the Friends’ website http://www.cummingsatsilverlake.com.
Cynthia Melendy, PhD.
Cynthia lives in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire and has a MA degree in American Studies and a PhD in History.
A well sweep is an ingenious device used to bring water up from a well. The only materials needed to construct a well sweep were wooden poles, usually obtained locally, and a heavy weight of stone or clay. A vertical post, often with a Y notch at the top, was mounted by the well hole. The post held a horizontal pole, or sweep, which was heavier at one end and rested on the ground. A long, thin pole with an attached bucket or pail was placed at the other end. A person would pull the thin pole and bucket down into the well and fill it with water, and the sweep’s weight would then lift the bucket up. The term, “sweep” refers to the long pole which is lowered until the bucket on the end goes down into the well and fills with water. Because the pole is anchored in the middle on another pole, creating a fulcrum, it can be counter balanced, thus making it easier to raise the pole, and lift the bucket from the well. When correctly balanced, the counterweight will support a half-filled bucket, so some effort is used to pull an empty bucket down to the water, but only the same effort is needed to lift a full bucket.
Originally developed in Ancient Egypt, a drawing of such a device appears on a Sumerian seal of c.2000 BCE. Well sweeps are still used in many areas of Africa and Asia to draw water. Also called a “shadoof” or “shaduf”, they remain quite common in Hungary’s Great Plains, where they are known as “gémeskút” (literally, “ heron wells”) and are symbols of the region. In France, where sweeps were still widespread in the countryside in 1986, they are called “balancing wells”.
The bucket ( or skin bag or coated reed basket) can be made in many different styles, sometimes having an uneven base or a part at the top of the skin that can be untied. This allows the water to be immediately distributed rather than manually emptied. The short end carries a weight (clay, stone, or similar) which serves as the counterpoise of a lever. When used for irrigation, with an almost effortless swinging and lifting motion, the waterproof vessel is used to scoop up and carry water from one body of water (typically, a river or pond) to another. At the end of each movement, the water is emptied out into runnels that convey the water along irrigation ditches in the required direction. Well sweeps in New England were more common one hundred years ago or more and came to be replaced by pulleys and cranks and eventually by mechanical pumps.
The well sweep at Joy Farm has been repaired many times over the intervening years, most recently by the current owners, although they no longer use water from the well.
Visit Joy Farm and 7 other locations in the Silver Lake area as part of the Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend, July 10 & 11, 2015. Tickets are $15 per person prior to July 1st and $20 after that date.
“It must be said once and for all that his name should be written and printed with the usual capital letters in their usual places: “E. E. Cummings.” So insists the late Norman Friedman, Cummings scholar and co-founder of the E.E. Cummings Society.
Oh, isn’t Cummings the poet who never uses capitals?
“Even a casual look at his poems shows that of course he uses capitals—he uses them frequently, albeit not always conventionally. The same goes for spacing, word and line breaks, parentheses, and punctuation, not to mention grammar and syntax. What probably accounts for the common misperception that he is a lowercase poet is his usual printing of “I” as “i.”
Interestingly, he wrote in a letter to his mother on September 3, 1925, “I am a small eye poet.” Notice that he capitalizes the first-person singular, distinguishing between the writer of the letter and the writer of the poetry”.
Well, didn’t he always sign his name ee cummings?
No, not that either. In his letters, which were usually typed, he most frequently used the uppercase form, with his signature at the bottom in caps.
This September 1942 letter was written by Cummings while he was at Joy Farm, his summer residence in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. It was written to Jesse Shackford, Sr., the first of many Shackfords to work for Cummings and Marion Morehouse. Mr. Shackford, as Cummings respectfully addressed him, was apparently ill at the time and the letter was sent to the Memorial Hospital in North Conway–the same hospital where E.E. Cummings died in September 1962.
Note the return address typed as EECummings SilverLake. Both the letter and the envelop demonstrate Cummings’ typical practice of omitting spaces and combining words, but he uses capital letters where appropriate in his name.
Another letter written to Ruth and Jesse Shackford, Jr., known as Bud, refers to his beloved Chocorua mountain, capitalizes the letter “I”, and is signed simply Estlin.
Visit Joy Farm and the Jesse Shackford farm, enjoy the Cummings’ Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society and take a self-guided tour of 4 other locations related to E.E. Cummings (with capital letters) during the Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend presented by Friends of Madison Library on July 10 & 11, 2015. Order will call tickets now.
Quotes from Norman Friedman
[Spring 1 (1992): 114-121]
With many thanks to Ruth Shackford, Silver Lake, NH
E.E. Cummings’ letters from a summer spent at Joy Farm “are crammed with news about raccoons, deer, a red fox who chased crickets, a grey fox, a porcupine who taught her young ones to eat apples, woodchucks, chipmunks who were threatened by a marauding cat.”
& sun &
(E.E. Cummings-Complete Poems 830)
Quote from Dreams in the Mirror, Richard S. Kennedy 1980
Joy Farm, the much loved summer retreat of the poet, E.E. Cummings, sits at the top of a long uphill drive and commands a stunning view of Mount Chocorua and the Sandwich Mountain Range in Carroll County, New Hampshire. The barn was more than 100 years old when Cummings’ father, Edward Norton Cummings, bought the property in 1898, just before Estlin’s fourth birthday.
“For many years there was no electricity. They read by kerosene lamplight, and heated water, pulled from the well by an old-fashioned sweep, on the woodstove in the kitchen. But the screened porch faced Chocorua Mountain. And north was over the barn.”
or thrushes toward dusk amount whippoorwills or
tree field rock hollyhock forest brook chickadee
whycoloured worlds of because do
not stand against yes which is built by
forever & sunsmell
(sometimes a wonder
of wild roses
E.E. Cummings Complete Poems 512
-from Nobody-But-Himself by Carol L. Batchelder in Spring The Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, new series Number 6
Best known as a poet, E.E. Cummings was also an accomplished artist. While his early work was often abstract, later in his life he frequently painted the view of the mountains from Joy Farm. “Many of the landscapes are either weirdly surreal and muted or else bursting with mad swirls of brilliant colors. His favorite (or at least most frequent) landscape subject by far was Mt Chocorua in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which often either dominates the canvas or at least makes its presence known (á la Mt Fuji in traditional Japanese painting).” quote from Ken Lopez Bookseller.
In a “conversation” with himself, Cummings’ compares his paintings with his poetry.
“Your poems are rather hard to understand, whereas your paintings are so easy.
Of course—you paint flowers and girls and sunsets; things that everybody understands.
I never met him.
Did you ever hear of nonrepresentational painting?
I am a painter, and painting is nonrepresentational.
Not all painting.
No: housepainting is representational.
And what does a housepainter represent?
Ten dollars an hour.
In other words, you don’t want to be serious—
It takes two to be serious.
E.E. Cummings in “Forward to an Exhibit: II” (1945)
Known as the poet of “little i”, Edward Estlin Cummings signed many, but not all of his works e.e.cummings.
who are you,little i
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window:at the gold
of november sunset
(and feeling:that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)
“At one time the most famous American poet after Robert Frost, “by erasing the sacred left margin, breaking down words into syllables and letters, employing eccentric punctuation, and indulging in all kinds of print-based shenanigans, Cummings brought into question some of our basic assumptions about poetry, grammar, sign, and language itself, and he also succeeded in giving many a typesetter a headache…. Cummings reveled in breaking the rules of grammar, punctuation, orthography, and lineation. 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.” (From: Is That a Poem? The case for E.E. Cumming by Billy Collins in Slate, April 20, 2005).
On October 14, 1894 E. E. Cummings, the well-known American poet, author and artist was born at home on Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Named Edward Estlin Cummings, he was called Estlin by family and friends. The only son of Edward Norton Cummings, a college professor and minister of the Unitarian Church, Estlin was home schooled by his mother for several years and then educated at Cambridge Latin School and Harvard. In 1899 when Estlin was 5 his father bought a large farm on a hillside in the Town of Madison, New Hampshire. Not far from the crystal clear waters of Silver Lake, the farm possessed an incredible view of Mount Chocorua and the Sandwich Mountain Range. Soon after began the life-long relationship between E.E. Cummings and the town around Silver Lake and the people who lived there. Previously owned by one Ephraim Joy, the property was known as the “Joy Farm”. Here Estlin wrote poetry from an early age, built teepees and tree houses, rode the family horse, swam in Silver Lake and played with the neighborhood children. Later he painted landscapes and nudes, escaped from his often tumultuous adult life in Boston and New York, and finally settled down with the love of his life, the model and photographer, Marion Morehouse. On September 2, 1962 Cummings had a stroke shortly after splitting wood at Joy Farm and died the following day at the hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Then as now, Silver Lake was home to Wards, Lymans, Shackfords and Frosts. Members of these families worked for and with the Cummings family at Joy Farm, many became friends and correspondents of EE Cummings and some appear in his poetry and prose. At the time of his death, Estlin and Marion Morehouse were collaborating on a book of Marion’s photographs titled Adventures in Value. Cummings wrote the text for the book which was published after his death. Photos of Jess Shackford, Frank Lyman, and Minnie Frost are included.
There are at least three significant (that is voluminous) biographies of E.E. Cummings. There is also Susan Cheever’s more recent addition to the crowd. From these I learned and condensed the basics, set out above. And then, along comes the most wonderful, colorful and delightful Cummings biography of them all. enormous Smallness written by the poet Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, is a gem not just for children.
For the not-so-brief biography of E.E. Cummings see any of the following:
E.E. Cummings The Magic-Maker by Charles Norman, The Boobs-Merrill Company, Inc.1958
Dreams in the Mirror A biography of E.E. Cummings by Richard S. Kennedy, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1980
E.E. Cummings a biography by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, Sourcebooks, Inc. 2004
E.E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever, Pantheon 2014