Levertov and Cummings

For our practice analyses of open verse on Tuesday, I’d like for us to look at E. E. Cummings‘s “since feeling is first” (1926) and Denise Levertov‘s “The Third Dimension” (1957).

Since Feeling Is First

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

The Harvard-educated Cummings (American, 1894–1962), considered a modernist, included this poem in E. E. Cummings IS 5 (1926). He was influenced by Gertrude Stein and enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps with friend John dos Posos in 1917 (wikipedia). Though he was quite experimental with syntax and diction and pushed traditional poetic tropes, Cummings’s popularity was near that of Robert Frost’s at his death.

The Third Dimension

Who’d believe me if
I said, ‘They took and

split me open from
scalp to crotch, and

still I’m alive, and
walk around pleased with

the sun and all
the world’s bounty.’ Honesty

isn’t so simple:
a simple honesty is

nothing but a lie.
Don’t the trees

hide the wind between
their leaves and

speak in whispers?
The third dimension

hides itself.
If the roadmen

crack stones, the
stones are stones:

but love
cracked me open

and I’m
alive to

tell the tale — but not

the words
change it. Let it be —

here in the sweet sun
— a fiction, while I

breathe and
change pace.

Levertov (born in Britain but spent most of her adult life in the U.S., 1923-1997), considered a postmodernist, was grouped with the Black Mountain Poets, “a group of progressive poets who, in the 1940s and 1950s, [who] were associated with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. These poets, including Charles OlsonRobert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, promoted a nontraditional poetics described by Olson in 1950 as ‘projective verse.’ Olson advocated an improvisational, open-form approach to poetic composition, driven by the natural patterns of breath and utterance” (poetryfoundation.org). Many of these poets’ works, including Levertov’s “The Third Dimension,” were compiled in editor Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945-1960.

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