The Beauty of Living: E.E. Cummings in the Great War

Norton. Jul. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780393246964. $35. LIT
Focusing on a brief period in the life of American poet E.E. Cummings (1894–1962), notably his World War I experiences as a POW and ambulance driver, this fascinating study from Rosenblitt (E.E. Cummings’ Modernism and the Classics) sheds new light on elements of his life previously underexamined. As a poet, Cummings is more often celebrated for his typographical idiosyncrasies than lyrical brilliance. However, in many ways he is an iconic figure of the Great War era and the modernist movement that arose out of that cataclysmic crucible. With grace and intelligence, Rosenblitt brings the worlds of Harvard, Cambridge, and “the Front” to vivid life. The horrors of gas warfare, mass slaughter, and syphilis linger as you turn the pages. The historical analysis is powerful and profound, yet Rosenblitt has her focus on much more than politics, battles, and mud. Reading Cummings through the lens of her insight is revelatory, and the brilliance of this work may reestablish his place as a poet of towering importance.
VERDICT Placing Cummings in the context of the “War Poets,” Rosenblitt breathes new life back into poems too often anthologized and too little read. Highly recommended.
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