on e e cummings and the simplicity of the gospel
i carry your heart with meIt made me smile to hear it again, and to hear it read more beautifully than it ever sounded in the voice in my own head. It delighted middle-aged me at least as much as it did teen-me. I glanced at the commentary provided by the man who had read it with such deep feeling. As it turned out, the man hates this poem and promised to extend little more than civility to anyone he meets who likes it. He offered this disparagement:
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
edward estlin cummings
"To me, this is a poem for people who in general do not like poetry."
Though I knew I was being insulted, I could not argue with his statement. It's true. I "in general do not like poetry". And yet here was a poem, and I had liked it, and had proceeded to consume a whole book of Cummings' poetry, which I also loved, much of which the critic did approve of.
And, so, my question is: what is wrong with writing a poem so winsome that even a dolt like me can be delighted? Is it possible that the very fact that it could crack a heart as hard as mine speaks to its strength, not its weakness? What is the point of poetry anyway? Exclusivity? Is the mark of a good poem that it appeals only to an elite few? Does the poet really not care that others are touched by it? I find that difficult to believe. What voice cries into a wilderness longing not to be heard?
Yet I've seen this exclusive mindset all over the artistic world - artists pouring out their hearts, dreaming of making a mark, and patrons trying to hoard them to themselves. I've seen it in churches too, people taking hold of the message and soon, as though unable to tolerate its simplicity, burying it under regulations and nomenclature then sitting smugly atop the mound, smirking at those who "just don't get it".
How quickly we forget the simple beauty of first love. How easily bored we become with even the greatest splendor. We aren't content to have enjoyed it, but must own it. So much of what we think of as love of beauty or love of God is really love of self. It's about feeling elite, elevated, in the know, superior, powerful. Appreciating this poem or that teaching, makes me feel smart, set apart from the masses. Yes, Me. I've done it. I've cheapened many wonderful things by using them to class myself up. I've done it with literature. I've done it with music. I've even done it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Cor 1: 26-31 (emphasis mine).Now that I know Christ as the one in whom " all things hold together" and who has given me a new heart, this simple poem reads more like a prayer.
You can listen to the man who hates the poem read it beautifully here. Ironically, and sadly, I could find no better reading of it than his.