Analysis: A Pretty Day by E.E.Cummings: 2022

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), referred to, as E.E.Cummings was an American poet, writer, and painter.  Best known for his poetry and his unconventional use of grammar and punctuation, or lack of, his poem “A pretty a day” shows just how he was a master of ambiguity as even the title of the poem does not give up its meaning easily, and the first thing to notice about the pretty day poem is its appearance.  Like Denny Bradbury’s poem entitled “there and then”, from her new collection “De-versify” also written in the same lowercase as is familiar to E.E.Cummng’s style.

She also uses no punctuation and the shape of A Pretty Day poem is such that the first stanza mirrors the third and sixth, the second mirrors the fifth and the fourth stands on its own:

Analysis: A Pretty Day by E.E.Cummings

“mist hides rising sun people lost has day begun

birds chirrup long song

fields beckon where crops must grow

come till wave arms scare black crow

back bent over no pain

face away from driving rain

raise face sun again…”

In “A pretty a day”, the first stanza mirrors the third and the second mirrors the fourth and the only punctuation in evidence is the punctuation marks just before the last word in each of the stanzas, which changes from stanza to stanza. A comma in the first, a semi-colon in the second, a colon in the third and a full stop in the first – all of which points to a deliberate “misuse” of punctuation on Cummings’ part.

But rather than just trying to create a poem with a pretty pattern, A Pretty Day poem is actually about womankind and their sexual natures and preferences. By using brackets in his stanzas, Cummings looks to overload each stanza, therefore making the meaning of the poem harder to grasp. The first stanza is about the transitory nature of a woman’s beauty and how, although it quickly fades there is always more on the way:

“a prey a day

(and every fades)

is here and away

(but born are maids

to flower an hour

in all, all)

In his second stanza he refers to the woman – as a flower – being cut down; in other words, the seduction of a woman-taking place, yet in the third stanza an element of violence is brought in when he talks of how “they tremble and cower”. Perhaps insinuating the violence that can take place in a sexual situation and the fear that induces:

“..o yes to flower

Until so blithe

a doer a wooer

some limber and lithe

some very fine mower

a tall; tall

Some jerry so very

(and Nellie and fan)

some handsomest harry

(and sally and nan

they tremble and cower

so pale: pale)

Denny Bradbury, in her poem “Lothario/Lotharia” also looks at the seedier side of romance. Here the woman breaks the heart of her older man, only to go on and then do the same to someone else and someone else again, in a repetitive cycle caused by having her own heartbreak by the betrayal of her first love:

“…She’s now on to pastures new

This lifelong habit is part of Prue

Lothario will feel the rap

Pick up the tab and take the crap

She will walk carefree and flighty

And break another old heart nightly

Another man will fall beside

The road she treads, it’s very wide

In fact it needs to be like that

With bodies strewn so sad a fact

They all want more than she can give

Her first was just who made her live

But he the rotten scoundrel did

The dirty with her best friend Syd…”

In Cummings’ final stanza of “A pretty a day”, he compares the sexual preferences of women; one who embraces her sexuality, another who learns to do so and one who turns to religion instead. The final description he gives is of a woman seen merely as a doll- a sexual object for a man to enjoy:

“.. for Betty was born

to never say nay

but lucy could learn

and lily could pray

and fewer were shyer

than doll. doll”

A Pretty Day EE Cummings poem appears simple in its rhyming words and singsong nature, but within it lies a more complicated meaning that the reader needs to find for themselves that is how women cope with their beauty and sexuality.

A Pretty Day by E.E.Cummings Tone

In “A pretty a day,” E. E. Cummings chooses not to capitalize any letters. All of the names are left uncapitalized, as well as each of the first letters of each line. This is consistent throughout the entire poem. E. E. Cummings wrote often about sex in his early poems, so it is assumed that its meaning is related to it.

The title is “a pretty a day” and refers to a pretty woman a day. This is also the first line of the poem A Pretty Day, in the first stanza, which proves it is important. The line, “but born are maids to flower an hour,” displayed that there are enough pretty women to last a lifetime. Cummings also refers to women as flowers, as seen more clearly in the second stanza. Cummings calls the mower a tall mower. By calling the mower tall, he is giving power to the mower, as being tall is associated with power.

During the third stanza, he lists the names of two men and four women. He intentionally pairs each man with two women. This is to show that a man will sleep with multiple women and is perceived as normal, but unusual for a woman to do the same.

The final stanza represents how women will react to losing their virginity. There are the ones who never say no. There are ones who can learn to accept it easily, the ones who have a slim chance of accepting it, and finally, those who will never accept it. Cummings uses personification for the flower, as he uses them to represent women. Cummings also uses personification through the mower, which actually represents a man who steals a woman’s virginity, along with her innocence.

Cummings applies alliteration to his poem by ending three of the four stanzas with an “all” sound. He also repeats the word immediately after saying it, “doll: doll,” “tall: tall,” and “all: all,” are examples of this. Cummings continues with his history of writing poems that have a sexual meaning that is difficult to perceive without going in depth into the poem A Pretty Day.

Despite Cummings’ fondness for avant-garde styles most of his work is very traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, mixed with a modern twist. His poems are also very much filled with satire.

Many of Cummings’ poems depicts a typographically exuberant style, with words and parts of words, along with punctuation symbols scattered across the page. Cummings’ poems are not only satirical as he addresses social issues in his poems and repeatedly celebrates the season of rebirth, love, and sex. The poem “A pretty a day” also deals with the sexual tensions and thus led to a poem, which dealt with unconventional matters.

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