Analysis of ‘A Total Stranger One Black Day’ by E.E. Cummings

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E.E. Cummings is one of America’s greatest poets. The poem “A total stranger one black day…” is one of the reasons why he is considered the best. Cummings was certainly an individual and stands out in the world of modern poetry as a defiant, playful experimentalist. Cumming’s poems are not only different; but they are abstract, awkward. Through his poems, he mocked traditional lineation and form.

His work tends to divide opinion. Some love his risk-taking and whimsical approach; others find the poems baffling and childish. What cannot be denied is his willingness to push the boundaries of syntax, grammar, and form; he rarely writes a straightforward poem but wants rather deconstruct the language and build it back up according to his own design.

This is why many people are afraid of Cummings. They read one of his poems, struggle to ‘get it’ and think. With Cummings, a reader has to become familiar with his unorthodox, ungrammatical, fragmented style of poetry. It can be said that the form of his poetry may seem unfamiliar but the subject matter depicted is often traditional consisting of love, the seasons, Nature, the human condition and social issues.

Analysis of ‘A Total Stranger One Black Day’ by E.E. Cummings

“A total stranger one black day” deals with the idea that we as humans have many sides to our personalities, and that sometimes, out of the blue, we can discover that, inside, we’re not who we think we are until one day. The stranger is inside each one of us and it often takes a shock or trauma to release that stranger, that shadowy side of our nature.

Therefore, the poem is universal in the sense that we all can transform ourselves for the better once we face the more negative aspects of our psyche. In other words, it can be said that we can forgive ourselves and our own trespassing and transcend the limits.

“A total stranger one black day” appears on the page as a simple, short poem of three lower cased couplets. The title is the first line and trips off the tongue with an iambic lightness that somehow betrays the seriousness of the line.

A complete stranger on a forbidding day, it could be any day in the life of any person, as it appears, and it seems, that a violent act is set in motion. This is perhaps the focal point of these first two lines of the poem where we come across:

a total stranger one black day

Knocked living the hell out of me-

The poet has rearranged the words in the second line to throw the reader and make them aware of this unexpected act of aggression. It is a shock tactic. The words “knocked living” work together with “hell out” to produce a maximum effect by using double stress. The keywords are stranger/black and living/me. Why?


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Until the second couplet, the reader perhaps does not get not wiser because it soon becomes apparent that the stranger and I are one and the same person. The puzzle is, just who forgives who? Does the stranger forgive theme, or the I forgive the stranger?

who found forgiveness hard because

my(as it happened)self he was

Forgiveness is a Christian idea and it reflects the poet’s upbringing. Cumming’s father was a minister and in the context of the poem, it represents reconciliation and the two coming together in a state of New Harmony. But that forgiveness had to be fought for, so to speak, it did not just arrive. It came suddenly to light up the conscience like a thunderbolt after knocking some sense into this person. Moreover, the self is the stranger, existing within the same psyche, unaware of each other until now.

Perhaps they do not initially want to do that. However, once experienced and embraced, the fiend is absorbed by a friend and they are able to heal each other’s wounds.

-but now that fiend and I are such

immortal friends the other’s each

‘A Total Stranger One Black Day’ by E.E. Cummings Tone

E. E. Cummings, an author mainly known for his work of art, wrote numerous works of poetry over a variety of subjects. Even though his poem’s subject matter differs from time to time, some of the distinct styles are depicted in almost all his works. Cummings use of enjambment in his poetry is a stylistic trademark in his poetry and this adds a different aspect in his works. Cummings always possessed control over the tone of his poems and the themes are placed at the end of the poems.

“A total stranger one black day” is a poem made up of three couplets consisting of two line each. The end words to each couplet are all imperfect rhymes: day/me, because/was, such/each, creating some dissonance. These lines loosely connect the whole. The dominant meter in the poem is iambic tetrameter, that is, there are eight syllables and four feet in each line. This poet constructed his poem with three non-rhyming couplets with eight meters each.

Upon reading this poem, the reader is immediately hit with the realization that he is the same as the author. They both do stupid things to hurt themselves and both beat ourselves up about it. However, in the end, they still go on and live their lives, treating themselves like a best friend.

This is what makes this poem so great. It is something that every reader can relate to, as it is a sort of a human emotion. Humans are crazy, interesting, and sometimes horrible beings–even to ourselves. The only thing we can do is move on, continue our lives, and not dread on our past mistakes.

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