Contrast and Comparison of E.E Cummings’ poems ‘humanity i love you’ and ‘a man who had fallen’ Matt Semmler Through a comparison and contrast of e.e. cummings’ poems – ‘Humanity I Love You’ and ‘A man who had fallen’ show how expression of his ideas is dependent on his art as a poet. E.e. cummings’ ideas are dependent on his art as a poet. In the two poems, ‘Humanity’ and ‘A man who had fallen’, e.e. cummings develops a picture of mankind as weak and directionless, and of the poet as being the spiritual and compassionate guide for humanity.
In both poems, these ideas are expressed through the subject matter, point of view, irony and imagery and sound. Through the subject matter of ‘Humanity’, e.e. cummings first gives a number of reasons why he ‘loves’ humanity. His reasons include – they will crawl to what they perceive as successful, they are impressed by the appearance of wealth rather than spiritual concerns, they hate being embarrassed by their own behaviour, they are attracted to superficial expressions of feelings to jingoistic sentimentality and patriotism, they can’t use their intelligence to solve problems, they’re too proud to admit their own mistakes, they create confusion and hurt especially in their own homes, they can’t put the pleasure and joy of life and sex at the top of their priorities i.e. They’re too prudish. Finally, the poet provides one single reason why he ‘hates’ humanity – they are strong and brave enough to defy death itself in the creation of something that expresses hope, a poem.
In comparison, In ‘A man who had fallen’, e.e. cummings uses the same basic subject matter as ‘humanity’ in the way that it comments on how mankind is plagued with flaws and weaknesses only by using the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan to describe a modern day scenario. The subject matter of the poem includes – a man lying beside the road as a result of his drunken stupor after a night out on the town drinking, he is an unimportant person with a silly grin on his face, one hand on his chest and the other weakly fidgeting in the dirt that he has fallen in, he is covered in solidified vomit and he appears to be lifeless, all the important citizens pause to look at him but shake their heads in mutual disgust and move on, the only person who stops to help him is the poet, who, like the man, has no way or direction, but will still take him through the unknown for an eternity. In ‘Humanity’, through the method of theme, e.e. cummings expresses his love for humanity in spite of the foibles and weaknesses that afflict us. The role of the person who gives voice to this is given to the poet.
In comparison with ‘A man who had fallen’, cummings is again stating his love and respect for mankind using the theme of the human spirit. The theme is of the human spirit carrying on and the compassion of mankind. As the poet, who is just as lost and directionless as the drunken man, picks him up and carries him through eternity, the poet is saying that mankind is compassionate and has the strength and will to keep on going in the face of the unknown. Point of view, paradox and irony must also be considered in showing that e.e. cummings’ ideas are dependent on his art.
In respect to point of view, in ‘Humanity’, cummings is commenting on humanity and mankind. He identifies himself with them, and with the use of lower case ‘i’, identifies himself with their weaknesses and the ability to soar to great heights in the face of death. Irony is also used a great deal in this poem, and is one of the major points about the poem. The poem uses irony to help make the meaning more clear. There are three empathetic uses of ‘love’ followed by negative examples, and then the final and only positive example in the poem is presented as a reason for the poet to ‘hate’ humanity.
The hate he has for the good points about humanity is understood as meaning that the poet is confounded by the paradox of mankind. In contrast, the point of view of cummings in ‘A man who had fallen’ is unusual in the way that the poem appears to be written in third person until the final stanza where the poet identifies himself as the humble citizen, through the use of the lower case ‘i’, also in contrast, it is the poet that the irony all relates to, because in spite of his own humble nature and his own sense of directionless, he becomes a saving strength for all eternity. However in comparison, the poet is again identifying himself with the subjects of the poem (Good Samaritan) with the lower case ‘i’. Also in comparison, there is again irony in ‘a man who had fallen’ but it is developed through descriptions rather than the tone (as it is in ‘humanity’) and it is also less personal and more distanced. However it is paradox that is the final key to understanding both poems. The paradox is that humanity is contradictory through its strengths and weaknesses.
The paradoxical meaning of both poems is identical and is expressed in both poems through viewpoint and irony. Sound and imagery play a large part in the structure of both poems. In ‘Humanity’ the sound is repetitive with the words ‘Humanity I Love You’ being repeated 3 times, and with the final ‘Humanity I Hate You’ it makes the poem sound like a chant. The repetition also leaves the reader’s focus on the words ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’, and helps develop the ironic tone that is mentioned above. Other factors involving the sound aspect of things in the poem are – the use of free verse – rhyme and rhythm flow with the segments of meaning that allow the reader to contribute their own meaning to the poem, the internal rhyme, especially alliteration – ‘pawn ..
pride’, ‘flush .. from’, ‘perpetually .. putting’, ‘continually .. committing’ – reinforces the imagery of the poem and makes it more immediate. In contrast, the sound in ‘A man who had fallen’ is less complex, but still plays a large part in the structure of the poem. However in comparison, the use of free verse rhythm reinforces the narrative nature of the parable; the rhyming pattern provides structure with a loose ‘abab’ rhyme in each stanza, which again reinforces the simplicity of the narrative nature of the poem.
The internal rhyming of ‘road .. round’, ‘consciousness .. changeless .. citizens’, ‘pastures .. pinkest’, ‘notice .. nobody’, ‘terror through .. trillion’ reinforces the imagery of the poem and again makes it more immediate as it is with ‘humanity’. The imagery in ‘Humanity’ involves several things.
The images of ‘Humanity’ as being a group of foolish, weak individuals are contrasted to the final image of the ability to soar to great, spiritual heights in the face of death. The images in the poem include ‘black the boots’ = crawling, humiliating oneself; ‘watch chain’ = appearance of wealth; ‘old Howard’ = local pub; ‘committing nuisances’ = making a mess of domestic lives. The final and most noticed image is of defying death by creating poetry. In contrast, ‘A man who had fallen’ uses imagery from the Good Samaritan Parable, with the drunken man as the victim, and ‘staunch’ and ‘leal’ citizens as those lacking compassion. Also in contrast, the poem is not repetitive, unlike ‘humanity’ which repeats ‘humanity I love you’ to let it sink in to the reader’s mind, rather, the poem is more like a narrative, with a deep meaning behind it.
Finally in contrast, the final metaphor is of the poet as the Good Samaritan who rescues a drunken man who is very ordinary (just like mankind) even though he is just as directionless and just as lost as the drunken man himself with the final image of eternity falling away and being enveloped by the stars as they ‘stagger’ their way along life’s difficult path; Whereas, the imagery of ‘A man who had fallen’ shows the poet as an actual saviour to mankind (which is symbolised by the drunken man), but in ‘Humanity’ the poet is simply stating his love for humanity in spite of its weaknesses and faults. In comparison however, it is again stated in ‘a man who had fallen’ the citizens having ordinary weaknesses and ‘foolishness’ and the ‘fifteenth rate’ citizens are compared to sheep metaphorically, so cummings is again saying that mankind is weak and plagued with many flaws. After looking at all the above facts, it is blatantly obvious that the poet uses his knowledge and his art as a poet, to string together his ideas and to express them in a way that is both artistic and meaningful. The way that cummings has used subject matter, theme, paradox, irony, point of view, sound and imagery, to put it concisely, plainly shows that the way he expresses his ideas are dependent on his art as a poet.