Study Questions on Poems by ee cummings and Carl Sandburg

Written and adapted from various sources
by
Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Associate Professor of English
Ferrum College


ee cummings

1. What is the effect of e e cummings’ rejection of traditional capitalization and punctuation rules in his poems? (Take note of words which are capitalized.)

2. cummings sometimes used one part of speech in a sentence position where "normal" grammatical structure requires another part of speech. For example, in “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” the adverb “how” is used between an adjective and noun, where adverbs never occur in ordinary usage, and the verbs “didn’t” and “did” are used like nouns, as the objects of “sang” and “danced.” Also, indefinite pronouns (“anyone,” “someone”) are used in contexts in which they normally would not make sense. Find other examples of this type of “ungrammaticality” in this and other poems. What are the effects of violating grammatical rules in this way?

3. How are images from nature related to human experience in cummings’ poems? What do poems such as “o sweet spontaneous” say about how society misinterprets nature?

4. How do the arrangement of lines and the invention of compound words contribute to the themes of “in Just—”? Why is the balloon Man “goat-footed”?

5. How do the views of spring compare in “in Just—” and “o sweet spontaneous”?

6. How do the views of society and institutions such as religion compare in “the Cambridge ladies” and “o sweet spontaneous”? What does the poet mean by “furnished souls” in “the Cambridge ladies”? What behaviors and attitudes of high society women is cummings satirizing? Why is the moon angry in this poem? How does its view of high society compare to T. S. Eliot’s?

7. Why is Death called “Mister” at the end of “Buffalo Bill’s”? What view of the folk hero is presented in this poem?

8. What famous words does cummings use in “next to of course god”? What kinds of clichés are worked into the poem? What is the effect of this combination of important American songs and clichés? What does the last line tell us about the speaker and the situation in which he is speaking?

9. What wartime attitudes and behaviors are being satirized in “next to of course god” and “my sweet etcetera”? Why is the last “Etcetera” capitalized and why is that word divided in the previous lines at the end of the poem?

10. What attitudes toward marriage are conveyed in “this little bride & groom are”? What do the complicated images of rings suggest?

11. What kind of story is narrated in “anyone lived in a pretty how town”? Who are the main characters?

12. What is the speaker criticizing in "i sing of Olaf"? What does the poem say about the relationship between the individual and society? What satiric techniques are used?

13. What is the effect of the unusual line breaks and violations of ordinary word boundaries in this poem?

14. What type of person is Olaf? How have others changed him? How does the speaker in "i sing of olaf" feel about him?

15. What words are included in the poem “l(a)”? If you wrote it out on one line, what would it say? How does the arrangement of lines contribute to the theme?

16. How do cummings’ attitudes toward love, death, and nature compare to Emily Dickinson’s?

17. How do Eliot's and cummings' innovations in the uses of images, language, and poetic form help convey their views on modern society?

18. Why have some critics called cummings “an adolescent sentimentalist and sensationalist”?

19. Why is cummings considered a Romantic poet, even though he uses modern images and techniques? How does his exuberant, transcendent vision of American life compare with that of Walt Whitman or other writers?

Carl Sandburg

1. What is the work of the grass in Sandburg’s “Grass”?

2. What details in Sandburg’s poems might have offended a traditional “genteel” reader?

3. How does Sandburg’s view of the city in “Chicago” and “The Harbor” compare to Eliot’s views of city life and to Whitman’s portrayal of American places?

4. What views of cemeteries are reflected in “Graceland” and “Cool Tombs”? What issues concerning social life in America are considered in these poems about the graves of the dead?

5. What are the effects of Sandburg’s use of combinations of images from nature and from industrial society?

6. What characteristics make “Fog” a typical “imagist” poem?

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