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pretty a day

pretty a day

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 poem is its appearance.  Like Denny Bradbury’s poem entitled “there and then”, from her new collection “De-versify” also written in the same lower case as is familiar to e.e.cummng’s style, she also uses no punctuation and the shape of the poem is such that the first stanza mirrors the third and sixth, the second mirrors the fifth and the fourth stands on its own:

“   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, the 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 pretty 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 takes a look at the seedier side of romance, where 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 heart break by the betrayal of her first love:

……”She’s now on to pastures new
This life long 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 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”

His 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 of how women cope with their beauty and sexuality.

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