Saturday, 13 November 2010

Poem of the Week - 'my sweet old etcetera' by e. e. cummings

I've chosen a poem this week connected to Rememberance Day. Usually at this time of year we being out the Owens and the Sassoons, and whilst these poems are undoubtedly extremely powerful and immediate records of war, it seems to go quite against the spirit of rememberance to use the same single voices to speak for thousands. The poem I have picked out (which incidentally, might also be my very favourite poem), is by a poet who you may not immediately connect with the battleground, although his early years serving first in the American Ambulance Corps and then in the Massachusetts 12th Division in WWI gave him the scope and space to develop anti-war views in his early creative work. The poem, unlike the style of Wilfred Owen, is delicate in its construction, with the syntax and linear structure constantly at risk of falling apart. There is also a surprising amount of humour, which avoids any claggy sentimentalisation of the subject. The revelation of the speaker's whereabouts at the end gives clarity to the whole business of  the inifnite etceteras that lie ever waiting, now and after. It also perhaps evokes the sheer thousands (etc.) of young men killed in action. Clear, fragile, youthful, bittersweet, devastating.

'my sweet old etcetera'
e. e. cummings

my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting

my sister

isabel created hundreds
hundreds)of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera,my

mother hoped that

i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privelege and if only he
could meanwhile my

self etectera lay quietly
in the deep mud et

Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)


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