‘l(a (1958)’, in all its obscure glory, holds the many reasons readers shy away from poetry. The poem is, at first glance, unclear and difficult to read, being chopped up into two letter segments that speak nothing but annoyance to most. Further, it does not seem to possess any of the conventional qualities of a poem, having no defined structure, rhyme scheme or metre. To make matters worse, the poem cannot be read aloud due to the fragmentation of words.
On further inspection, the poem separates into a word and a sentence: “L…oneliness” and “(a leaf falls)”. One may complain about the sparse emptiness in these seemingly meaningless phrases, not realising that the poet has already achieved what he intended. Cummings writes about the–somewhat conventional–poetic themes of loneliness, isolation, and nature, giving the readers a feeling of weariness when reading the poem. The falling of a single leaf invokes a melancholic and despondent feeling of loss. The single word “loneliness”, which is separated, echoes in both the beginning and end of the falling leaf, giving it a feeling of permanence in contrast to the fleeting life of the leaf.
Cummings uses brief and broken words to show barrenness while also highlighting flexibility in the English language. Since one is unable to read the poem in a connected manner, the reader becomes isolated, embodying the core meaning of the poem. The individuals themselves feel a frustrating loneliness because of the poem.
‘l(a’ also redefines our understanding of what can be classified as a poem. It does not conform to the mainstream understanding of poetry, while conveying ideas that are nearly synonyms with the literary form. The structure of Cumming’s poem highlights and exaggerates the general understanding of poetry being “vague” or using compressed language. It also shows the power and versatility of human language. How each sound, pause and punctuation can have meaning and purpose, creating a more rounded image in our minds.
Cummings, E. E. 1958. 95 Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanich. p.1.
Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. 1997. “Understanding Poetry.” In Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 634-635. Orlando: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Harryarts. freepik. 2023. “Free vector set of various hand draw sketch leaves on transparent background.” Freepik. https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/set-various-hand-draw-sketch-leaves-transparent-background_28154213.htm#query=leaf%20sketch&position=3&from_view=keyword&track=ais.