On reading one of those strange and beautiful ee cummings poems

One does not simply read aloud an ee cummings poem.

But this reading is how one of his most popular poems became one of my favorites.

Hold on—just give me one second to—

Gah. I love that poem.

When I shared it with my classes for the first time, I learned quickly that this piece—something *I* believed to be pretty accessible cummings work—seems instantly indecipherable and intimidating to teenagers. The formatting looks scary:

image from The Poetry Foundation

On top of that, I asked my first class to read it silently before we discussed it. No surprise here–nearly the entire class thought the poem was trash, ifthey could make any sense of it at all.

In the next class, I let them look at the poem briefly, then read it out loud like Cameron Diaz. The difference was remarkable.

This time, so many more kids fell in love with it like I did. They saw the poetry and art and pure emotion in it. They argued with their peers who still hadn’t bought it.

I love listening to students debate about poetry.

Mind you, there were still plenty of kids who hated it. But they didn’t hate it because it seemed impossible to understand—they hated it because they thought it was pretentious.

(In case you don’t deal with teenagers every day, this is a totally acceptable response because hardly anything impresses teenagers.)

I haven’t tried teaching any other cummings poems in class, mostly because I don’t know how to read them out loud… but maybe I ought to do a bit of YouTube digging. In the meantime, here are a few more versions of “i carry your heart with me.”

The poet himself reading it:

In song:

My lettering of a favorite line:

excerpt from i carry your heart with me - this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart by ee cummings
This design is available in my Society6 shop! Click here to see it as an art print, then look below for other products, like stickers and tote bags!

But honestly, I couldn’t pick a favorite line. This was a beautiful one that is buried deep within the poem. I wanted to bring it to light.

Your turn! What’s your favorite poem?

2 thoughts on “On reading one of those strange and beautiful ee cummings poems

  1. I wrote my research paper for 10th grade AP Prep English (almost 12 years ago now) on ee cummings; I’ve always loved his poetry. (I guess it’s no wonder I became an English teacher!) My favorite line from this one is “you are whatever a moon has always meant.” Chills, every time.

    Liked by 1 person

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