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isolation and connection ee cumming's i sing of olaf glad and big

Posted 12-27-2014 at 10:24 PM by Eileen Cleary
Updated 12-27-2014 at 10:48 PM by Eileen Cleary
Cummings isolates and connects words to strip them of their immediate meanings in order to open them to more possibilities. This is the method by which Cummings diverts the reader from foregone conclusions toward a new way of thinking.
Consider: a conscientious object-or (S1L3.)
The poet sets the scene for this poem with a paucity of words, by use of a dash to connect two ideas. The first idea that comes to the reader might be that Olaf is a conscientious objector. But, the devices of the dash object-or as well as the choice to have the phrase on its own line, call for the reader’s attention and adds depth to the trope.
In this line, we find that Olaf is conscientious (diligent, faithful, honorable, principled) and that he is an object. An object could be Olaf’s use in this poem, as he is functioning as a funnel for the rage and injustice of war. The reader is prepared to see Olaf as objectified later in the poem because Cummings briefly introduces Olaf as an object in the opening lines, simply by separating the object from its suffix. Then, the suffix opens the reader to even more possibilities. Is Olaf conscientious or not? Is Olaf an object-or not? Is he a conscientious objector?
Conversely, Cummings connects words without space to imbue compound meanings to them. This allows him to turn objects into abstractions. For example, in S3L2 blueeyed modifies pride but also stands for a certain group of Americans. The patriotic (blue) is related to only those Americans who could genetically have blue eyes. Therefore, Cummings uses blueeyed to tell the reader something about segregation, and which opportunities are available to whom in the armed forces. The fact that blueeyed is intentionally closed as a word shows the closing of the officers against impregnation by people of other color and by anyone who differs in opinion. Cummings accomplishes all of this by omitting the space between two words which would not normally be connected.
Cummings uses parentheses to isolate words and ideas within this poem. Consider two particularly strong uses of this method. The first:
(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)

provides a summary of the effects of the cruel punishments that Olaf endured and lets the reader know the extent of injury he sustained. Moreover, the reader feels the broken and pitiful state of Olaf’s body, the thirst, the pain and is that much more moved when Olaf responds, without getting annoyed, that he “will not kiss your fucking flag.”
The second very telling use of parentheses occurs in S3L2 (departing hurriedly to shave). In these four words the poet conveys that the commissioned officer will not get his hands dirty but is complicit in and condones the brutal beating.
Cummings uses a semicolon and a colon in his final stanza to connect Olaf to God and to separate him to a level higher than the average man. When Cummings writes I pray to see; and Olaf too (S6, L2) the reader is invited to imagine the divinity of Olaf. Even though he was murdered, and despised by men, he is now with God. Perhaps, we will see him in heaven. Cummings brings Olaf toward God and reminds us of the personal divinity that all men have. He does this largely with a carefully placed semicolon. Cummings wants to see God and Olaf too. They are connected in thought.
Then in the last line Cummings compares Olaf to himself and his tormenters. He successfully brings all of the players in the poem together with a colon and judicious use of spacing.
more brave than me:more blond than you. (S6, L6)
Cummings allows us time to contemplate in this last line. Olaf was more brave than, (wait for it, think about it, he was more brave than almost anybody) me. The self-effacing or self-aware poet is now in the poem. Olaf is connected to the second half of this line too. He is more courageous than everyone in the poem, but Cummings doesn’t have to say this. The poet simply uses a colon and some spacing. Then, this Olaf, who was perhaps brown eyed and dark haired, is more blond than you. He has lived up to the ideals of patriotism, honesty and blueeyed pride. The reader has been connected to the ideas of justice, equality, fear, loyalty, truth and other abstractions not made with those words, but with spaces, parentheses, dashes, colons, semicolons and the erasure of space. Cummings uses these devices to separate and to build bridges to words transforming their immediate meanings in order to open them to more possibilities.
I believe Cummings effectively coined new ideas by doing this.
i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)
but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat
our president, being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.
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  1. Unread
    RCL's Avatar
    Interesting and well written, Eileen.

    Posted 12-29-2014 at 08:06 PM by RCL RCL is offline
  2. Unread
    Eileen Cleary's Avatar
    Thank you Ralph
    Posted 01-23-2015 at 09:11 PM by Eileen Cleary Eileen Cleary is offline

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