e e cummings and His Struggle for Individuality

to be nobody but
yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.

I so love the poet e e cummings! He was so intrinsically rebellious, refusing even the givens of punctuation and syntax in the English language. He must have been a tough kid to teach in high school, and if he’d live in modern times would have merited the label “oppositional defiant disorder” and been referred to an overly compliant and rule-oriented mental health counselor for therapy!

But it is painful to be outside the comfort zone provided by our tribe. Carl Jung has described the process of escaping the clutches of the tribe as “individuation” and he said that the effort and the experience always includes a profound sense of loneliness.

The loneliness and alienation of poets is beautifully captured by Theodore Roethke in his poem, “Dolor.”:

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paperclip, comma
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.





One thought on “e e cummings and His Struggle for Individuality

  1. Monte Zerger

    I have long loved that piece from Cummings, I suppose because I have lived my life “against the grain” as I think you now realize. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that. It’s just the way it has been. Here’s a couple of my favorites for you

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

    Oscar Wilde

    Some people want to recognize God only in some pleasant enlightenment—and then they get pleasure and enlightenment but not God.

    Meister Eckhart



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