Since E. E. Cummings rarely used titles, all those poems without titles will be identified by reference to the Index of First Lines in Complete Poems, 1913-1962. An analysis of Cummings’s poetry turns, for the most part, on judgments about his innovative, highly personal versification. Some of Cummings’s critics have thought his techniques to be not only cheap and shallow tricks but also ultimately non poetic. There was, from the early stages of his career, general agreement about his potential as a lyric poet. As that career developed through his middle and late periods, negative criticism of his verse diminished as affirmation grew. Although there always will be dissenting voices, the consensus for some time has been that his innovative verse techniques and his poetic talents were successfully blended in the best of his work.
Cummings wrote both free verse and conventional verse, particularly in the form of quatrains and sonnets. There is a considerable range between his most extreme free-verse poems, where the hallmark is superimposed, and his most conventional sonnets, where the hallmark is barely discernible. An example of the extreme is his “grasshopper” poem, “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r,” which is at the same time a masterpiece and a failure. The poem is a masterful blending of form and content, an achievement that might be described as pure technique becoming pure form. It fails as a poem, however, to move the reader or to matter very much except as a witty display of pyrotechnics. Its achievement, nevertheless, is a considerable one, and it serves as a useful model of one kind of poem for which Cummings is best known. A poem of even less substance than “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r,” and therefore illustratively useful in the same way, is the “leaf-falling” poem “1(a.” The four words of the poem, “a,” “leaf,” “falls,” and