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E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the ClassicsEach Imperishable Stanza$

J. Alison Rosenblitt

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198767152

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198767152.001.0001

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(p.327) Appendix Cummings’ Classical Education and Personal Library

(p.327) Appendix Cummings’ Classical Education and Personal Library

E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics

J. Alison Rosenblitt

Oxford University Press

From autumn 1907 to summer 1911, Cummings attended the Cambridge High and Latin School for the ‘four-year College Preparatory Course’. The C.L.S. (Cambridge Latin School) was not simply a residual name: the school retained a strong focus on Latin. On the College Preparatory Course, more time was devoted to English and to Latin than to any other subjects—both Latin and English were studied for four days a week. For his history subjects, Cummings had a choice between Greek or English History, and between Roman or US History. He chose Greek and Roman.1

The Harvard University application form asked for information about subjects studied and for textbooks used or authors read, which means that it is possible to follow in detail Cummings’ classical studies at the C.L.S.2

For his first year of Latin, Cummings lists his textbook as Collar & Daniell’s 1st Latin Book. For History, he lists George Willis Botsford’s Ancient History, presumably An Ancient History for Beginners (1902). He also studied English, Algebra, and Hygiene.

In his second year, Cummings read Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Books I–II, and some Ovid. A Latin notebook contains his translation work for this year, and it reveals the Ovid to consist of three episodes from the Metamorphoses: ‘Baucis and Philemon’ (i.e. Met. VIII. 621–727), ‘The Touch of Gold’ (i.e. the story of Midas, Met. XI. 100–93), and ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ (Met. X. 1–61, only the first part of the Ovidian tale).3 Cummings’ other subjects in his second year were English, French, and Geometry.

In his third year of high school, Cummings read Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Book IV, and Virgil’s Aeneid, Books I–II.4 He took up Greek and listed his textbook as 1st Greek Book, White, which must mean John William White’s (p.328) First Greek Book (1896). For History, he used Botsford’s Greece, presumably A History of Greece for High Schools and Academies (1899). He also studied English and French.

His fourth year simply lists, for Latin, Virgil’s Aeneid, Caesar, and Jones’ Latin Prose—which must be Elisha Jones, Exercises in Latin Prose Composition (1881)—and for Greek, Anabasis and Hellenica. He also studied French, History (unspecified), Algebra, English, and Geometry.

Cummings sat the Harvard entrance examinations on 19–24 June, 1911. He attempted English, Elementary Greek, Elementary Latin, Elementary History, Elementary Algebra, Plane Geometry, Advanced Latin, and Advanced French.5 On a scale of A–F, the certificate of his results notes that ‘A and B are honor grades; E indicates failure; F bad failure.’ Cummings achieved Cs in English, Greek, Algebra, Geometry, and French, and Ds in Elementary Latin and History. His Advanced Latin was not graded. On this basis, he was admitted to Harvard, with the conditions of an extra requirement in Natural Science (since he did not offer any at the entrance examination) and the requirement either to pass Advanced Latin before his Sophomore year or to take another supplementary course.6 Cummings took the advice contained in his letter of admission and resat the Advanced Latin that same September (1911), passing with a grade of C.7

For Cummings’ Harvard curriculum, see above, Chapter 2, with Kennedy 1976. Cummings continued to read and learn about the classical world long beyond Harvard, as his personal library clearly shows. While the Harvard curriculum shaped Cummings’ classical engagements, with lifelong effects, it is also true that Cummings’ love of the Classics and his love of literature was never exactly a love for the classroom. A piece of juvenilia published in The Cambridge Review in October 1910 (‘BALLAD OF THE SCHOLAR’S LAMENT’, CP 851)—the same month that Cummings turned sixteen, and year before he entered Harvard as an undergraduate—offers a light-hearted complaint about schoolroom learning and its dampening effect on creativity. When the poet has crammed his Homer and his Virgil, ‘And heard how Hercules, Esq., tore / Around, and swept and dusted with a stream, / There’s one last duty,–let’s not call it bore,– / How shall I manage to compose a theme?’ Cummings grew as a poet through his formal studies, but he also grew as a person and a poet outside of them.8

(p.329) Catalogue of Cummings’ Harvard translation exercises

Except for the last translation from Euripides’ Electra, all these translations are typescript and can be found in the Houghton Library, call number: MS Am 1892.5 (741). There is also a translation of Cicero, In Catilinam I.1–21; date uncertain (MS Am 1892.7 (104); handwritten).

I give Cummings’ headings or titles; additional information in square brackets.

Euripides’ Alcestis.

  • Chorus 435–484 [= ll. 435–454. End missing].

  • Chorus ) 569–605.

Euripides’ Bacchae.

  • Chorus L 64 [= ll. 64–87, 105–69. A pencil note registers a missing stanza and Cummings has copied out the missing Greek on the back of the preceding page].

  • Chorus L 370 [= ll. 370–433].

  • Chorus L 519-- [= ll. 519–75].

  • Chorus L 862–911 [Again a missing stanza is noted; Greek copied on back of preceding page].

  • Chorus -L 977– [= ll. 977–1023].

Euripides’ Electra

  • -Chorus–L 112–167.

  • ELECTRA ) 175 [= ll.175–197].

  • Electra L 198 [= ll.198–212].

  • Chorus L 432–486.

  • [Separately, a translation of lines 300–322; call number Houghton MS Am 1823.7 5a. Handwritten.]

Euripides’ Hecuba – as included above, in the edition of Cummings’ translations.

Euripides’ Hippolytus.

  • Chorus ) 121–175. [Last few lines of chorus missing.]

  • L 208. [= ll. 208–38].

  • Chorus )525. [= ll. 525–64].

  • Chorus ) 732–777.

  • Chorus ) 1102–1152.

Euripides’ Medea.

  • Chorus ) 629–662.

  • Chorus ) 824–865.

  • Chorus ) 976–1002.

  • Chorus ) 1082–1115 (Anaepests).

  • Antistrophe ) 1261–1270.

(p.330) The Houghton Library (Harvard) holds a couple of hundred books from Cummings’ personal library, searchable through the online library catalogue.9

The rest of Cummings’ personal library came into the possession of the Harry Ransom Center and is mostly catalogued online, although some books are listed only in the older card catalogue.10 There are 2, 778 online catalogue entries, but only 2, 231 of these were published in or before 1962 (the year of Cummings’ death). All of the later books (and quite possibly some of the earlier ones) will have been added to the collection by others—principally by Cummings’ widow, Marion Morehouse.

How many more books at the Ransom Center are card-catalogue only would be a thankless calculation to try to make, but I do not think that the number is large. I have cross-checked all of the entries of relevance to Cummings’ classical interests, and I found only three entries in the card catalogue which are missing from the online list.11

The 2, 231 (or thereabouts) books at the Ransom Center and the c.200 at the Houghton testify to an extensive personal library. However, a large chunk of the collection—not countable down to the book, but certainly numbering in the hundreds—consists of books gifted to Cummings by their authors in token of admiration for his work. Some of these books were sent by friends and many by admiring strangers. They do not necessarily indicate Cummings’ own taste or reading habits. A further 103 volumes at the HRC and a significant proportion of the Houghton collection are copies of his own work, including translations of his poems into other languages.

As a whole, the collection gives the impression of an eclectic and enquiring mind, underpinned by several decided focal interests. One focus of the collection is Pound. There are 32 books by Pound and many others about Pound’s work and about the treason case. Also notably prominent are the Victorians, the Romantics, and Yeats. The importance to Cummings of the Victorians and the Romantics would be obvious from his own poetry. The number of volumes of Yeats’ work is less predictable and therefore quite striking. There is a great deal of French literature. There is also a pronounced interest in psychoanalysis, with a large number of books by Freud, Jung, and Cummings’ own analyst Fritz Wittels—these books are mostly now at the (p.331) Houghton. And finally, indeed, among the major focuses of the collection are the Classics and the classical world.

The personal library must be approached with caveats, for there are certainly books which Cummings read or knew which are not in his personal library, and some of the books in the library belonged to Marion. The books by Freya Stark, for example, are gifts from Cummings to Marion. The personal library also includes books inherited from his mother and father. However, I see no need to fret overmuch about these overlaps. I have noted below a few cases where it presses upon the attention that certain books belonged to or were used by Cummings’ mother, father, or sister. In general, however, there would be no practical means of delving into the provenance of each individual book. And there would be no point either. Cummings read and used books inherited from his parents, and Cummings and Marion shared an intellectual as well as a romantic life. Between them, there was mutual exchange and conversation, and anyway, he may well have read ‘her’ books and he did not necessarily read all of ‘his’ books. Approached with due caveats and caution, the collection does usefully illuminate the directions of Cummings’ classical interests.

The distribution of classical texts owned by Cummings clearly reflects the importance to him of Greek drama and of Homer. On the Latin side, he owned texts of Catullus, Horace, and Virgil, but not Ovid or Propertius. The distribution of books on classical subjects also highlights Cummings’ enduring interest in the physicality of the ancient world: he owned books about Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art, archaeological excavations, travel books with a focus on classical sites, books of photographs of classical sites in Greece, and one of Michael Grant’s books on Roman coins. The collection underlines the point that Cummings’ interest in the Classics was not limited to his Harvard years of study, but was lifelong. His copy of The Decipherment of Linear B (1958) and other mid-century acquisitions speak to his ongoing curiosity and sense of excitement about the classical world.

A few of the books suggest perspectives on Cummings’ work which would otherwise escape us. In particular, Cummings owned a copy of a book of photography and text by Hugh Chisholm, titled Hellas; a tribute of classical Greece. Sixty-four photographs by Hoyningen-Huene. This book seems likely to have been a direct inspiration for Adventures in Value. Chisholm’s Hellas juxtaposes photographs of classical sites and statues with excerpts of text. These texts are taken from both ancient authors and later writers (Shelley, Byron, Yeats, Keats, Chateaubriand, and several others). As in Cummings’ and Morehouse’s own Adventures in Value, the juxtaposition of text and photograph in Chisholm’s volume does not constitute direct explanation of the photograph. Rather, the aim is to evoke a mood or to prompt reflection. Hellas and Adventures in Value are similar even in their physicality—their general shape, size, white space, and the whole aesthetic of the book as (p.332) artefact. We have already seen in Chapter 5 that Adventures in Value includes classical material, and we have looked at the way in which the book’s epigraphs toy with a classical frame. It must be of interest, then, to perceive such a direct relationship between Adventures in Value and Hellas. The whole project of Adventures in Value apparently bears a close relationship to Chisholm’s and Hoyningen-Huene’s embodiment of their encounter with classical Greece.

Below, I give a full list of classical texts and translations; language textbooks and dictionaries; and books on classical subjects in Cummings’ library.12 I have worked from the online and card catalogues, checking physical copies where there seemed to be any ambiguities. In most instances, it is not possible to determine when a book came into Cummings’ possession; exceptionally, where a book is inscribed with a date of acquisition, I have included that.

Since the main part of this information can be retrieved online by anyone whose specialist interests motivate detailed questions about particular books, I have aimed for a minimalist presentation here of author, title, and date. In principle, anyone can access and read through the University of Texas or Harvard online catalogue entries. I have reasoned that the point of inclusion of the list here is that no reader with a mere casual interest would wish to read through more than two thousand online entries, and that what my reader will appreciate is a quick, reader-friendly list in an easily skimmed format. The books catalogued below currently reside at the HRC unless marked as Houghton. In a few cases, Cummings appears to have had doubled copies.

In addition to the books which are itemized below, Cummings’ library included books by literary thinkers whose work is part of the shape of nineteenth- and twentieth-century reception of the classical world: Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism and The Portable Matthew Arnold; Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean and Greek Studies; Thomas Babington Macaulay, Literary Essays; E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion. Cummings also owned works of literature in English, French, and German which engage the classical tradition: Racine, Phèdre; Jean Cocteau, Orphée: tragédie en un acte et un intervalle and Oedipe-roi; Roméo et Juliette; Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (English & German, trans. M.D. Herter Norton); Ezra Pound and Noel Stock, Love Poems of Ancient Egypt; work by the poet and classical translator, Horace Gregory (in addition to Gregory’s Catullus, listed below); Edmund Wilson’s The Wound and the Bow; seven studies in literature (in (p.333) which one of the seven studies is the influential essay, ‘Philoctetes: The Wound and the Bow’); Douglas Woodruff, Plato’s American Republic.


(1) Houghton MS Am 1892.7 (193); MS Am 1823.8 (33).

(2) Houghton MS Am 1823.8 (33).

(3) HRC 10.4: erroneously catalogued as ‘Latin Notebook 1912’. This notebook is clearly from the school year 1908–9. It is labelled C.L.S. and corresponds to Cummings’ second year of studies at the C.L.S. There is a ‘12’ on the front of the notebook, but whatever that meant to Cummings, it certainly didn’t mean 1912.

(4) Cummings’ translation of the Aeneid is preserved on loose sheets, out of order, among the papers in HRC 10.8.

(5) HRC 8.11.

(6) HRC 8.1. Letter of 1 July 1911 to Cummings, signed J.S. [?]Olart.

(7) HRC 8.11 (pass certificate); 8.1 (official letter from Harvard, 30 September 1911).

(8) As Kennedy has seen and made clear in his scholarship and in his biography of Cummings. See generally Kennedy 1976 and 1977 (the point made directly at 1976: 267); Kennedy 1994a: 52–104.

(9) This can done by searching for ‘E.E. Cummings’ and selecting ‘Houghton’ as the location.

(10) The online catalogue is available through the library catalogue of the University of Texas at Austin, via an ‘advanced search’ by ‘former owner’. For the benefit of any future researchers: NB the card catalogue includes two separate sets of cards.

(11) If you know to look for them (having been alerted to their existence by the card catalogue), they can be located and requested in the online library catalogue via a normal title or author search, but they do not volunteer themselves, as it were, under the ‘Former Owner ‐‐ Cummings’ search.

(12) The main taxonomical challenge was presented by the many travel books in Cummings’ collection. I have endeavoured to include those which really engage with a classical legacy but not those which simply happen to mention classical sites as they dot around a city or region.