Poem of the Week

“Summer Silence” by E. E. Cummings

Eruptive lightnings flutter to and fro
Above the heights of immemorial hills;
Thirst-stricken air, dumb-throated, in its woe
Limply down-sagging, its limp body spills
Upon the earth. A panting silence fills
The empty vault of Night with shimmering bars
Of sullen silver, where the lake distils
Its misered bounty.—Hark! No whisper mars
The utter silence of the untranslated stars.

Poem selected and commented on by Josette Corazza

Cummings has a way with words that I have admired in no other poet. He reminds me of Shakespeare, twisting terms and phrases to produce a melodic rush of syllables that make readers think deeply about the dictionary. Yet “Summer Silence” is a departure from Cummings’ treatment of language later in his writing career. In later times, Cummings creates words to produce new meanings and bends the laws of grammar to meet his needs. In “Summer Silence” Cummings sticks closely to the rule book yet still manages to spin a vivid and compelling description of a summer storm.

Who can claim that they don’t enjoy the exciting instance of a summertime thunderstorm rolling in? Cummings explicates the experience through Spenserian Stanza, composed of nine lines, eight of which are in iambic pentameter and the last of which is in iambic hexameter. Cummings uses strong metaphors such as the “dumb-throated” parched air to describe its course “down-sagging” to the ground, ready to “spill” upon the dry Earth. Before thunder begins, the silence of a humid day reverberates in empty ears, and emphasis on senses are switched from sound to sight as “shimmering bars of sullen silver” flash across the sky.

In the poem as a whole, Cummings plants the clear sensory images relating to a well-known summer storm in the minds of readers with such evocative language that prompts the reassessment of memories.

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) started writing poetry as early as 1904, when he was not even ten years old. Besides his poetry, Cummings was also well known for his careers as a prominent playwright, essayist and artist. “Summer Silence” can be found in “E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962.”

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