Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

Click for Main Weblog

  Needless Commentary from Small-Town America  

The Weblog at The View from the Core - Thu. 01/10/08 08:48:00 AM

The Half-Century Mark

Today is my fiftieth birthday.

In honor of the occasion, here is one of my favorite poems; coincidentally, it was first published the year I was born.

old age sticks
up Keep

youth yanks them
cries No

youth laughs
old age

scolds Forbid
den Stop
n't Don't

&)youth goes
right on
owing old

Edward Estlin Cummings
95 Poems (1958) # 57
Complete Poems 1904-1962 (1991), ed. George J. Firmage, p. 729

Here follows some apt commentary by Thomas Dilworth:

The concluding statement in this poem makes the warnings of old age a metaphor for a warning of an entirely different sort. In the first two stanzas, the prohibitions of old age are met by youthful rebellion. The activity of old age appears within the confines of parentheses, suggesting repression; the activity of youth is unbounded by parentheses, suggesting refusal to accept restrictions.
In the central stanza, youth verbally breaks through prohibition by old age, so that two people (ideally one young, one old) reading simultaneously are necessary to perform this stanza aloud. The eruption of youth through age in this stanza may suggest the transition from youth to age, since the subsequent stanza is a cumulative expression of old age that is not, as in stanza two, countered by rebellious youth but is followed by an assertion that youth grows old. The transition from youth to age is suggested at the very center of the poem by apparent continuity in the juxtaposition of conventionally related syllables "laughs / (sing" as though youth makes both these happy sounds before the reader recognizes "sing" as the conclusion of the injunction by old age, "No Trespassing."

P.S. This anonymous analysis is even better:

I find this to be one of cummings' best poems. It's all about the conflict between adults and/or authority who set up rules and young people who rebel. Notice that everything that "old age" says is IN parentheses (signifying their stifling control) and everything that "youth" says is OUTSIDE of parentheses (signifying freedom). Much if what "old age" says begins with a capital (signifying authority) and everything "youth" says is in lower case. The split words give cummings a double meaning. For example, breaking up "Mustn't" in the fourth stanza into Must/ n't signifies both those things adults say we MUST do and those things they say we MUSTN'T do. Better yet, the last two lines break up the phrase "growing old" into gr/owing old signifying that not only do young people eventually grow older, they also OWE something to their elders who have set boundaries to keep them safe, help them mature, etc. This is cumming's point — youth may rebel against the restrictions "put up" by their elders (who were once rebellious youths themselves remember) but they are who they are in part because of what their elders have taught them. And they too will grow older, only to set rules and restrictions for their own children someday. How do we know this? Notice that that the last word and the first word of the poem is "old." Just like the cycle of life, you can go from the bottom of the poem right back into the beginning of the poem to start the cycle all over again. And notice too that if you do this, the "old" of the youth at the end of the poem, which is outside of parentheses becomes the "old" of old age at the top of the poem which is in parentheses. The rebellious youth have grown up to establish restrictions of their own. This is truly a remarkably complex poem by cummings though on the surface it seems so simplistic.

And see Old Age Sticks (Poem Summary) and Old Age Sticks (Themes).

P.P.S. Vide.

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Thu. 01/10/08 08:48:00 AM
Categorized as Literary.


The Blog from the Core © 2002-2008 E. L. Core. All rights reserved.

  Needless Commentary from Small-Town America  

The View from the Core, and all original material, © 2002-2004 E. L. Core. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”