Monday Poem: “my sweet old etcetera” by e. e. cummings

The Monday Poem

It’s National Poetry Writing Month this month, and I’ve been thinking that I should probably read a lot more poetry. So I thought I’d start hunting down and posting commentary on a poem once a week, just for fun.

This weeks poem is my sweet old etcetera by e. e. cummings. He’s one of those poets you either love or you hate; I think he’s brilliant, personally, although not all of his experiments with punctuation and line breaks (et cetera…) work and not all of his poems appeal to me. I chose this one because it is a beautiful example of war poetry; seemingly lighthearted with a darkness at the center that is actually quite chilling. The whole poem is designed to convey not only how little those left behind on the Home Front truly understood what the soldiers went through but also how much he (the narrator) misses them and wants to go home. He particularly misses his sweetheart, to whom (I am assuming) the last couple of lines are addressed.

my sweet old etcetera by e. e. cummings

my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting

for,
my sister

Isabel created hundreds
(and
hundreds)of socks not to
mention fleaproof earwarmers
etcetera wristers etcetera, my
mother hoped that

i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et

cetera
(dreaming,
et
cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

courtesy of poemhunter.com

Aside from the subtly funny repetition of “et cetera” (take a guess at what that last Etcetera is referring to), what I love about this poem is the way he nestles the rhyme inside each verse to create the rhythm, and how the line breaks are unobtrusive yet crucial to the poetic structure. It has a lovely flow and a strong voice as well; I can just hear the narrator, with a kind of upper-class drawl, tacking on et cetera at the end of each sentence. It’s poems like this that remind me why cummings is one of my favourite poets.

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