In addition to writing beautiful, confusingly punctuated poems, e.e. cummings was an enthusiastic backer of his era's most regrettable social trends, including Joe McCarthy's Red Scare. He once wrote that the "socalled McCarthyism didn't drop unmotivated from the sky," but rather was brought on by "Mrs FD Roosevelt and her messianicallyminded partner plus a conglomeration of worthy pals." Opinions like these prompted essayist Clive James to label Cummings "a right-wing ideologue" who "pushe[d] a concept of individuality which would render civilization impossible to carry on."
We now know that he also did not like black people. Author and poet James Dempsey has unearthed a long-lost Cummings poem, which he found in a folder of the poet's correspondence while doing research for a biography, and posted it on The Awl. To call the untitled work, with its repeated use of the N-word and overall feeling of racial panic, a "problem poem" would be an understatement., as you'll see below. We've reproduced the first bit ofthe poem here and attempted to preserve Cummings' fractured formatting wherever possible.
the snow is perfectly falling
the noiselessly snow is
sexually fingering the utterly asleep
The brite snow
niggers. it dozes
prettily on unsafe roofs
and dangerous stairs. It
kisses a trillion times beautifully the
sagging unlighted filth, within
which black bodies clutch and cuddle
(i dreamed God took away
when the niggers were asleep
and threw it into Hell and
the white and the brown and the yellow
people all turned suddenly
Dempsey writes of the frequent use of the N-word: "that the word is used six times in a one-page poem perhaps gives us a clue as to why the work was never published." A scan of the full poem is available at The Awl.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.