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An incisive biography of E.E. Cummings’ early life, including his First World War ambulance service and subsequent imprisonment, inspirations for his inventive poetry.
Intimate and richly detailed, The Beauty of Living begins with Cummings’s Cambridge, Massachusetts upbringing and his relationship with his socially progressive but domestically domineering father. It follows Cummings through his undergraduate experience at Harvard, where he fell into a circle of aspiring writers including John Dos Passos, who became a lifelong friend. Steeped in classical paganism and literary decadence, Cummings and his friends rode the explosion of Cubism, Futurism, Imagism and other “modern” movements in the arts. As the United States prepared to enter the First World War, Cummings volunteered as an ambulance driver, was shipped out to Paris and met his first love, Marie Louise Lallemand, who was working in Paris as a prostitute. Soon after reaching the front, however, he was unjustly imprisoned in a brutal French detention centre at La Ferté-Macé. Through this confrontation with arbitrary and sadistic authority, he found the courage to listen to his own voice.
Probing an underexamined yet formative time in the poet’s life, this deeply researched account illuminates his ideas about love, justice, humanity and brutality. J. Alison Rosenblitt weaves together letters, journal entries and sketches with astute analyses of poems that span Cummings’ career, revealing the origins of one of the twentieth century’s most famous poets.