what if a much of a which of a wind

On the morning of September 12, 2001, my co-workers and I gathered together for mutual support and to share reflections on what had happened.  That morning I read a poem by E.E. Cummings that expresses what the world felt like then.  Like many Cummings’ poems it’s known only by its first line “what if a much of a which of a wind.”


As I listened on the radio and then watched events unfolding on TV in Paris on Friday November 13, 2015, I felt again the dread conveyed in the opening lines of this poem:

what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer’s lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?

Cummings’ images and word-play move to the beat of four accents per line into the world of Paris that Friday evening where “skies are hanged and oceans drowned.”  And

…  a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you

Four residents of my town died in the Twin Towers as well as a firefighter who had grown up there and whose family still lived in town.  In many of the funerals we attended in the following weeks, preachers from different denominations tried to explain how their good God could allow such evil by appealing to the idea that this supreme being permits humans to have free will.  I think that Cummings alludes to free will in the closing lines of the first stanza

—when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man

Cummings offers no easy outs in this poem.  It would be a mistake to find hope in this “single secret.”  This poem appeared in a collection published in 1944 as World War II raged.  A number of other poems in this collection wrestle with what that war and other horrors like September 11 and Paris 2105 tell us about that “single secret.”  For instance, five poems after “what if” we find

when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began

when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because

And four poems later Cummings addresses those who could take “shall” and “why” and “because” to kill people as they ate and listened to music.

Hello is what a mirror says
it is a maid who says Who
and(hearing not a which)replies
in haste I must be you

no sunbeam ever lies

Bang is the meaning of a gun
it is a man means No
and(seeing something yes)will grin
with pain You so&so

true wars are never won

The” single secret” still remains—thinking that last line applies to everyone else but me, and to every other “why” except my “because.”



Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.