Edward Estlin Cummings, the son of a well-known Unitarian minister was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894. Cummings began writing at age six and often illustrated his own stories. He received his B.A. in 1915 and his M.A. in 1916, both from Harvard.
During the First World War, Cummings worked as an ambulance driver in France, but was jailed in a prison camp by the French authorities (an event recounted in his novel, The Enormous Room published in 1922) for his open antiviolence beliefs. His constant thoughts and brutal descriptions of his war experiences propelled him in the public eye. The next year, his first book of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys, was published. After the war, he settled into a life divided between houses out in the country in Connecticut and in Greenwich Village, with frequent visits to Paris, where he spent his days painting and writing. By the 1950’s, Cummings humorous, new style had made him one of the most popular of American poets.
In his poetic work, Cummings experimented a lot with appearance, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. He also neglected traditional techniques and structures to create a new, highly individual means of poetic expression. Later in his career, he was often criticized for settling into his “different” style and not pressing his work towards further development. Nevertheless, his popularity, especially among young readers, came from the simplicity of his language, his playful style and his attention to subjects such as war and sex. At the time of his death in 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in the United States, close behind Robert Frost. When Cummings read his poems aloud, he had a powerful effect on his listeners. He spoke with great confidence and expression. His original experiments with words remain an important influence on poetry today.