Stylistic Analysis of E.E.Cummings’ Poems
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Stylistics is the study of stylistic variation in languages and of the way in which this is exploited by their users. This definition is certainly general enough; it covers that those who use the term’ stylistics’ would want to be covered by it. …. Stylistics (is) more or less well established branch of macrolinguistics. Macrolinguistics is a term used by some linguists, in the 1950s, to identify an extremely broad conception of linguistic enquiry. In this article the author attempts to analyse some of E.E.Cummings’ poems keeping in mind stylistic deviations.
STYLISTIC ANALYSIS OF E.E.CUMMINGS’ POEMS
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STYLISTIC ANALYSIS OF E.E.CUMMINGS’ POEMS
Stylistics is the study of stylistic variation in languages and of the way in which this is exploited by their users. This definition is certainly general enough; it covers that those who use the term’ stylistics’ would want to be covered by it.
But in restricted sense the term’ stylistics’ is a reference to literary stylistics, the study of the language of literary texts. But again ‘literary’ and ‘literature’ can also be given a broader or a narrower interpretation. Literature, as we normally understand the term in our culture, is by no means universal throughout mankind. There is, however, a more general definition of ‘literature’ which does not restrict it to the written language and does not confine it within the categories and genres of our own culture. As Bloomfield expressed it : “ Literature, whether presented in spoken form or as is now our custom, in writing consists of beautiful or otherwise notable utterances.” One might quibble about the terms ‘beautiful’ and ‘notable’ ; and one must so interpret the term’ utterance’ that it covers whole texts, not merely the products of single acts of utterance. However, Bloomfield’s definition has the advantage of getting us to see that what we normally think of as literature in our own culture is a particular manifestation of something that is found in all cultures; the recognition that certain utterances and texts are more worthy of preservation, repetition and commentary than others, by virtue of their aesthetic or dramatic properties. Literature, in this sense, is not only culturally universal; it is one of the most important defining characteristics of cultures, distinguishing one from another.
Unfortunately, there has been something of a rift, in recent years, between linguistic and literary studies. This is largely the result of misunderstanding and prejudice, on the one hand, and the exaggerated claims of particular linguists and particular literary critics, on the other, about the aims and achievements of their own disciplines. Although the misunderstanding and the prejudice endure in many quarters, on both sides, it is being reduced. They both have realized the fact that these two faculties are interdependent. One cannot do without the other.
Stylistics: A branch of macrolinguistics
…. Stylistics (is) more or less well established branch of macrolinguistics. Macrolinguistics is a term used by some linguists, in the 1950s, to identify an extremely broad conception of linguistic enquiry. Linguistics is seen in its overall relation to phonetic and Extralingustic experience. It is divided into three main sub Fields: prelingustics(whose primary subject matter is Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax) and Metalinguistics,(whose subject matter is the relationship between language and all extra linguistic features of communicative behavior, e.g. including what would now be called sociolinguistics.
Stylistics is a branch of Linguistics which studies the features of situationally distinctive uses (variables) of language, and tries to establish principles capable of accounting for the particular choices made by individual and social groups in their use of language.
General stylistics deals with the whole range (or Repertorie) of non-dialectal varieties encountered within a language; literary stylistics deals with the variations characteristic of literature as a genre and of the ‘style’ of individual authors. The quantification of stylistic patterns is the province of stylistics, a field which usually studies the statistical structure of literary texts, often using computers. The study of the expressive or aesthetic function of sound is sometimes called Phonostylistics.
The term ‘stylistics’ is occasionally used in a very broad sense, to include all situationally distinctive language- that is, including the variations of regional, social and historical dialects. It is more common, however, to see style used in a highly restricted sense- though the extremely broad and ambiguous reference of the term in everyday use has not made its status as a technical linguistic term very appealing. For example, in the Hallidayan classification of language varieties, ‘Style’ (more fully, ‘style Discourse’), refers to the relations among the participants in a language activity, especially the level of formality they adopt (colloquial, formal etc.). Alternative terms used by some linguists, presumably to avoid the ambiguity of an additional sense for the term ‘style’, include Manner and Tenor. The main terms with which it contrasts in the Hallidayan model are Mode and Field.
Style is also defined as an individual’s deviation from norms for the situations in which he is encoding, these deviations being in the statistical properties of those structural features for which there exists some degree of choice in his code. The question that arises in our mind is, can we do without the norm? There cannot be any clear cut answer to the question, since style is more concerned with taste and choice rather than tradition.
Style is concerned with frequencies of linguistic items in a given context, and thus with contextual probabilities. Contextual relationships can be defined in many ways. Each text and each passage partakes of several contexts (linguistic and extralinguistic features). Some of them are definable in formal linguistic terms; others involve provenance, period and literary genre. Others must be based on context of situation, including of speaker, the listener, and their relationship and environment.
Phonetic context (voice quality, speech rate etc.)
Syntactic Context (including sentence length and complexity)
§ Beginning, middle or end of utterance, paragraph, poem, play etc.
§ Relationship of text to surrounding textual portions
§ Metre, literary form, typographical arrangement
Extra textual context
§ Type of speech, literary genre
§ Writer/ reader (relationship) in terms of sex, age, familiarity, education. Social class and status etc.
§ Context of situation and environment
§ Dialect and language
Stylistics is an area of mediation between two disciplines. Stylistics can provide a way of mediating between two subjects- language and literature.
E.E.Cummings as a stylist:
Cummings is known for his ultramodern poems which rely on unusual techniques and forms. It is easy to become impatient with Cummings, and although some of his poems may deserve our impatience, his best ones teach us in most extraordinary way the importance of the fusion of sound and sense, and the contribution technique (the device of poetry working together) makes to meaning.
Cummings’ name is associated with unconventional punctuation and capitalization, word displacement, and unusual arrangement of stanzas, lines, words, and even individual letters to produce visual typographical forms. His poems range in prosodic shape from the verse, cryptic ideogram (or pictogram), which in appearance may resemble a Chinese script, to conventional stanzaic forms with regular line lengths, meter, and rhyme. Most of his poems fall between two extremes; nevertheless, an unwary reader may mistake a Cummings sonnet for a poem in free verse. Each printed page discloses such violation of order that the reader is shocked, words are stretched our vertically and horizontally; capital letters jump up where they do not belong; punctuation marks intrude irregularly; lacunae appear within and between lines. Thus typographical disarrangement is the characteristic of his writing. But then one question arises in our mind, that why such violation of norms are made? With Cummings it is the usual rule to find technique and theme interdependent.
Let us take some examples in which different typographical devices used by Cummings in order to convey his message more effectively.
(1) the queer
old ballonman whistles
far and wee
In this example Cummings carefully spaced the last line so that the whistle sounds are heard intermittently and shrilly, so shrilly that the final sound of the word wide in far and wide is lost in the high-pitched note of wee. Here Cummings makes use of space alone and conveys his meaning effectively.
(2) Fragmenting a word is Cummings’ usual practice. Occasionally Cummings uses one of the word fragments as a separate whole. In such a case, not only has the word been broken in order to serve as a time control, but one or more of its parts stands as an independent attributive with much the same function as that of a pun. In the example (below) the first syllabus serve to qualify the scene descriptively:
e this park is e
(3) Just as Cummings has special purpose in mind when he breaks words, so ,too, there is a reason for his neglecting to observe spacing.
jolly shells begin dropping jolly fast you
hear the rrmp and
Here in this example compounding of words acts to quicken the tempo. The gradation of increasing volume is expressed with the compression of time by the expedient of running words together and by making the explosion leap up in capital letters.
The ideogram is probably Cummings’ most difficult form. This poem combines visual and auditory elements, and must be viewed in much the same way as an intaglio. Sounds are suggested, but they may be onomatopoeic rather than linguistic- that is , heard, associated with a visual image, but not pronounced.
At first glance the reader might think that this poem is a product of caprice. Why write a poem vertically? Why toss punctuation marks around without any apparent regard for their logical or grammatical use? Why divide words between syllables?
It is on the level of perception insight and significant awareness that the poem is ultimately addressing the reader. The symbolic accretions which have become associated with the words black and white are numerous and profound, and they attempt to assign one specific value to the exclusion of others is presumptuous. However, in the light of Cummings’ themes it is probably not amiss to realize that inherent in these words are suggestions of the cyclic motions of life and death. On the level this is precisely what this poem is describing: reintegration through death. The falling leaf is a symbol of dying. However, the very process of dying suggests the vibrancy of life, the natural prelude to reintegration with the cyclic motions. This particular vitality of the falling leaf is conveyed through the typography.
1. Nils Erik Enkvist : 1964; Linguistics and Style. London: Oxford University Press.
2. David Crystal : 1985; Investigating English Style : Longman Group Limited.
3. H.G.Widdowson :1975; Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature : Longman
4. John Lyons : 1981; Language and Linguistics : Cambridge University Press.
5. Raonald Carter (Ed.) : 1982; Language and Literature : An Introductory Reader In Stylistics. London : George Allen & Unwin.
6. Robert Wegnes : 1965 ; The poetry and prose of E.E.Cummings : Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
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Published on Thursday 17th May, 2012 at 04:40:45.
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