since feeling is first
E.E. Cummings is one of my favorite poets. My own poetic voice is heavily influenced by him. His poem “since feeling is first” was originally published in the poetry book is 5 in 1926 during the period between World War I and World War II. Similar to many of his contemporaries, Cummings favored artistic experimentation and rejected the traditional modes of expression which were considered incapable of reflecting the cultural crisis around the globe after the First World War. In “since feeling is first,” E.E. Cummings favors the wild abandon of erotic love and rejects the suffocating nature of logic and structure.
It begins with the phrase “since feeling is first” (1). This immediately emphasizes the importance of emotion. The word since could be substituted with the word because. As a result, the first line reads: because emotions are most important. He asserts that “who pays any attention to the syntax of things / will never never wholly kiss you” (2-4). Syntax is the organization and rules of language. And, kissing is a deeply intimate gesture of affection, love, and passion. So, the phrase can be restated as: people that are too preoccupied with logic and reason will miss the opportunities to make meaningful connections with others.
The narrator adds: “wholly be a fool / while Spring is in the world” (5-6). The word wholly is a homophone to the word holy. The two words sound the same but have different meanings. Clearly, Cummings is playing with the connotation of the two words. The phrase wholly to be a fool takes on a religious element; it is divine to be a fool during the Spring season. Spring is a temporal word that highlights how quickly time ages youth away. Since love should always come first, it is sacrosanct to give yourself over completely to emotion rather than logic while you are young because youth is brief and fleeting just as the Spring season.
“since feeling is first” continues with the simple statement: “my blood approves” (7). This simple phrase builds the image of blood warming and rushing through the narrator’s veins in approval. It deepens the eroticism of the poem’s meaning. His body, an independent entity to his mind, approves of the feelings and sensations stirred within. The narrator continues: “kisses are a better fate / than wisdom” (8-9). Again, kisses are symbolic of love, emotion, and sexuality in this poem. His body approves of its fate if it is guided by erotic love instead of wisdom. To the narrator, an individual who has been kissed with deep erotic love their whole life is luckier than any person who has accumulated knowledge or wisdom.
Then, the narrator says, “lady i swear by all the flowers” (10). By using the flowers to echo the Spring season, the narrator is essentially swearing his youth away for love. But, more importantly, he is also affirming that he he truly believes their love is worth the time. Furthermore, the narrator asks his love not to cry or mourn their losses. He states: “Don’t cry / - the best gesture of my brain is less than / your eyelids’ flutter” (10-12). Whatever his mind can create or construct is by instantly inferior to his lover’s beauty. Her eyelids’ flutter is symbolic of life’s beautiful and delicate moments that are ephemeral for lovers. The moments dedicated to erotic love are worthwhile.
Readers are left to ponder what the eyelids flutter say. They say: “we are for each other: then” (13). The use of the colon has great significance here; Cummings is using punctuation to enhance the meaning of the poem. The colon is a clear indication that the following statement is extremely significant. The narrator says, “then / laugh, leaning back in my arms / for life’s not a paragraph” (13-15). The lovers should relax and enjoy their moments together. Life is not a paragraph; life is not logical, syntactical, or quantifiable. Life does not follow any rules.
The poem concludes, “death i think is no parenthesis” (16). Parenthesis are meant to enclose or separate an aspect of a sentence away from other parts of that sentence. Death is not a digression or comment that temporarily interrupts a running theme; death is finite and conclusive. If life is not a paragraph, then individuals should not consider death a parenthesis. Love is real and ephemeral, because death is real and a permanent ending.
Ultimately, E.E. Cummings’ message in “since feeling is first” is that erotic love gives meaning to life and transcends the flow of time; it does not require complicated language. If you enjoyed this poem, be sure to check out more of E.E. Cummings’ poetry. My favorite is “i carry your heart with me,” so be sure to look out for future posts on it!
All my best, D.