E.E. Cummings was an American poet who lived from 1894-1962 in New England. This untitled prayer poem, which begins with the line, "i thank You God for most this amazing day," is a chorus of joy and a celebration of the earth and the God who is responsible for it.
As an entry to the words of prayer, below is a short (one and a half-minute) 1953 recording of Cummings reading this work. As I listened to it, I was reminded of a oratorical preacher, saying these words in front of a congregation.
When it is written down, Cummings' lack of standard punctuation and his odd sentence structures immediately grab the reader's attention.
By inverting words within phrases, so that words are out of normal sequence, a reader or listener is pulled up short and needs to consider more carefully what is being said. Immediately, in the first line, Cummings twists what could have been a more standard phrase into something that catches our attention and makes us work a little harder to understand it. Instead of the phrase, "for this most amazing day," Cummings moves "most" into an unexpected spot in the sentence, creating the phrase "for most this amazing day." A phrase that could be easily skipped over and perhaps dismissed catches our attention and causes us to reflect on the words and their meaning more deeply.
i thank You God for most this amazing day
by e.e. cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
This poem was originally published in Xaipe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).
On the page, the lack of punctuation creates a tumbling, movement in the piece. It moves along quickly and joyfully, with one eager word and phrase following another. The words rush along like a tumbling creek, not really stopping until reaching the question mark that comes just before the final couplet set within parenthesis.
Cummings use of capitals (and their absence) also catches our attention and makes us consider why they are included or excluded. By using lowercase when referring to himself in "i," it marks more emphatically the uppercase of "You" that he uses when referring to God. The fact that capitals are only used when referring to God, particularly highlighted in the capitalization of "You," suggests a deference and distinction being shown to God and God's authority and preeminence in the creation in direct contrast the speaker himself.
But this authority of God in the prayer isn't one that is oppressive or stern; there is a suggestion of delight and affirmation rather than authoritarianism. The prayer communicates energy, enthusiasm, and awe toward the world and the God who is responsible for that world. The awe expressed is a joyful awe, brought to life in the phrases “the leaping greenly spirits of trees” and “a blue true dream of sky.” This way of referring to the nature points to a lively creation in the midst of a wider universe that has been created by God. The prayer looks around and sees “everything” which is "natural," "infinite," "yes" as being worth being thankful for. The "yes" suggests a sense of possibility and a grateful and positive affirmation of life. As the son of a Unitarian minister, Cummings seems to have an open-ended way of viewing and approaching God.
Both the speaker of the prayer and the sun have experienced a sort of birth on this particular day—"this amazing day." For the sun, every day it rises might be a "birth day," but there is something special about this day for the narrator. He was dead, but is alive again. Something has changed in his perception and gratitude for the world he is in. He has been given the ability to see it with newer and deeper consciousness of its beauty and worth.
Boundaries are swept away in the prayer through the "the infinite," the "illimitably earth," the "unimaginable You" (God). We come as a "human merely being," who, in our doubt, are doubting a God that is far, far beyond ourselves, yet God lifts us from the "no" of our lack of perception by giving us the gift of senses that can perceive the amazing creation of the prayer poem.
The word string "tasting touching hearing seeing breathing" emphasize the importance of the present and the way we enter, take in, and become part of "this amazing day." By using the gerund form of these verbs, which signify present tenses and focus attention on these actions, the sensing actions are made more immediate and central. This is not an abstract treatise on the necessity and appropriateness of thankfulness, but an invitation to actually step into and experience that thankfulness right now in the midst of the trees, the sky, and the rest of the natural world.
As you read the words below, may it help you to see this present day as a gift from God and an opportunity to celebrate God's goodness and gifts.
Reflection Questions: Are you open to the beauty around you today? Are the ears of your ears awake? Are the eyes of your eyes opened? If not, what can you do to open up your perceptions? In what ways do you express thankfulness to God for this creation and your life within it? Have you experienced a transformation that allows you to see the world with new eyes and energy?
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