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since feeling is first Poem by e.e. cummings: Analysis and Interpretation

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  • 0:02 A Look at the Poem
  • 1:20 Stanzas 1 & 2
  • 2:29 Stanza 3
  • 3:54 The Last Stanzas
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You might not know where to start with 'since feeling is first', but its title is already trying to tell you! Find out what else this poem by e.e. cummings has to say in this lesson with an analysis and interpretation of this short but poignant work.

A Look at the Poem

Since this poem - one of e.e. cummings' most famous - isn't all that long, let's take a quick look to refresh our memories. This way, we'll also have something to refer back to while we discuss it.

'since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool

while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,

and kisses are better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry

- the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis'

Analysis and Interpretation

Confused? Don't worry - you're not alone. e.e. cummings' works are often characterized by their eccentricities. For example, you might have noticed sparse or inconsistent usage of capitalization and punctuation. Also, his lines and stanzas in this particular poem certainly have an unmeasured quality, making it difficult to see any definite underlying structure. However, especially in the case of 'since feeling is first,' cummings definitely intended for readers to have a bit of trouble 'making sense' of what was happening in his work. Let's find out why.

Stanzas One and Two

The first line used to title the piece tells you right up front how fundamentally important a person's emotions and intuitions are - particularly when we're talking about someone who's supposed to be in love. With this in mind, the narrator claims that the person 'who pays any attention / to the syntax of things' will never fully connect with (or 'kiss') the reader. The use of a semicolon here to cap the line and stanza breaks is significant - cummings really wants the reader to pause and consider what's just been said: 'will never wholly kiss you.'

What does that all mean? You may have heard the term syntax - the specific arrangement of words and phrases in forming sentences - in your English class, and this sort of linguistic or literary vocabulary is what cummings uses throughout the poem to symbolize the use of reason (over feeling) or general mental activity. So, the main idea here is that people who are too analytical have trouble ever fully connecting with others on an emotional level.

In the second stanza, we find out that these people ironically also seem to have problems with time management, apparently refusing to totally engage with other people when life allows them to do so.

Stanza Three

In the third stanza, the narrator opens by claiming that his own emotions ('blood') can confirm his last statements. He then makes an important comparison that's intended to prove the point even further.

When we think of someone wise, we might imagine a judge or a monarch or an old monk. All of these symbols of wisdom can come off as rather aloof or detached from personal involvements. On the other hand, locking lips and other forms of physical intimacy are about as personally involved as you can get. By comparing 'kisses' to 'wisdom,' the narrator is saying that a life full of intimacy (physical and otherwise) is a 'better fate' than one given solely to standoffishness, so certainly anyone who would pass up such an experience deserves to be called 'fool' in his book.

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