Edward Estlin Cummings is a modernist writer who uses the pen name E. E. Cummings to create a range of poetic structures. In “Buffalo Bill’s”, he uses a number of different poetic forms to highlight the deeper meanings in the words. Cummings plays around with punctuation to create a humorous and disorganized tone. Cummings uses his unique style of poetry to express his views about love, pain, commercialized American culture, and more. Modernist literature often features reflections on war’s brutality, alienation, instability and stream-of-consciousness narration. Cummings, a modernist experimentalist, is known for his insightful poems that often deal with themes such as cruelty and loneliness. These themes stem from Cummings’ experience in French prison camps during World War I.
Susan Cheever is a close friend of the Cummings and describes E. E. Cummings’ distinct Modernism in three parts. “The first part was the use of sounds rather than meanings to link words with the reader’s emotions. The second part was to remove all the unnecessary elements to focus on the form and structure of the work. The third aspect of modernism involved embracing adversity. 9). Cummings’ poetry is used to bring his audience closer to themselves and to social issues. This, according to a journalist, helps them to better understand their own selves and the world around them. Cummings has a personal style of writing that he combines with Modernist themes in his most famous work.
E. E. Cummings used the American cowboy William “Buffalo Bill’s”, a popular American figure, to express his dislike of false heroes who are tied to materialism. The first two sentences of the narrator begin with “Buffalo Bill defunct”, immediately casting the cowboy (lines 1-2). The word defunct is a separate line that sets the tone by deadpanning death with a word more appropriate for a machine. Cummings then describes the cowboy as a handsome man who rides a silver horse and dies (lines 4, 8). The narrator continues to discuss his death, asking “How do like your blueeyed Mister Death?” in line 10. Before revealing his demise, the narrator describes both his talent and attractiveness to show that flashy heroes should not be trusted. Buffalo Bill can’t be protected when the market doesn’t need him. Buffalo Bill was a famous Wild West showman who made a lot of money imitating Western Dreams. He died and carried his legacy along with him. Cummings changes the reader’s focus from Buffalo Bill being a celebrity who could shoot “onetwothreefourpigeonsjustlikethat”, to “blueeyed boys” by stringing the words together. Cummings leaves a question mark in line 10, leaving it open to interpretation. Did Buffalo Bill die heroically or will his legacy be based on his involvement with the capitalistic industry? Buffalo Bill’s death will disillusion those who might have used Buffalo Bill to distract their audience from all the bad things in society.
E. E. Cummings was a prisoner in France and he saw the greed and pride that lead America to go to war. “nextto of course god america i”, a poem he wrote in 1926, explains this. Cummings uses modernist elements to combine patriotic songs in a medley. The medley is humorous and attractive, which makes the reader think about the costs associated with war. Cummings is frustrated at Americans’ patriotism, which they express through song but don’t do anything to fight for. Cummings, in line 6, describes the talk as “deafanddumb”, which reflects the lack of awareness of the brutality that war brings to citizens. The narrator mocks America’s unrelenting worship and his disapproval at the praise of a country that you don’t want to fight for. Cummings shows his frustration through humor by saying “by gorry jingo gee by gosh gum” (lines 7-8). The narrator shifts tone in lines nine and eleven by asking, “What could be more beautiful?” than “heroic happily dead soldiers” that went to war with “lions at the roaring of slaughter”.
The narrator asks “Did [they] stop to think… the voice of freedom would be muted?” (line 13) as the men are dying. Cummings’ audience is asked to reflect upon the soldiers that gave up their right to free speech in order to fight. Patriotism might have had a negative influence on their decision. The poem concludes with line 14 where the narrator is drinking a water glass, as a way to wash his words away and focus on his action. Cummings is ironic in his use of sarcasm. He points out the voiceless patriots and their brainwashed patriots drown out the unpopular opinion. E. E. Cummings surveyed life from a unique point of view: he grew up in a wealthy household, went to Harvard and was an American citizen. However, he also served in the military and lived abroad in Paris. Cummings can better connect with his audience by assuming the role of a poor pauper and living at the same social level as a prince. Cummings, for example, uses the Modernist technique to write poems in a flow of consciousness. This creates a casual atmosphere that connects with his readers. Cummings, who was a war prisoner in World War I, uses this experience to express a dissatisfaction that many Americans feel with war.
E. E. Cummings describes the Modernist period using his own experiences in a way that is timeless and readers can relate to. Cummings was caught up in the Modernist literature of the time, which was inspired by the death and destruction caused by the two world wars. Cummings used an unusual poetic style to reflect his worldview. He described it as always moving, without rhyme or purpose, and imitating real life (Norton 635) Cummings’ satirical, strange and humorous poems continue to delight his audience as they reveal Cummings’ frustrations over capitalism and the war. Cummings’s work is a great example for modern poets who want to use humor to bring light to the destructive times in American culture.