Why “my sweet old etcetera”?

I started this blog over two years ago, and it never occurred to me to explain the name until today. So, why “my sweet old etcetera”? The short answer is that it’s the name of a poem by E.E. Cummings, and I love poetry, and the title sounds like what my blog is about: the sweet hodgepodge of people and things that makes life worth living.

The poem itself has much deeper meaning. Cummings was a soldier in World War I, and during his time fighting he came to see the absurdity of the war, which led him to be imprisoned in a French concentration camp for his pacifist leanings. In “my sweet old etcetera”, Cummings writes to his sweetheart about the contrast between how the war is perceived back home and the reality of the soldiers fighting.

I was probably in high school when I first tried to read Cummings seriously, but I can remember seeing his poems as a child. I say “seeing” because it was the way the words were placed on the page that I remember, not the poems themselves. I couldn’t get past the lack of capitalization and punctuation, the seemingly random stanza breaks and splitting of sentences. It drove me crazy.

Then I got older, and my appreciation for poetry grew, and I finally got it. In college I learned that what Cummings does in his poetry is a kind of “literary cubism”, where he breaks up the material in a way that directs the reader to the meaning.

So, what I love most about “my sweet old etcetera” is the way it abruptly turns into a love poem in the final stanza. He “lay(s) quietly in the deep mud” dreaming about his girl. It gets me every time.

Anyway, it’s definitely worth a minute of your time to read it. Here it is:

 

[my sweet old etcetera]

 

my sweet old etcetera

aunt lucy during the recent

 

war could and what

is more did tell you just

what everybody was fighting

 

for,

my sister

 

Isabel created hundreds

(and

hundreds) of socks not to

mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

 

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

 

mother hoped that

 

i would die etcetera

bravely of course my father used

to become hoarse talking about how it was

a privilege and if only he

could meanwhile my

 

self etcetera lay quietly

in the deep mud et

 

cetera

(dreaming,

et

cetera, of

Your smile

eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

 

E. E. Cummings, 1926

 

 

 

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