Analysis of The Poem “The Cambridge Ladies Who Live In Furnished Souls” by E.E.Cummings
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The Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds ( also, with the church’s protestant blessings daughters, un scented shapeless spirited) they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead are invariably interested in so many things_ at the present writing one still finds delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles? Perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D. …the Cambridge ladies do not care, above Cambridge if sometimes in its box of sky lavender and cornerless, the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy
The poet E.E.Cummings manages to escape any form of traditional response within the sonnet form. In “the Cambridge ladies” he describes with acrimony the upper class, pseudo-liberal, emotionally controlled inhabittants of Cambridge, Massachusetts
He experiments with a different rhyme scheme from the schemes of the two traditional sonnet forms. The poem, in an octave and a sestet, rhyme abcd dcba eeffee. Perhaps the enclosed nature of the rhyme scheme is created in this way not so much to depart from “tradition as to fit the subject matter”, that is, the closed-minded Cambridge ladies who “have comfortable minds” and who “do not care” box themselves in through their lifestyle just as the rhyme scheme of the octave and the sestet boxes itself in.
In the octave, cummings launches a frontal assault on many qualities and characteristics of the “ladies” :
They live in “furnished souls” . By playing on the idea of furnished houses and juxtaposing the essential spirit of the soul with the vacuum to be filled of a house, the poet effectively attacks their way of life. Threadbare, worn-out, spoon-fed precepts dominate their souls just as accessories of unoriginal taste dominate a furnished house. Like a furnished house, the ladies do not choose the contents of their mind, but are filled out with prescribed thoughts.
They are “unbeautiful” and possess ” comfortable minds”. Because they are so rigid and interchangeable, cummings prefers to call them, not hideous, but just “unbeautiful”. Because they accept what has been handed down to them willingly, they own “comfortable minds”.
They have daughters who, like them, are “unscented shapeless spirited”. Everything about them is unostentatious, having just the right amount of decorum and propriety. Their shapelessness, like their “comfortable” lives, is attributed to their lack of initiation into life. Ironically, they are sanctioned “with the church’s Protestant blessings”, because there they can meet in their Sunday best and reaffirm to each other that their lifestyle is perfect.
They “believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead” because both are fashionable (although hardly similar) heroes. Because of their predilection for just the appropriate Christian feelings, they find it right to espouse Christ. And because of Longfellow’s stature as a good poet and a native of Cambridge, they find it right to support him. Ironically, they are “both dead” physically, they are “both dead” in the minds of the ladies, who do no more to live by the teachings of Christ than to challenge their existence.
They “are invariably interested in so many things” because it is fashionable in an intellectual community to be well informed, even if superficially, to be interested in hearing about people and ideas, and to be conversant with these for social gatherings. The tone of this line is extremely bitter.
With “delighted fingers” they are ” knitting’ for any charitable cause or minority groupes. It is fashionable to support a charity, even though the ladies are more interested in the social approval they receive for their “work” (their knitting may hardly be useful) than in the work itself. By using the phrase “is it Pole?” cummings satirically underscores their uncertainty about whom the knitting is for, and the phrase “delighted fingers” effectively emphasizes the shallowness of their committement.
The staid members of the community, the “permanent faces”, constantly seach far gossipy tidbits to “coyly bandy” about in a scandal. The anonymity created by Mrs.N (she’s married of course) and Professor D (he’s an important person of course) heightens the idea that the scandal is more significant than the people.
Clearly they “do not care” about human nature; they display an insouciance and a distance toward people other than those in their own tight little circle.
The poet then closes the sonnet: with a brilliant metaphor and devastating statement. Throughout, the poem is a sardonic, wry commentary about the superficiality and benality of these ladies’ lives. To them, the moon is no more than a piece of candy in a lavender box; their rigid attachments to their own select society hinder them from seeing any natural phenomenon as it actually is and prevent them from translating it from their own perceptions (the moon is not a moon but a piece of candy in a tidy box that they give for a present and that symbolyzes their culture). The moon symbollically conjures up many possibilities for the reader-it is such a traditional symbol for so many different values and ideas that you can make it mean whatever you want (love, natural beauty, night, freedom, or change, which the moon does twenty-eight times a month), so long as you see it as distinct and distant from the confining world of the Cambridge ladies.
The key changes in cummings’s tone are expressed through the words “rattles” and “angry”. The moon “rattles” in the box like a “fragment of angry candy” because it refuses to be trapped, “cornerless” in the void the Cambridge ladies create for it. Here cummings is no longer sardonic, but downright indignant and “angry” . He chooses aggressive words and aggressive actions, phenomena alien to the ladies, but perhaps, he might be urging, not alien to the reader. One must seek to shatter illusory, preset “furnished” words and become an initiating, challenging person.