The Way That Leave Falls in l(a
The poem “l(a” by E. E. Cummings depicts the feeling of loneliness with its unique graphological layout. As a modernist poet, Cummings added riddle-like design into the experimental poem, which presents as an abstract and unique work for readers to explore. To achieve the moment of awing its audience, the poem manifests itself as a combination of unconventional techniques that are shown in the graphological level. It is not difficult to realize that the poem should be read or viewed vertically, and then rearranged it into a readable phrase, that is “l(a leaf falls)oneliness”. Still, readers might doubt that other than the random separation of the words and the image of a falling leaf, few techniques are involved in the work. With this in mind, this paper will focus on discussing the distinctiveness of the arrangement.
The poem, at the first sight, is a collection of meaningless pairs of letters in five stanzas. The first three stanzas consist of only four letters “l”, “a”, “e”, “f”, which heavily fuels up the difficulty to decode. The second stanza of “le/af/fa” reduces any possible readability for the readers who make an attempt to pronounce them. “one” (line 7) is the only meaningful word under such separation, however, letter “l” that is located beneath could easily mislead the reader to recognize “l” as number ”1” and relate it to “one”. “iness” (line 9), as the longest line in the poem, provides a noticeable clue to the readers as it may remind them of the suffix “ness”, yet it is expelled to the last line with little connection with the former stanzas. The unusual appearance of the poem puts up obstacles for the readers to grasp its meaning, which raises their wish to decipher as well.
The blank lines inserted before “le” (line 2), ”ll” (line 5), “s” (line 6) and “iness” (line 9) divide the stanzas into a roughly symmetrical pattern of “1/3/1/3/1”, with the third stanza “ll” shapes like a bridge in the middle. The seeming symmetry, however, is disturbed on a smaller scale. The second stanza “le/af/fa” presents a smooth figure of “2/2/2”, while each line is made up with a slender letter (f or l) and a round letter (e or a). In the light of typography, such arrangement guaranteed that both the width and the height of each line are aligned precisely. The fourth stanza, as a counterpart, takes an irregular shape of “2/3/1” and rudely breaks the harmony of shape with this subtle variation. Also, the presence of the right parenthesis after “s” (line 6) not only interrupts the flow of letters but directs the readers to guess on its connection with the left parenthesis (line 1) in the first stanza, further impairing the possible symmetry between the second and the forth stanza. The uneven pattern challenges the readers’ expectations, and further improves the obscurity of the poem.
Following the analysis of how the poem is weaved to appear eccentric, the essay attempts to provide several ways of reorganizing the work, mostly on the second stanza, as comparisons to exemplify its distinctiveness. If it is rearranged into “l/eaf/fa”, which is obscure enough, yet will form a perfect symmetry with the fourth stanza (1/3/2 with 2/3/1). Or another, “lea/f/fa”, though still puzzling, the readability is greatly increased, since “lea” and “a” are both substantial words. The grouping of “ff” will fuse the two words “leaf” and “falls”, which goes against the poem’s intention of breaking up the words rather than mixing them up. Considering this, “l/eaff/a”, “l/e/affa”, “l/ea/ffa”, “le/a/ffa”, “le/aff/a”. “lea/ff/a” are all unsatisfactory results. Despite the disadvantages discussed above, no alternations could reproduce the charming pattern of “le/af/fa” with its consistency in width and height. Similarly, the bridge-like third stanza, and the peculiar combination of “one” and “1” (from letter “l”) in the fourth stanza, leave little space for any revisions.
Deviated from traditional paradigm of poems (Li, 87), “l(a” exhibits a creative approach to interact with the readers, mostly puzzling them before they could solve the riddle, by its unique graphological features. Among a number of possible ways that imitate the trace of a falling leaf with its image, the poem selected the one that conveys the richest meanings through its form. It deserves the honor of “the most delicately beautiful literary construct that Cummings ever created” (Richard, 463) and enjoys a high aesthetic value.
Kennedy, Richard S. "Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings." Norton (1994):463.
李冰梅. "肯明斯诗歌中的偏离与连贯." 国外文学 26.2(2006):84-89.