Iconicity and naming in E. E. Cummings’s poetry

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Moving on from a visual-iconic emphasis in the study of the i-o dance in E. E. Cummings’s poetry (Terblanche and Webster 2007), this chapter shifts the focus to a sound-symbolizing element of that dance, in tandem with its iconic features. Reading Cummings’s poems “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and “my father moved through dooms of love” among others, the chapter shows how Cummings uses sounds such as [ʌɪ] and [eʊ] to intimate a movement from isolation, individuality, and “lightness” into a movement of integration, deeper selfhood, and greater resonance and reverberation in the natural world. This is a complex poetic example of what Brent Berlin terms size-sound symbolism. Based on this finding, the chapter finds further that arbitrariness in Cummings (such as isolating the lower case “i”) serves to enhance motivation (such as miming dynamic integration within a larger “o”-world of being). Evidently, this further involves a certain inseparability of what Max Nänny terms imagic and diagrammatic forms of iconicity: “i” mimes smallness, uprightness, and the joy of a dot jumping out imagically, while this goes on to indicate entrance into a sense of movement, growth, and being (as embodied not only in “O” but also in the semiotic movement “into” it) — a movement which is in the nature of diagrammatic iconicity. The chapter concludes that arbitrariness and motivation end up in loops of enhancement in the case of Cummings, contrary to the current stock response that language is only or nearly only arbitrary.


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