I met up with a friend and fellow anthropologist for coffee yesterday to talk about a paper he gave recently and more generally about approaches to the study of value in anthropology. In the course of said coffee and conversation twas established that we also share an appreciation of the poetry of e.e. Cummings.
My consociate’s favourite of his poems was not in the volume I was carrying with me. He did, however, very kindly send it through to me via email later in the afternoon. It was prefaced with a note, which read, in part, something like “here is the poem I do quite like and, with nautical reference and what I consider a wonderful ending it may be suited to that ol’ sea cowboy, Dr Bentley.” See, I had earlier in the day been looking for a suitable poem to gift to a mutual friend of ours (and fellow, fellow anthropologist), Dr. Bentley James – my wäwa’miriŋu (eB).
This whole little story made my week. I had never come across this particular poem before and it is really quite heartbreakingly exquisite. I usually poopoo the word “exquisite” but I think it is perfectly fitting in this case. The other reason this whole little story made my week is because sharing poetry is one of life’s quietly hushed joys.
At the risk of sounding like someone who tells people how poems ‘should’ be read I suggest that this particular poem may best be read slowly and aloud. The final few lines nearly killed me.
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
 I say this mainly because I suffer from the trauma of school-teachers having read all and any type of poetry in that horrid ‘I-have-no-interest-in-you-actually-appreciating-this-school-teacher-dry-as-hell-nursery-rhyme-type’ fashion – and I suspect this poem may be particularly vulnerable to such a reading.