What does this quote mean: "Life's not a paragraph and death, I think, is no parenthesis."?

1 Answer

I don't think there is just one meaning. I explore some ideas below:


e e cummings, an American poet, author, etc (see the wiki article for a full list), wrote roughly 2900 poems - and this quote is from one of them. The poem is since feeling is first. It's a love poem (he wrote quite a number of erotic poems and works as well) and explores the fact that he sees love and the emotions surrounding it as far exceeding the rational and logical of the brain/mind.


since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis


So what does it mean? Especially the ending, which is where the quote is pulled from? This, of course, is one of the purposes of poetry - to make you think, to consider what is being expressed and to engage you with it. So these are my thoughts and ideas, not "right ones" - because there aren't any.

First off, we see that he is talking to a woman (which makes sense, it being a love poem). So he is talking about how much more he values love and love's expression than anything of the mind.

Life's not a paragraph - I take this to mean a couple of things. First, he's already established that he values "the flutter of her eyes which shows that she loves him" over anything his brain can produce - and since he's a writer and poet, he works in paragraphs and pages, he states clearly it's far better to have "her in his arms".

Another way to understand this statement is to see that in terms of life, he could express it within a paragraph but instead chooses to express it physically with her.

And I think a third way to see it is that he views the rational part of life as being like a paragraph within the work, the book, the novel of life. There is so much more to life than what the mind can create.

And death i think is no parenthesis - Parentheses are usually used to help explain something, to give an aside or a comment that isn't necessarily important to the story or whatever all is being written. So he is saying here that death is not simply an explanation for life, not something that explains what or why we're here.

Life is meant to be lived and not commented on afterwards. He clearly has far more interest in loving and being loved than in anything he can express with paper and pen - and doesn't care a whit about what future generations will get from his work.