a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and Meal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

11 Comments

  1. Tinystinabeana says:

    Yep. Biblical metaphorical implications.

  2. erfmd says:

    one hand did nothing on the vest
    its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
    while the mute trouserfly confessed
    a button solemnly inert.
    please interpret this stanza

  3. erfmd says:

    a man dressed in 15th rate ideas and a round jeer for a hat – jesus with less than mature philosophy and a round crown of mocking thorns.

    dozen staunch and leal citizens – the disciples

    graze at pause – the last supper perhaps

    fired by hypercivic zeal sought newer pastures – went abroad-both geographically and philosophically-to proselytize and spread the word

    brushing from whom the stiffened puke i put him all into my arms – narrator/reader brushes away the physical and philosophical puke-the perversion of the original word-putting him physically and metaphorically into his arms

    staggered with terror through a million billion trillion stars – carrying the essence of grace through eternity.

    Or, this is simply a drunk on the roadside. Take your pick.

  4. Brian Haley says:

    I would have to agree with others below who point to the biblical references in this poem. Our very first clue is “fallen amongst thieves,” i.e. Christ on the cross between two thieves; and, of course, the good Samaritan story, as others have pointed out. However, in my view, cummings is only using this as a allegorical vehicle. The clue here is the “pinkish” vomit. I believe this to be a reference to socialists and/or communists who openly criticized cummings during his career.

    These “staunch” citizens are seeing the “Christ-like” character through their own “pinkish” filters, their judgmental (frozen) and condescending (swaddled) approach, rightly described as “vomit” by cummings. In the Bible, Christ himself often criticized religious zealots as “hypocrites and vipers.” The protagonist is rejecting their feigned overtures (which noticed nobody). He does not wish to rise; he has exchanged “consciousness” (in this context referring to “hypercivic zeal”) for a changeless grin. He’s not taking himself so seriously, at least not as seriously as those seeing through filters of “pinkish” vomit. He is heart-connected but in a natural way (one hand did nothing on the vest), and, to a degree (button solemnly inert), earthy, embodied (clenched weakly dirt).

    And lastly, to our good Samaritan: This is a guess here, but I’m thinking the good Samaritan and the Christ-like figure are one and the same. Perhaps they were one and the same from the beginning, or perhaps they have merged through genuine empathy – “i put him ALL into my arms.” – which, if true, gives the poet another ‘crack’ at the contrived concern of the “staunch and Meal citizens” (who just might, in the end, be the thieves also!). The narrator, whoever he is, is also saying that he does not have all the answers either. In fact, he’s “staggering” humbly – “banged with terror” – through the universe looking for… what? True empathy? Authenticity? Or, perhaps Truth itself…

  5. Greg Starr (gregkliq) says:

    The poem has refernces lossely related but calculaed to the bible. we hve the ‘good sameritan’ and reference to the last supper with the dozen eating. The last 5 lines regesses to the common reflecting
    common and frequent episodes in cummings life. reflecting is war experience and other issues of social commentary. the beauty of this poem is the unque historic episoded with characteristic language, which very much puts a spin on all the historical events cummings touches. greg

  6. Darren says:

    I believe that this poem may be analigous to the parable of the “good samaritin”, but ee cummings makes it more real by adding discription.

    Also when he says that the citizens where “fired by hypercivic zeal” I believe he is referring to how they thinik that their “civic” duty is more important than wasting their time to help someone out.

  7. Michele says:

    possibly the man “on the ground” our dirty world, whose eyes pukes from seen of humankind, this man of consciousness and a knowing grin, not needing to rise because he was already there was Jesus himself, symbolic of one in a higher awareness, or the Self, and the one who lifted him and carried him fearfully to the eternity of stars is you who reads.

  8. Christina says:

    Although many Christians incorrectly insist that it is impossible to be a good human without also being a good Christian, this poem is not about Christian grace, but rather about human grace. I am utterly able to see even one specifically Christian reference in the text.

    And, just a quibble, but I have this poem memorized from a print edition and as far as I remember it is “staunch and leal”, not “staunch and meal”.

    In his use of the word “leal” we might possibly find that much-sought-after reference to faith. “Leal” means: Faithful; loyal; true. “Land of the leal” means: the place of the faithful; heaven.

    Sadly for the faithful who want to make every good human action dependent on their particular religion, it is the leal people who are standing about doing nothing, and the speaker who at last does something about it.

    The poem is not about Christian grace, but human grace.

  9. Harry says:

    I don’t think this poem has anything to do with christian presidents. Nor do i think that religon should have any effect on a president’s ability to run in office, christian or not. In fact a president that is too strongly rooted in christian beliefs, he becomes to caught up in pleasing god instead of running the country.

  10. Jessica Manntai says:

    I think Paul, that the man who gets picked up by the speaker of the poem, could BE one of our political candidates. This poem is an excellent sermon on what it means to be a Christian. Maybe our job is to take the president we already have and attempt to support and advise him as best we can so that he might become the man in the poem. We are suppose to take our cue from the speaker. 🙂

  11. Paul Lommen says:

    Today many americans want to elect a Christian president. This poem exemplifies what it means to be a Christian. Is there one running?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem better? If they are accepted, they will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.