XXX

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov’d colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but–though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat–
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

Analysis, meaning and summary of e.e. cummings's poem i sing of Olaf glad and big

21 Comments

  1. Burt says:

    This poem really speaks to my heart, Im doing this for my second grade project and analyzing the poetic devices and it is really amazing how Cummings was so nice to everybody. I really like fried rice as well.

  2. Richard Levy says:

    “There is some shit I will not eat”….came to me in a conversation and I did not recall where I had first heard it…(or, more accurately, read it).
    A google inquiry quickly found the source of this powerful expression of intent and I again basked in the profound work of ee cummings….
    I have my own notion of the meaning of “more blond” but more important is Cumming’s tribute to the willful commitment to a belief or prinicple whatever the price, that the beautiful Olaf lived out for all of us
    who struggle to be sure that our life has an ultimate meaning and purpose.

  3. susan spangler says:

    I disagree. I don’t think that analysis precludes appreciation of the poem itself; it can add to the fullness of appreciation of any poem, athis one in particular. One aspect that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of these comments is the extremely unusual form this poem takes — strictly adhering to rhyme scheme and meter, unlike any other cummings poem I’ve ever read. That, in combination with the phrasing of the opening line (“I sing of Olaf…”) strongly evokes Norse mythological songs of praise and adds an additional and stirring emotional dimension to the poem’s story, linking present-day Olaf with the great heroes of our shared cultural past.

  4. Brendan says:

    For cummings, I agree. It is not true for every poem, though. I mean, it’s always all there on the page, but there is often a puzzle to figure out which procures a deeper meaning which requires analysis, unless you can immediately pick up on all allusions and their interaction upon the first reading, thus allowing them all to affect you emotionally the FIRST time. This is very difficult for a lot of poetry. Such is true of a lot of Yeats, and a lot of the romantics.

  5. Now And Then Books says:

    To return the discussion to the serious–the Blonde in the last line does not imply courage—the Brave reference does that. In graduate school we discussed this poem at length and had one of the foremost cummings scholars in the country come in to have a seminar with us on his poetry. The Blonde is more of an implication of 1st generation immigration—Olaf here chasing the American dream in his adopted country, yet meeting the disaster described in the poem. Olaf being more directly pure–aligned to Aryan type roots than probably the same people who were torturing him, but whose blue eyes were handed down through several generations of mixing, and diluting the purity of their roots. I have never forgotten the seminar to this day, or those comments aobut the last line of Olaf. I wrote my thesis on cummings and spent 10 pages in this poem alone—one of his most vivid and powerful.

  6. Jan says:

    melissa, your comments just perpetuate the stereotype that all scandinavian men are hung like horses and I thank you.

    Jan Prøbst
    President
    Swedish Endowment for World Piece

  7. melissa cristofaro says:

    I cant beilve nobdy has commented about olafs large penis. its massive, and he likes to pleasure himself when he is at war.

  8. Sandy says:

    “bowdlerized” refers to a guy, Bowdler, who edited all the nuaghty bits out of Shakespeare in the earlier 19th century.

    Also, the beauty of poetry and literature in general is that it has universal application. Regardless of whether or not cummings wrote this poem specifiacally about Nazism (specifiaclly it is about a person he knew, but it was written in the years leading up to the outbreak of WWII [37 i think]) it is still completely applicable to a consideration of that movement.

  9. Frances says:

    While “all kind of officers” are encouraging the firstclassprivates to do that, I always took it as literal; not an analogy for sexual assault, but torture through the application of red-hot knives. You *could* make an argument for sexual connotations there–after all, he’s also on his knes, or “what were once knees”, but I’d expect cummings to use a more… forward? …word than “tease”, if that were the case.

  10. Matthew says:

    I’m suprised no one has commented on the sexual connetation of the lines:
    “and egged the firstclassprivates on
    his rectum wickedly to tease
    by means of skilfully applied
    bayonets roasted hot with heat–”

    It degrades the ‘firstclassprivates’ and enforces the image of Olaf as being virtuous.

  11. TJN says:

    Yeah, though I’m unsure of the etymology of the word “bowdlerized,” cummings did have the curse words in his original draft. They’re important too….the pure vulgarity of the curses in the poem is cummings’ way of peripherally showing the vulgarity of the content of the poem. It’s almost like a subconscious reminder of how horrible war was.

    At least….that’s what we learned in English about this poem ^.^

  12. scottstandridge says:

    I had always thought that the curse words in this poem were abbreviated:

    “i will not kiss your f.ing flag”
    and
    “there is some s. I will not eat”

    I’m sure that’s the way I read it originally, and I figured that was the way cummings wrote it. But did I just have a bowdlerized edition?

    I agree with the commenters above about “blue eyed” and “blonde” representing “pure” and “all-american” (though it is interesting that the same traits are stereotypically Aryan). However, “Olaf” being obviously a Scandanavian name, it may also have been simple literal description. Not that he only meant to describe–just that it works on several levels. The “more blond than you” line esp. implies Olaf was in many ways braver and purer than either the author or his reader.

    Very relevant today.

  13. mei says:

    the recruitment posters for WWI often depicted blonde-haired, blue-eyed men. also, blonde hair and blue eyes can be seen as pure, and America wants to think of the officers/army men as pure.

  14. Kim Offenburger says:

    Just one observation. Note that cummings uses imagery suggesting Nazi Germany. The blue eyes, the blond hair, doesn’t this suggest the aryan culture? What do you think he means by this?

  15. c.fitzpatrick says:

    This poem is about , as cummings quite plainly writes, a conscientious objestor; a pacifist.a real person that he did, in fact, meet at fort devens in ayer, mass. It is only symbolic that Olaf “…will not kiss your fucking flag”. This only means that Olaf does not agree with the political and military climate . The flag represents what the military stands for, and although Olaf is tortured for not conforming, he stands by his beliefs and eventually dies for them, just as heroically as the soldiers who fight and die for their beliefs in the right of war. This poem is not difficult to figure out; don’t read too much into cummings. Although he is brilliant, he is understandable and a true ohserver and commentator.

  16. c.fitzpatrick says:

    This poem is about , as cummings quite plainly writes, a conscientious objestor; a pacifist.a real person that he did, in fact, meet at fort devens in ayer, mass., It is only symbolic that Olaf “./..will not kiss your fucking flag”. This only means that Olaf does not agree with the political and military climate . The flag represents what the military stands for, and although Olaf is tortured for not conforming, he stands by his beliefs and eventually dies for them, just as heroically as the soldiers who fight and die for their beliefs in the right of war. This poem is not difficult to figure out; don’t read too much into cummings. Although he is brilliant, he is understamndable and a true ohserver and commentator.

  17. Bridget says:

    I think this poem takes on a whole new relevance given the current political and world situation. The imagery of the cruelty of Olaf’s fellow soldiers/officers seems to foreshadow what we know of the behavior certain soldiers, officers, and elected officials of today.

  18. John Michel says:

    G Emtee’s comment is anything but worthless. It’s true about all poetry, perhaps more so than any other art.

    There is a famous story (and not aprocryphal–I know someone who witnessed it) about Robert Frost who had just given a college reading and was answering questions. Someone in the audience asked what Frost meant by several lines in one of his poems. Frost looked at him, looked back at the poem, looked at him again and then back at the poem and reread the lines. The student then said, “I’m sorry, I was wondering what you *meant* by those lines?” and said this louder thinking Frost was hard of hearing since he was old at the time. Frost did the same thing as before. The student loked at my (embarassed) friend and said, “He’s getting senile. ”

    If you want to read comments about the poem, read cummings’s comments. They’re in the poem.

  19. Rick Orr says:

    As you may know, Olaf was based on a real person (a conscientious objector) that Cummings met while at Fort Devens. According to the Kennedy biography: the soldier immortalized as Olf was taken to Ft. Leavenworth. A senior officer told Cummings: “You men ought to take a look at what they do to a man at military prisons… the first thing they do is give him a g.d. fine beating. They black his eyes for him. They do it on principle down there.”

  20. T. Wilhelm says:

    I love this poem because it describes so perfectly what a friend of mine encountered in a “fraternal organization” – he is a black Jehovah’s Witness who is religiously forbidden to salute the flag, a fact which the organization neglected to address when he was initiated. It boggles my mind that Cummings wrote this so long ago; the hatred and hysteria our friend experienced over his religious beliefs by this US “fraternal” organization, which revealed itself to be hardly better than some Nazi organizations, is so well detailed in this poem.

  21. G. Emtee says:

    Don’t, whatever you do, analyze this poem. Most poetry, like this, transits directly from the page (or the reading) directly to the emotions.

    Analysis of this poem is like a post mortem of a deceased. When you are finished, you are left with a mess of detached parts; the original body no longer exists.

    Leave it alone.

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