Symbol and Allegory

Symbol and Allegory

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The use of symbol in poetry and in literature as a whole is commonplace because it is an outlet for the author’s creative psyche. A symbol is a creative use of metaphor, using a comparison but not just a direct comparison. The author attempts to achieve the effect that there is much more than just the reader’s initial reaction creating a want to delve deeper into the true meaning, leaving a vast space of interpretation. Allegory on the other hand is a specific comparison, a symbol that is set in its meaning. This would point towards the absolute meaning of the comparison the poet or author was trying to convey (in other words, a parallel). I have chosen the E.E. Cummings poem “l(a” because it not only encompasses the idea of symbolism through its need for interpretation, but also due to its simple beauty, creating a visual image of a leaf falling.
Edward Estlin Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in his family’s home, within an extremely short distance of Harvard (Dreams 9). His word usage and literary abilities were garnered at a young age from his parents. His father Edward was a professor (in fact, the first professor of sociology at Harvard) and a Unitarian minister and his mother Rebecca utilized reading poetry and stories to her children. His father’s strong voice and use of wordplay from his sermons and his mother’s encouragement for E.E. to keep a diary starting at age five started to shape his craft at an early age (Revisited 11). Rebecca aspired for her son to be the next Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the Cummings family lived across the street from the Longfellow home before E.E. was born) (Dreams 19). Edward Estlin was also a cubist painter in addition to being a poet. During World War I, E.E. Cummings was an ambulance driver in France and was imprisoned under the pretense of treason (Poets.Org). The experience led to one his more important works, The Enormous Room.
Around the time of writing “l(a” E.E. Cummings health was in a very poor state. The poetry reading tours he took part in were furthering his terrible stomach problems in which he had been suffering from around 1955-56 (Dreams 459). In late 1957, his stomach ailments came to a head when a bleeding polyp was discovered in his colon. He spent his sixty-third birthday in a hospital bed and then spent six months in recovery while his “wife” Marion (of whom he was never actually married to) was in New York (Dreams 461).

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The inspiration for “l(a” may have come from his solitary healing period. His detachment could be symbolized by the falling leaf, breaking away from his life, love and his regular world, much like a leaf falling from a tree. His use of the letter l separated from the rest of the word loneliness looks extremely similar, in fact identical to a 1 (one) in type. That could be symbolic of being one or alone. The cascading type actually resembles the path of a leaf falling, if the reader follows the curves and straight, vertical lines of the poem from top to bottom.

Works Cited
Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp, 1980.
---, E.E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twain Publishers, 1994.
Poets.Org. The Academy of American Poets, Inc. 6 April 2003.     
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